Brexit and Workers’ Rights – Free Download

By Professors Nicola Countouris & Keith Ewing

Now, on the brink of the third deadline for a Brexit deal, two leading UK academics consider the possible implications of a ‘no-deal Brexit’ for UK workers’ rights. They conclude that the process and the post-Brexit architecture will be owned and determined by the political party in power at the time of Brexit and they pose two alternative scenarios. Fr

Download a copy for free here.

About the book

On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom held a referendum on whether to remain in or leave the European Union. The result was 51.9% of voters voting to leave. Two things were immediately clear. First, the negotiations would be a very complex, technical, and politically charged affair. Second, the UK would face tough choices and would not be allowed to ‘cherry-pick’ the terms of the Brexit arrangements.

Now, on the brink of the third deadline for a Brexit deal, two leading UK academics consider the possible implications of a ‘no-deal Brexit’ for UK workers’ rights. They conclude that the process and the post-Brexit architecture will be owned and determined by the political party in power at the time of Brexit and they pose two alternative scenarios.

Either the future could deliver a relentless process of ossification, stagnation and erosion of UK labour rights led by politicians traditionally hostile to workers’ rights. Or, the UK could not only protect those UK rights already on the statute book but could resist the tendencies of the European Commission to decentralise collective bargaining arrangements and deregulate employment protection legislation.

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European Collective Bargaining – IndustriALL Europe’s Campaign

IndustriAll Europe’s collective bargaining campaign is  focussing on the stories of ordinary workers and the concrete successes that are achieved through collective bargaining.

Targeted information campaigns will be organised by affiliated unions featuring videos and data-based information material to highlight specific advantages of workers who are covered by a collective agreement.

The benefits of collective bargaining are well-documented across Europe. Companies with collective agreements have better conditions in terms of wages, bonuses, working time etc.

Collective bargaining promotes equality and decent employment. It produces positive effects everywhere. Whilst unions seek to ensure that no-one is left behind there is also a sizable trade union premium: union members often enjoy better conditions than non-unionized workers.

Here are some examples from selected countries in different parts of Europe:

The Czech Republic:

    • Trade union members of OS KOVO in the metal sector earn 15% more because of their collective agreement (this means 200 euro extra/month thanks to collective bargaining). This wage difference would after three years accumulate to around 6,700 euro which is enough to buy a small car.
    • The gender pay gap is narrower in companies with collective agreements. In 2018, the wage difference between women and men was 26.0% in companies with collective agreement, and 23.1% in companies without collective agreement.
    • Working time is also 55 hours shorter per year, a difference which accounts for seven shifts. Between 2016 and 2018, an employee with collective agreement worked 154.8 hours less, which represents 20.5 shifts, i.e. almost an entire calendar month.


    • Trade union members of CO-industri have 25% more benefits which consist of wage difference, shorter hours and other advantages in companies with collective agreements.


    • Data from IG Metall shows that in companies without collective agreements, wages are 24% lower on average.
    • For unskilled workers, the difference is even 32% lower for those without a collective agreement.
    • Working hours are also 14% longer for those not covered by an agreement.

The UK:

    • UNITE trade union members earn, on average, 10% more than non-members

“Workers are better off by joining a union and negotiating collectively. Only together can we win better pay and conditions for the benefit of all” states Luc Triangle, General Secretary of industriAll Europe. “Raising workers’ awareness about the benefits of collective bargaining, boosting union membership and strengthening trade unions are therefore principle objectives of our campaign. “

About the campaign
The objective of industriAll Europe’s collective bargaining campaign is to demonstrate the positive impact of collective bargaining, underpinned by strong unions, in delivering a better life for workers. It consists of 7 targeted campaigns, each lasting one month. The ‘Workers Campaign’ runs from 14th October – 15th November.

Visit for more information.

See the campaign coverage here.

Watch the campaign video.

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CWU members cheer as 97.1% strike vote announced

From the Communication Workers Union

Hundreds of CWU reps waved their union flags and cheered as the “historic” Royal Mail ballot result was announced after a national reps’ briefing in central London earlier today.

In one of the largest ‘Yes’ votes and biggest turnouts for many years, CWU members in Royal Mail Group, not including Parcelforce members, voted by 97.1 per cent for strike action.

For legal reasons, our Parcelforce members were balloted separately in two separate ballots – one on the controversial ‘TUPE’ proposals and the other on the rest of the issues in dispute.

And both of these returned massive ‘Yes’ votes as well – 94.7 per cent and 95 per cent.

