Labor Day Laws Deserve Support Of All


Before the Industrial Revolution, small farmers and their helpers negotiated face-to-face over conditions of employment, but as factories opened in cites, people took jobs with big companies, where terms were dictated by bosses, on a take it or leave it basis.

To respond to the one-sidedness of big business, American labor unions started to organize around 1850. The Knights of Labor formed in 1869. With a growing national labor movement, the U.S. Labor Dept. was created in 1884.

The deadly Haymarket Riot broke out in Chicago in 1886 when the police broke up a union meeting. Workers in Pennsylvania died at a steel mill strike in 1892. The Pullman Railroad Union strike ended violently in 1894, as federal troops used weapons.

More than 1.75 million children under the age of 16 were working in U.S. factories in 1908. 25% of the cotton mills in the South employed children, 200,000 of whom were under the age of 12.

When the Stock Market crashed in 1929, the Great Depression gave momentum to unions, as the political tide turned, and pro-labor legislation finally passed in Washington, DC in the 1930s.

Labor’s first objective was to stop the courts and police from breaking up strikes. The Norris-LaGuardia Act (1932) prohibited federal judges from issuing injunctions against unions, while non-violent strikes, or labor disputes, were in progress. Contracts in which employees had to agree not to join a union were outlawed.

The Wagner Act (NLRA) (1935) was next, as it made it illegal for management to interfere with union organizing, and protected the right to strike. If a majority of workers voted for union representation, they became the exclusive bargaining agent for all. Management had to engage in good faith collective bargaining with unions, and had to at least talk about wages, overtime pay, seniority, hours, discipline, terminations, insurance, and other topics. The National Labor Relations Board enforced labor laws. If a collective bargaining contract defined the hiring of strikebreakers as an unfair labor practice, striking workers had a right to return to their jobs, after the strike ended.

The Social Security Act (1935) created a federal retirement program, where employees paid .062 of each check into the Retirement Trust Fund and employers contributed matching sums.

The Federal Unemployment Tax Act (1935) required employers to pay unemployment taxes to the federal government, as states also collected taxes to be used when employees were laid off.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) set minimum wages and overtime rates. It required time and a half for employees who worked more than 40 hours a week.

The Republican Taft-Hartley Act (1947), required unions to also bargain in good faith, and outlawed closed shops, which made union membership a condition of employment. Although union shops, where workers had to join a union after they were employed, were not barred, states were allowed to pass so-called right to work laws that gave employees the ability to avoid union dues, by making union shops illegal at the state level. Anti-union right-to-work laws now exist in many states.

The Landrum-Griffin Act (1959) established democratic procedures such as secret ballots for union elections and required unions to report on how union dues were spent.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) (1970) created safer workplace conditions.

The Employment Retirement Security Act (ERISA) (1974) arose from pension abuse, where payments disappeared as it was time to collect. The law vested pensions by making them the property of the worker, which meant they could not be taken away.

The COBRA Act (1985) gave terminated workers 60 days to continue group health insurance plans, provided they paid the premiums. The Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPPA) (1996) improved portability and continuity by requiring health insurance companies to renew group policies, if requested.

All of these laws improved life for millions of laborers and helped create a Middle Class. On Labor Day, all should remember they were enacted for good reasons and still deserve the ongoing support of all, including the most recent crowd of right-wing Republicans who would repeal them, if they could.

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