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 Minority Union Bargaining - "The Blue Eagle at Work" -
 A Book Review, by David Cohen

 Written for Portside

 Charles Morris, "The Blue Eagle at Work, Reclaiming
 Democratic Rights in the American Workplace." Cornell
 University Press, 2005

 In December of 2004 an event occurred that many union
 organizers had been anxiously awaiting, it was the
 publication of a book by Charles Morris, entitled, "The
 Blue Eagle at Work, Reclaiming Democratic Rights in the
 American Workplace." Charles Morris is one of this
 country's foremost experts on labor law, professor
 emeritus at Southern Methodist University's School of
 Law, and the author of the first two editions of
 "Developing Labor Law."
 
 This book contains nothing less then a blue print of
 how unions can be organized under current hostile legal
 conditions, using the original intentions of Section 7
 of the National Labor Relations Act. He recaptures the
 original intent of the law which was to allow workers
 to form a union and bargain with the employer without
 having to demonstrate majority status.
 
 It is an accepted belief that in order to organize a
 union in the private sector, a majority of workers in a
 bargaining unit must vote in a NLRB supervised election
 and win that vote. The problem with this is that for
 the last 25 years or so both Democratic and Republican
 administrations have appointed pro-business people to
 the National Labor Relations Board, and the election
 process itself gives employers more and more of a free
 rein to terrorize and harass workers away from voting
 for a union.
 
 This concept of elections and majority status comes
 from Section 9 of the National Labor Relations Act,
 which states:
 
        " Representatives designated or selected for
        the purposes of collective bargaining by the
        majority of the employees in a unit appropriate
        for such purposes, shall be the exclusive
        representative of all the employees in such
        unit for the purposes of collective bargaining
        in respect to rates of pay, wages, hours of
        employment, or other conditions of employment:"
 
 Some unions have recognized that organizing workers to
 win an NLRB election as opposed to organizing them to
 build a fighting union, is a losing battle. Even under
 the more favorable political conditions of the sixties
 and early seventies, unions which were organized with
 the objective of bargaining a contract rather than
 winning an election had more chance of success. As
 times got tougher, these unions (mainly UE and CWA)
 started to utilize the rights that workers have under
 section 7 of the NLRA, which says;
 
        "Employees shall have the right to self-
        organization, to form, join, or assist labor
        organizations, to bargain collectively through
        representatives of their own choosing, and to
        engage in other concerted activities for the
        purpose of collective bargaining or other
        mutual aid or protection,"
 
 Utilizing Section 7 allows employees under any
 conditions to fight to protect themselves. As long as
 they are taking collective action about wages, hours
 and working conditions, their actions are protected by
 law. Of course one of the big problems of exercising
 rights under Section 7 is that the NLRB is so slow in
 enforcing workers rights and is always ready to cede
 ground to the employers, yet many of these rights are
 so firmly established that even the current NLRB has
 trouble eliminating all rights workers have to self
 protection. Even so, the current board has reversed a
 ruling made during the Clinton Administration that gave
 unorganized workers the right to bring a fellow worker
 of their choosing in to a meeting with the company.
 These so-called "Weingarten rights" have been taken
 away by one of the board's most outrageous decisions
 which used the threat of terrorism as one of the
 excuses for overturning the decision.
 
 What is important about this book is that Mr. Morris
 makes it clear through a detailed examination of the
 legislative history and actual history of Section 7,
 that Section 7 also mandates that employers bargain
 collectively with minority unions for their members
 only.
 
 "It is my hope that this book will help restore an
 important missing link in the American Labor Relations
 system. That link-by now obvious-is the reinvocation of
 the methodology of minority union collective bargaining
 by labor unions for their members only, for this is the
 natural preliminary stage in the organizational
 development of mature, majority based, exclusivity
 bargaining. When traditional unions reclaim the process
 of organizing by representing and bargaining on behalf
 of their members from the very beginning-or at least
 attempting to do so-they will be returning to their
 roots. They will be organizing by recruiting dues-
 paying members-not card-signers or potential voters,
 which is the common practice today. "
 
 As Mr. Morris carefully points out the origins of
 Section 7 predates the passage of the Wagner Act, (it
 was part of the National Recovery Act, whose symbol was
 the Blue Eagle, thus the title of the book) and
 reflected the reality of the times, that unions often
 did not represent a majority of workers in a workplace
 and when they bargained with an employer it was for
 their members only. With the passage of the Wagner Act
 in 1936, Section 9 was added to deal with the problem
 of company unions. Thus if a union proved that it
 represented the majority it became the representative
 of all the workers and employers could not still deal
 with the fake unions they created. Mr. Morris carefully
 shows how there was never any intention on the part of
 the writers of the Wagner Act to end the then current
 practice of minority unionism as a prelude to majority
 status.
 
 As he states in the book, the implications of this
 approach for today's labor movement are profound.
 
 "I am well aware that recognition and acceptance of
 minority bargaining process will probably spawn a
 variety of alternative forms of worker representation,
 including non-traditional labor organizations initiated
 both by employees and employers. And it is likely that
 many of these newly formed groups will simply be
 familiar unaffiliated independent labor unions-except
 that their promoters, using some of the methods
 discussed in this chapter will now find such unions
 easier to organize. The prospective availability of
 novel employee-representational structures should be
 especially attractive to professional and highly
 skilled technical employee, for the absence of
 requirements for majority status and appropriate
 bargaining units ought to spur the creation of new
 types of employee groups that will facilitate the
 coupling of shared common interests and cooperative
 action among such employees."
 
 Over the last 15 years there have been experiments
 going on in the labor movement to organize minority
 unions using Section 7. In our article "A Proposal for
 a 21st Century Trade Union Education League -An attempt
 to solve the current crisis of organizing the
 unorganized" which was published in Working USA (and
 distributed on Portside) we traced the efforts of UE to
 build such structures in the plastics industry in the
 1990šs. In that article we proposed the building of
 workers committees everywhere, based upon using Section
 7 rights to build fighting unions. There are other such
 efforts going on right now by UE in both the private
 and public sector, and by CWA in IBM, GE and other
 companies. In addition to this are the many ongoing
 projects by Immigrant Workers Centers across the
 country which attempt to bring justice and organization
 to immigrant workers in the workplace.
 
 This proposal by Prof. Morris completes the picture. He
 argues that not only can workers assert their rights
 under Section 7 of the NLRB, but workers can demand
 that their employers bargain with them through
 organizations that they have built. From this ability
 to bargain with the employer, the union can win members
 through struggles in the workplace. The possibility
 exists that these grass roots efforts will lay a basis
 for truly democratic, rank and file control unions, and
 a real upsurge in self-organization will begin.
 
 While the pitfalls are many and there can be no
 illusions that employers will easily agree to bargain
 contracts with minority unions, this is an exciting new
 road of struggle that is opening up.  It remains for us
 to take up the challenge that this book offers and test
 it in life itself. Anyone who thinks that organizing
 the working class in this country is important for
 social progress should run out and buy this book today.
 The current discussion on how to reverse labor's
 decline has been given new life by Morris' book. It
 provides us with an articulate description of existing
 legal rights we didn't know we had and a new way that
 workers can follow to organize their own union without
 the frustrating experience of an NLRB election
 procedure.
 
 [David Cohen is an International Representative for
 United Electrical Radio & Machine Workers of America
 You can contact David Cohen at davidjc@comcast.net]


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