As the details of the balloting were read out by the union’s president Jane Loftus, loud cheering erupted, echoing loudly around the main hall of Euston’s Friends Meeting House.

Members of the press, who had been invited in to hear the announcement, immediately sent the news reverberating around the nation.

And in their eager questions to our general secretary Dave Ward and deputy general secretary postal (DGSP) Terry Pullinger, reporters all wanted to know when strike action could take place.

Media speculation had been building that Christmas or even November’s ‘Black Friday’ could be impacted by potential walkouts, but both Terry and Dave made clear that this would be entirely up to the Royal Mail leadership.

In his initial reaction to the announcement, our DGSP reminded the audience that “just over one year ago, the Royal Mail Group Board and the CWU agreed a blueprint agreement for the future, an agreement that included an historic pension solution, a mutual-interest-driven relationship and a joint vision for a successful postal service with social aims.”

But the new leadership of the company was now, he continued, “breaking that agreement”.

“Our members take honour seriously and have voted to fight for that agreement against those who now seek to break up the Great British Postal service in the interest of fast-track profit and greed.

“Integrity and pride still matter and we will not stand aside and see what we have spent our working lives building destroyed,” Terry insisted.

General secretary Dave Ward said that the result had been “historic” and warned the company leadership that they “cannot face away” from it.

“The workforce has completely rejected the company’s plans to set up a separate parcels business and allow UK postal services and thousands upon thousands of jobs to wither on the vine,” Dave added, highlighting other issues of grievance, such as increased workload pressure on members, driven by technology.

“This dispute goes to the heart of everything that is wrong in today’s world of work,” the general secretary continued, vowing to “fight the board’s asset-stripping plans, not just through strike action, but by speaking directly to major shareholders, politicians and the public.

“We will build a coalition for change and deliver an exciting and innovative future for Royal Mail, with an expanded role for postal workers in supporting local communities and growing the economy.”

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Employment Law Specialists Thompsons Solicitors Respond To The Government’s Revised Brexit Proposals

“The Conservative Government Has Completely Whitewashed Workers’ Rights From Its Revised Stance On Brexit.

“This isn’t a case of protection for workers being pushed to the bottom of the pile – it’s a case of them being ignored altogether.

“In reading government’s revised proposals we note there is no mention of workers’ rights whatsoever. Even the meaningless and already-inadequate protections featured in Annex 4 to Theresa May’s original Northern Ireland Protocol have been expressly deleted – showing how little value this government places on the rights of working citizens.

“This so-called ‘deal’ will be as bad for workers’ rights as the threatened no-deal Brexit, and is a troubling sign of things to come under Johnson’s premiership.”

Read more of why we believe a ‘no deal’ would be the worst possible outcome for workers’ rights here.




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IndustriALL Europe Launch European Campaign For Collective Bargaining.

By Tony Burke, Chair of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

The giant European trade union federation IndustriAll Europe, which covers seven million manufacturing,  mining and energy workers has today launched a campaign which aims to demonstrate the positive impact of collective bargaining in delivering a better life for working people.

The campaign is seen as a major step for European trade unions in co-ordination and co-operating on the issue of collective bargaining.

The campaign will run under the slogan ‘Together At Work’ through to March 2020 and is aimed at all workers with a focus on women, young people and workers in precarious employment.

Amongst the reasons for the campaign, are the fact that collective bargaining is under attack by employers and some governments in Europe. IndustriALL Europe says that collective bargaining is a key to higher pay and better working conditions.

 Luc Triangle, IndustriAll Europe’s General Secretary told a media launch on September 26th : “Over the past decades, collective bargaining has been eroded throughout Europe. Following the 2008 crisis collective bargaining was attacked by both national governments and European institutions, as a means to lower wages and restore profitability.

The increase in individual contracts has left many workers unable to stand up for themselves and led to a rise in precarious work and in-work poverty.  This has led to a vicious cycle where lower bargaining coverage undermines the power to act collectively and to improve conditions for all workers in society. This also erodes social cohesion and now threatens the future of our social security systems, as workers can no longer afford, and employers no longer have to, contribute sufficient to ensure adequate protection.”

 “Our campaign will clearly demonstrate the advantages for workers, employers and society of a model of workplace relations with collective bargaining at its heart. This means strong trade unions and employers willing to sit around the table. Together at Work will show the way forward and identify the measures needed to support collective bargaining.”

Unite in the UK is backing the campaign.

