Advocate Alert! NLRB Grants Access to Class Actions

New Orleans  In the final action for Craig Becker, the greatest interim NLRB member ever, a decision issued putting a knife in the corporate dodge of forcing workers to sign “arbitrate only” clauses as part of individual agreements, and allowing collective arbitrations and grievances as well as class action suits by multiple workers on employment issues.  Of course this will be challenged in litigation by business interests, so we shouldn’t build a castle on this sand yet, but this could actually have real value for organizing, and given the weakness of unions, for effective worker advocates stepping into the breach of declining unionization.

This decision affects a lot of workers:  estimates are that 25% of all non-union workers have signed exactly these kinds of individual arbitrate only agreements.  The immediate decision involved a case with the big home builder, D. H. Horton, where a required employment agreement had mandated not only that the worker with an issue had to arbitrate but also barred the arbitrator from making a decision which could apply to any other workers or group of workers.  The NLRB with support of the Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and others ruled that this requirement was a breach of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and its protection of “concerted” or collective activity by workers.

The last thing an organizer ever wants is to be tied up in court and arbitration is not much better, but in this case, we are so desperate for leverage and any tools that might work, it is great to have a way to force employers, even in union settings, to deal with group grievances and arbitrations and enlist some of the few remaining labor side lawyers struggling to make a living to stand up tall and represent us.  Too often even the best lawyers have looked at these arbitration bars and advised us to walk away because the time, trouble, and money to pierce them, no matter how righteous the issue, would have made the whole matter marginal.

Given the rising numbers of workers in temporary and informal settings that are home based and often find no compensation for overtime hours, transportation and other issues, I can hardly wait for more weapons in this war!


Celebrating Wage Increases and Asking Santa for More in the Future

            New Orleans               ACORN was a great organization and some of the gifts from its membership to their neighbors and co-workers keep on giving, despite the fact that the organization shut its doors 13 months ago in the United States.

No better example can be found in the automatic increases in a number of state minimum wage programs that are triggered by automatic inflation escalators at the beginning of each year.  The New York Times noted that this was coming in another week in eight states:  Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.  In the largest of these states Ohio and Florida, ACORN was the driving force in organizing the ballot initiatives that won the change.  ACORN members did the same in Arizona and Colorado.  Of the more than 1.4 million workers that will directly or indirectly receive wage increases, probably more than 1 million of these come from the ACORN initiatives.

The National Employment Law Project (a great outfit!) estimated the increases would range between $0.28 and $0.37 per hour which for a full-time worker (if there are any still out there?) would mean a boost from $582 to $770 per year.  Let’s low ball it and say that the increases for the ACORN-million will only be $400 per year.  This is simple math but that adds up to $400,000,000 in additional wages that lower wage workers would get from ACORN’s work this year alone.  But, let’s not quibble, whether it’s a quarter of a billion dollars or half a billion, it’s a whole lot of money that employers (not the government!) will pay hard working, lower wage workers in one of the few ongoing programs increasing citizen wealth for the 99%.

NELP told the Times that labor was planning on doing this again in some other states in 2012.  That’s welcome news that I had not heard, and, truthfully, I don’t want to Grinch it, but I’m almost doubtful that it’s true.  These are big efforts and much needed, but they take deep commitments, huge organization, and not insubstantial resources.  Without ACORN around to put some of these pieces together, organizers may find this is an even more difficult task this time around.  Furthermore, employers in a weak economy will be crying “foul!” every chance they get and high unemployment may confuse some workers who otherwise might go to the polls to “vote themselves a raise” as the employers used to argue in our campaigns.   Add to that the strenuous efforts of the Republicans to restrict access to the voting booth with new identification procedures and other voter suppression methods that ACORN used to fight, but few others have stepped up to stop, and the road could be tough.

Speaking for lower wage workers, such efforts in many other states would be a Christmas present that would keep on giving just has it has in these states!