The fact is that collective bargaining has been under attack by employers and the UK government for four decades. Back in 1979 71% of UK workers were covered by collective agreements including national sectoral agreements and company wide agreements covering pay, working hours, holidays, overtime and shift arrangements, apprentices pay and many other issues. 11% of workers were also covered by wages councils which protected some of our lowest paid workers in sectors such as agriculture and box making.

UK Government statistics today suggest that collective bargaining has been pushed back and that just 26% of UK workers are covered by collective agreements with only 14.7% of workers in the private sector covered by collective bargaining, with 58.9% of the public sector now covered by collective bargaining.

 This has been bad news for UK workers. There is massive inequity in terms of pay and conditions between the wealthy and ordinary working people, zero hours contracts have taken hold, low pay is endemic with people having to work two or three jobs just to make a living.

However, the Labour Party’s announcement of its  plans to roll out sectoral collective bargaining and ban zero hours contracts when it takes office is good news.

Shadow Minister for Employment Laura Pidcock MP announced  to both the TUC and Labour Party conferences in September an ambitious programme of minimum and legally binding pay, terms and conditions for every employers and every work in a sector.

Each month, IndustriALL Europe will focus on a different set of messages aimed at workers, employers, women, young people and others, telling real stories about working people, their struggles and their jobs and highlighting the concrete benefits that trade unions bring through collective negotiations with employers through a combination of video and printed material for use in the workplace and social media.

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‘Level Playing Field’ Workers Rights Johnson Wants To Get Rid Of

It came to light this week that Boris Johnson has instructed his ‘sherpa’ David Frost (a regular user of the Eurostar to Brussels)  to demand that any deal on withdrawal agreement from the EU unravels the ‘level playing field’ clauses agreed with the EU earlier this year including those on workers rights, environmental protection and consumer rights.

The LPF clauses (although in the Political declaration) are designed to stop the UK undermining EU rights and laws if and when the UK leaves the EU and providing continuing protection.

It has long been an ambition of the Tories and Brextremists to get rid of positive EU employment rights and turn the UK into an offshore, low wage, low skill economy with few employment protections – a sort of Singapore off the coast of Europe.

Below are just some of the key pieces of EU legislation, which have benefited working people here in the UK which the Javid and Johnson describe as Red Tape.

They may sound complex, but workers across the UK have received employment protection by them:

• Individual employment conditions (91/533/EEC) established the employer’s obligation to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the employment contract or employment relationship.

• Fixed term employment agreement provided for equal treatment for fixed term contract workers to prevent the abuse of workers subjected to successive fixed-term contracts.

• The part time workers framework agreement requires that part-time workers’ employment conditions were not be less favourable than those of comparable full-time workers, with employers, required to take account of employees’ preferences and their requests to transfer from full-time to part-time employment or vice versa. This legislation helped thousands of low paid women workers who worked in part time jobs.

• And of course the temporary agency workers directive which guarantees a minimum level of effective protection to temporary and agency workers. The so-called Swedish Derogation that got around the WTR for agency workers will be scrapped after years of campaigning by unions.

• This was coupled with the health & safety in fixed term and temporary employment – an EU directive (91/383/EEC) which ensured that fixed-term and temporary agency workers, who are more exposed to the risk of accidents at work and occupational diseases than other workers, have the same level of safety and health protection at work as other employees.

• Young people at work – an EU Directive which provided the protection of young people at work which insists that EU member states must prohibit the employment of children (i.e. those under the age of 15 or still in full-time compulsory education).

• The working time directive, a piece of key health & safety legislation, watered down by the Tories with an “opt-out” for individuals. In the EU each member state must ensure that every worker must not exceed working more than 48 hours on average, (over a 52 week period) as well as providing for minimum rest breaks during a shift, minimum weekly rest time and lest we forget – guaranteed paid annual leave, of at least four weeks (28 days a year) – excluding bank holidays.

• The employer insolvency directive ensures payment of employees’ outstanding claims in the event of employer insolvency. It required member states to set up an institution to guarantee the payments.

• The transfers of undertakings directive (TUPE) is one of the major protections for workers – the EU Directive stopped the transfer of an undertaking (business) as constituting a valid grounds for dismissal. Rights and obligations under the employment contract pass from the previous employer to the new one although for economic, technical or organisational reasons can alter this.

At one time there companies did dismiss – and automatically sack – their entire workforces upon the transfer or sale of a business.

• On collective redundancies – the EU Directive improved protection for workers who faced job loss. It set out rules on the information and consultation of workers’ representatives before collective redundancies could be made, set out periods of time for consultation as well as provisions on practical support for the employees who may lose their jobs.

• The information and consultation directive provides for a general framework for informing and consulting employees on major decisions being made by companies including the recent and probable development of the undertaking’s or the establishment’s activities and economic situation, the situation, structure and probable development of employment within the undertaking or establishment and any anticipatory measures envisaged.

It applies in particular where there is a threat to employment decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in work organisation or in contractual relations.

• European works councils were set up under the initial EU directive (94/45/EC) in 1994. It was extended to the UK by another directive (97/74/EC) and adapted by a third directive (2006/109/EC) to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. Member States must provide for the right to establish European works councils in companies or groups of companies with at least a thousand employees in the EU. EWCs can be powerful bodies if used strategically by unions.

• European company statute provides for a European company (SE) status, allowing companies incorporated in different member states to merge or form a holding company and providing for the involvement of employees in European companies. This is the subject of a special supplementary directive (2001/86/EC).

• There is legislation that provides for transnational company agreement concluded by one or more representatives of a company or a group of companies and one or more workers’ organisations (unions). They cover working and employment conditions and relations between employers and workers or their representatives.

• On data protection at work there are two general EU directives on personal data protection, which apply to workers. One (95/46/EC) concerns the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and the free movement of such data. The other (2002/58 which amends 97/66/EC) is about the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector.

• On equality legislation, parental leave is part of a framework agreement for each parent. It applies to all workers and to all types of employment contract.

• The EU directive on equal pay prohibited all discrimination on the grounds of sex in relation to pay and called upon the member states to eradicate any discrimination laid down in national laws, regulations or administrative provisions and to inform workers of measures taken in application of the directive.

• The equal treatment in employment and occupation directive put in place a general framework to ensure equal treatment of individuals in the European Union, regardless of their religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, as regards access to employment or occupation and membership of certain organisations.

• There are numerous directives relating to health and safety at work The health and safety at work directive from 1989 established the introduction of minimum measures designed to improve the working environment, in order to guarantee a better standard of safety and health protection.

This list is by no means exhaustive and no doubt there are many more examples.

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Campaign For Trade Union Freedom – Institute Of Employment Rights TUC Fringe Meeting

Here are the details of the TUC Fringe meeting on September 8th, 6.30pm at the Old Ship, Brighton Seafront (just five minutes from the Brighton Conference Centre). Come early, we expect this to be packed meeting with Laura Pidcock MP Shadow Minister of Labour; Dave Ward, CWU GS; Tim Roach GMB GS and Mark Serwotka, PCS GS and President of the TUC. Carolyn Jones will chair the meeting.

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U.S. gig economy giants told: “Just pay your damn workers”.

California Demoract Assembly woman Lorena Gonzalez.

A bill in California’s Legislature could force gig economy companies such as Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees – instead of independent contractors.

The bill (Assembly Bill 5) could give their drivers proper employment status, but Uber and Lyft have tried to cut a deal that that would allow drivers to remain ‘independent contractors’.

The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Assembly woman Lorena Gonzalez, from San Diego, has said she does not forsee cutting a deal with the ride hailing companies.

Ms. Gonzalez tweeted: “Billionaires who say they can’t pay minimum wages to their workers say they will spend tens of millions to avoid labor laws. Just pay your damn workers!”

A vote on the bill is expected before the legislative session ends in mid-September. That means time is running out for Uber and Lyft to reach an agreement.

The companies said their proposed initiative would preserve drivers’ ability to set their own schedules, while Uber and Lyft would offer a concession on minimum wage standards, health benefits and collective bargaining rights.

But Uber and Lyft, say that changing the legal status of their drivers poses a “fundamental threat to their businesses”, and have pledged to spend $60 million on a ballot initiative that would exempt them from the proposed law.

After their announcement, DoorDash, the food delivery service, said it would contribute an additional $30 million.

Drivers for Uber, Lyft and DoorDash work as ‘independent contractors’, logging in to the companies’ apps and providing rides or delivering food whenever they choose. They have no legally protected minimum wage, guaranteed sick days or traditional health benefits.

Drivers have complained that the companies cut their earnings without explanation and that they have no recourse if they are removed from the apps.

The ‘contractor classification’ deprives workers of workplace rights as wages and working time protections, health and pension benefits, and the right of collective bargaining

Companies including Uber and Lyft have a business model which circumvents employers responsibilities towards their drivers. Not only are drivers deprived of employment rights they also have to cover their own daily expenses such as fuel, maintainence of their vehicles, and insurance.

“It’s no secret that a change to the employment classification of ride-share drivers would pose a risk to our businesses,” says Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Lyft CEO Logan Green and Lyft President John Zimmer in a recent newspaper article.

They say that ’employee status’ will harm drivers in that it will deprive drivers of flexibility’ to set their own hours, which the companies say is the  attraction of their work. Instead, they say, an employee structure would require them to slot drivers into set shifts.

“Our flexibility has always been under threat,” countered Nicole Moore, a Lyft driver in Los Angeles and an organiser of Rideshare Drivers United. “They can and they do change the flexibility of our work all the time” by changing fares to prompt drivers to drive at certain times and in certain locations. “Now they’re using it to protect themselves from being obligated to pay us a living wage and to follow basic labor rules.”

And there nothing in state or federal law requires drivers to give up their flexibility’ if they’re classified as employees.

“Lyft and Uber today decide whether or not these workers are flexible,” Lorena Gonzalez  told the Senate Labor Committee. “That is in their hands, not in the law.”

“We’re not interested in and haven’t been engaged in anything that would undermine the court decision or AB 5 when it passes,” says Bob Schoonover, president of the state council of the Service Employees International Union.

The debate in California centres on the state Supreme Court’s ‘Dynamex Decision’  named after Dynamex International, a package and document delivery company that in 2004 reclassified all its drivers as independent contractors.

Dynamex didn’t change the drivers’ work responsibilities, but removed them from the jurisdiction of California’s wage and hour rules. Drivers were required to provide their own vehicles and pay for all their own expenses, including fuel, tolls, maintenance,  and insurance, including workers’ compensation insurance. And they no longer received overtime pay.

“Such a conversion would generate economic savings for the company,” the Supreme Court observed. Wage and hour rules should not be lightly discarded, the court said, since “workers’ fundamental need to earn income for their families’ survival may lead them to accept work for substandard wages or working conditions.”

The Dynamex ruling enshrined the “ABC test” into California law as a guide to the difference between employees and independent contractors. The test says workers are employees unless they’re (A) independent of the hiring entity’s control and direction about how they perform their work; (B) engaged in work different from the hiring entity’s business; and (C) conducting an independent business in the same field as the work they’re doing for the hiring entity.

In other words, a plumber hired by a store to fix a leaky bathroom: independent contractor. A driver picking up passengers for Uber: employee. Though they might start and end their workday when they like, Uber and Lyft drivers are subject to numerous corporate rules about their conduct on the job, the condition of their vehicles, the rate at which they accept or reject proffered trips and other issues. Their work is manifestly central to the employers’ business, and the companies themselves acknowledge that many drivers are earning income to supplement other jobs.

The Dynamex ruling left a few loose ends, some of which would be tied up by AB 5. The measure would apply the ABC test to a wide range of workplaces and to unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation coverage, in addition to wage and hour rules alone. It also would carve out a roster of professions from the test, including doctors, real estate salespersons, securities and insurance brokers and hairstylists who rent their booths from salon owners.

What AB 5 can’t do is guarantee drivers the right of collective bargaining. That’s because the National Labor Relations Board, through its general counsel’s office has already ruled that Uber drivers are independent contractors and therefore ineligible to unionise The NLRB memo took an opposite tack from the way the Obama-era board was heading.

“I think the drivers are really employees under the National Labor Relations Act,” argues William B. Gould IV, chairman of the NLRB under President Bill Clinton and an emeritus law professor a Stanford University. “But that door is shut for at least the next two years” because of the general counsel’s decision, which is unreviewable in court.

The driver community web site Ridester says a recent survey showed that that half of all Uber drivers collect less than $10 an hour after expenses. A study done for the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission by Michael Reich of UC Berkeley and James Parrott of the New School in 2017 showed that drivers earned roughly $14 an hour, net of expenses. Lyft says its drivers earn an average of $30.84 an hour from the time they accept until they drop off a passenger, but that’s before expenses.

“We have companies where CEOs are making $45 million a year … and their drivers are sleeping in their cars” Gonzalez said recently. “There is something fundamentally wrong when we have allowed this situation to get to this point.”

Many businesses can no longer compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft. Karen Heisler the co-owner of Mission Pie in San Francisco she struggles to compete with app-based services that use ‘independent contractors’ to deliver food, while she pays the living wage and benefits that keep her employees off taxpayer-funded safety net programmes.

“If you have a business model that intrinsically exploits workers and endows you with a competitive edge endows you with a competitive advantage based on shirking responsibilities and violating law,” she said, “maybe you need to reevaluate that model.”

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Bernie Sanders’ Plan Could Put A Union In Every Workplace

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders – proposing sectoral collective bargaining.

By Shaun  Richman ‘In The Times’

US democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders released his Workplace Democracy Plan on Wednesday. His campaign’s labor platform makes the strongest case of any of the candidates so far that he would be unions’ best ally in the White House in generations.

At a time when the Democrats’ official labor law reform proposal, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, would essentially overturn the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, the race to the left for labor’s support in the primaries demands bolder policies. Bernie Sanders does not disappoint.

The stand-out measures

Where Sanders’ labor platform is most exciting is its proposal for new workers’ rights and forms of union representation that transcend the National Labor Relations Board framework of enterprise-based contract bargaining.

One is a “just cause” legal standard of employment, which would mean that non-managerial workers—whether they are represented by a union or not—could only be fired only for a legitimate, serious, work-performance reason. This has been a cause that In These Times has long championed, and as Moshe Marvit and I explained elsewhere, “would open up new pathways to organizing.” Bernie Sanders is the third candidate (so far) to embrace the reform, after Bill de Blasio and Jay Inslee, but he’s the first leading contender for the nomination to do so.

But the best proposal in Sanders’ platform is what he refers to as “sectoral collective bargaining” but others in the academic and think tank world have been calling “wage boards.” Basically, he proposes to work with trade unions to construct new industrial standards boards—with representatives for the employers, workers and possibly that nebulous concept, “the public”—that can set minimum standards for wages, benefits and hours across entire sectors of the economy thereby taking those issues out of competition. This is essentially the framework of the First New Deal legislation, which the Lochner-era Courtoverturned, and which the National Labor Relations Act was initially meant to operate alongside of.

Sanders’ wage board proposal was clearly influenced by the Center for American Progress’ David Madland’s and University of Michigan’s Kate Andrias’ dogged research and advocacy for reviving the wage board model. It’s also not insignificant that a revived wage board is how Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 32BJ won a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers in New York state, and that SEIU is rather bullish on expanding and exporting the model.

This is possibly the most important labor law reform that a Democratic president (with a Democratic Senate willing to nuke the filibuster) could achieve. It’s that one that could put a union in every workplace in America on day one. Because if unions had the legal reach to improve wages and working conditions across an entire industry, workers would join and support the unions that were fighting for them—particularly if we made it easy for them to make voluntary paycheck contributions—even before they win a collective bargaining election at their specific workplace.

The man with the plan

Sanders also offers a laundry list of good and overdue reforms. His proposed amendments to the outdated and ineffective National Labor Relations Act—like most of the candidates’ plans—improve upon the PRO Act in several ways. It adds card check recognition and the right to a first contract for new unions, which were provisions of the failed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that did not get carried over into the current Democratic bill.

Sanders also proposes to fully restore workers’ right to strike and to engage in solidarity activism. In the case of the latter, that means wiping out more provisions of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act; in the former, it means overturning an obscure 1938 Supreme Court decision, NLRB v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co., that allows employers to permanently replace workers who go on strike over economic demands. Employers increasingly took advantage of this decision during the Reagan administration.

Banning permanent replacements was the labor movement’s top legislative priority in the first year of Bill Clinton’s presidency. The Cesar Chavez Workplace Fairness Act of 1993 was the EFCA of its era, and similarly died of a filibuster in the Senate. Now it is increasingly becoming a consensus position among Democratic candidates.

There are also some policies and procedures of the NLRB that Sanders would change. These may be done through legislative change, or Sanders may be considering executive orders and strict directions to his future Board appointees. One is to protect existing collective bargaining agreements when a unionized employer is merged into a new company. Current NLRB rules on successorship allow an employer to tear up the contract and then bargain a union to impasse over concessions. Sanders used his campaign infrastructure to support workers represented by the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America at a locomotive plant in Pennsylvania this past February.

Sanders also wants to ban “management’s most important weapon” in anti-union campaigns, mandatory captive audience meetings. The courts have ruled that employers have a First Amendment right to express their anti-union views, and employers use the power of the paycheck to force employees to listen to them. Bernie Sanders says that workers should have the right to walk out on a presentation.

One very attention-grabbing plan responds directly to Joe Biden’s bad-faith arguments that a Medicare-for-All system would be unfair to unions who have historically traded higher wages for employer-sponsored health insurance. Sanders’ NLRB would support unions reopening their collective bargaining agreements in order to recoup as much of an employers’ cost savings from taxpayer-funded health care as possible as new wage gains. His platform implies that a unionized employer that does not share financial data and agree to sharing its cost savings would be charged with committing an unfair labor practice.

Finally, like many of the candidates in the crowded Democratic field, Sanders proposes to fix an original sin of the NLRA—its racist exclusion of domestic and farm workers from the protections of the Act.

Sanders also prioritizes legislation that would accelerate and codify badly needed regulatory reforms that got bogged down by right-wing judicial activism and corporate opposition during Obama’s second term. These include the Browning-Ferris joint-employer standard, which curtail corporations’ ability to hide behind franchise relationships to avoid bargaining over working conditions that they dictate in reality. He also calls for an expanded “persuader rule,” which would force employers to disclose the names of their hired gun union-busters and give union organizers equal access to workers during an organizing campaign. A proposal to end the practice of misclassifying workers as “supervisors” and “independent contractors” in order to avoid paying benefits and overtime is lacking somewhat in detail, but let’s just assume that Bernie co-signs whatever Elizabeth Warren proposes.

In the public sector, Sanders’ platform also calls for expanding the union rights of federal workers—including the right to strike and to bargain over wages. Ronald Reagan’s infamous termination of striking air traffic controllers in 1981 was a signal event in corporate America’s assault on unions. Ironically, that strike was sparked by the federal government’s refusal to bargain over wages. The right to bargain and strike—long denied to federal labor unions—would likely make strikes over routine collective bargaining matters less likely. But they would, as Sanders was quick to point out, empower federal workers to use their labor power to put an end to routine government shutdowns.

He also pledges to sign the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which was introduced by Representative Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Senator Maize Hirono (D–Hawaii) in June and which would extend union rights to all state and local government employees as well.

Never waste a crisis

The turf of U.S. politics shifts beneath our feet like quicksand. This is a moment of great possibilities and existential threats. One of our biggest challenges as a labor movement is that too many of us—leaders, rank-and-filers and leftist critics alike—view things as static, as stuck in a moment in time, whether that be 2009, 1993 or 1978; That real change won’t happen without a crisis.

But we are already in a crisis.

The crisis right now is the threat of fascism, domestic terrorism and ethnic nationalism. These are all problems that have been made possible by the systemic corporate attack on union rights and a yawning gulf of economic inequality. Centrist politicians and shapers of public opinion who have hardly been friends to the working class are slowly waking up to the role that unions play in political education and voter turnout.

So even if Bernie doesn’t win the nomination—if it’s Elizabeth Warren or Kirsten Gillibrand or even Kamala Harris—we still probably have a candidate and a growing portion of the Democratic establishment who recognize that they have to deliver real wins for working families if they don’t want to get turned out of office all over again in 2022 by a racist and demagogic death cult.

As a labor movement, now is the time to demand more. Much more. Let’s take the issue of “just cause,” which is a basic human right enjoyed in much of the world and the lack of it is one of the foundational problems that keeps most workers from pushing back on employers’ unreasonable commands.

Elizabeth Warren hasn’t even put out her full labor platform yet. I fully expect it to be full of robust proposals to restore the legal rights and power of workers with some delightfully wonky detail. If she joins Sanders in endorsing just cause, the issue—which wasn’t on any union’s agenda—could be on the fast track to the Democratic party’s 2020 platform (as long as the candidate isn’t someone who promises that “nothing would fundamentally change”).

Good ideas that are put on any primary candidate’s agenda should remain on labor’s agenda in the years to come. When it comes to ideas for restoring the legal powers of workers, our approach should be “yes, and!” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry has the right approach for these times. The union released its own list of labor law demands on the same day as Sanders, and challenged every candidate to release a detailed labor plan “explaining how they will make it possible for all working people to join unions.” The political moment, says Henry, “is no time for minor tweaks to our broken system.”

Let the primary of ideas continue!

Update: The day after Bernie Sanders’ plan came out, Beto O’Rourke released a labor plan that includes wage boards.

John Hendy QC says: “The best proposal in Bernie Sanders’ platform is what he refers to as “sectoral collective bargaining” while others in the academic and think tank world have been calling “wage boards.” .

Shaun Richman is an In These Times contributing writer and the Program Director of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.

“Working In These Times” is dedicated to providing independent and incisive coverage of the labor movement and the struggles of workers to obtain safe, healthy and just workplaces.

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Campaigning For Free Trade Unions

Vic Turner, dockers leader and one of the founders and President of the Liaison Committee For The Defence Of Trade Unions

By Andy Green, National Secretary Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

Recently in the Morning Star FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack responded to an earlier piece in the paper penned by myself in which I was critical of the newly launched ‘Free Our Unions’ campaign suggesting that it was little more than a front for the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

Matt made some very important points in his article and of course it makes no sense to engage in a war of words with comrades representing unions with a long and proud history of standing up for trade union freedom; in Matt’s case the FBU and I would also include the RMT in this group.

As the Secretary of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom, I’m pleased to say that FBU and RMT have been and remain active affiliates of the Campaign.

I want to broadly set out the position of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom.

The Campaign is a linear descendent of the Liaison Committee For The Defence of Trade Unions which as is well known had an exemplary record in opposing the anti-union White Paper In Place of Strifeand what came later, the Industrial Relations Act 1971.

The LCDTU was of course the driving force behind the campaign to free the Pentonville 5.

The Labour Government of the 1970s went a long way in righting the wrongs of the Heath years but by 1980 and the first of Thatcher’s new wave of anti-union laws any idea of further advance was brought to a shuddering halt. The TUC was of course correct to call a one day stoppage in protest about this first move against us, in our naivety we had no real idea about the neo-liberal assault that was about to be unleashed. This was not Heath mark II but a step change in the attack on the working class and its unions.

Almost every other year in the early Thatcher period a new piece of anti-union legislation was passed. The anti-union legislative attack of course continued under John Major. All of these developments were opposed by the Liaison Committee.

The very limited Blair reforms received short shrift from many unions and campaigning groups, including the Liaison Committee and others such as the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti-Union Laws and Press for Union Rights. Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair made it very clear that what was in their 1999 Act was it, take it or leave it, and they meant it.

To recap, these so-called reforms were:

  • a very limited and complex union recognition procedure that granted exemption to small firms which of course were the main area of employment growth
  • the right to be accompanied, but not necessarily represented, by a union rep when facing disciplinary action if a union member working where the union was not recognised
  • a package of family friendly rights at work

In other words, nothing on trade union rights or undoing the wrongs of the Thatcher era, the Blair years were wasted years.

My sketch of the past 50 years is drawing to a close with the advent of the Tory lead Coalition in 2010 and the subsequent Conservative government since 2015. The Coalition with Vince Cable as Secretary of State introduced a series of mainly anti-worker with some anti-union measures, which became known as the Beecroft proposals, all of which was documented and opposed by the now merged Campaign for Trade Union Freedom.

The Trade Union Act 2016 introduced by the Tories led with two specific lines of attack; firstly, the introduction of thresholds in industrial action ballots was intended to make it even more difficult for unions to organise lawful industrial action; and, secondly, the attack on unions’ political funds was clearly aimed at breaking the unions’ link with Labour and effectively bankrupting the Labour Party.

The Campaign sought to mobilise opposition to this new law at the Bill stage, reprising a slogan from forty-five years previously “Kill The Bill.”

Then as now, I believe that the essence of any campaign for free trade unions must support and promote two key aims:

  • the right of unions and workers to take industrial action for both economic and political purposes, on issues both at home and overseas; and,
  • the right of unions to determine their own rules free from state interference.

The Corbyn insurgency within the Labour Party represents the first opportunity we have had to break the neo-liberal grip on trade union rights that has existed since 1980 and to make some progress on our key aims.

In my original Morning Star article I wrote:

Labour’s For the Many, Not the Few manifesto contained a 20-point labour rights reform programme including, most importantly, a commitment to establish mandatory sectoral collective bargaining….It is only through the re-establishment of union-led collective bargaining at the apex level will we see a shift of income and wealth away from the 1 per cent and back towards the 99 per cent … In the Campaign we are confident that statutory support for collective bargaining must mean a right to strike. Collective bargaining without a right to strike is reduced to collective begging…..A new Industrial Relations Act could and should, we believe, restore a right to strike without necessarily making a public bonfire of the Thatcherite Acts of Parliament.

We know the Shadow Cabinet team is being advised by some of the trade union movement’s closest legal advisers, so we are prepared to wait and see how extensive a right to strike is within the new legislative framework after the next General Election.

Labour’s Shadow Employment Secretary Laura Pidcock

I am not a confidant of Laura Pidcock MP but I take it as a given that there will be direct rights and solidarity rights and I believe that there will be rights in connection with matters overseas.

Although it remains an important point of principle we do need to ask how useful a call for a blanket repeal would be in practice.

Take for example my own position. As a consequence of the 1984 Act, I have been directly elected on to the Unite EC to represent the Docks & Railways Sector by Unite dockers and railway workers across Britain and Ireland.

No one would seriously suggest taking from our members the opportunity to vote for all of their executive members.

Rather, our call should be – and is  – for unions to be free to control their own Rule Books, a right enshrined in ILO Convention 87 and reflected in Labour’s 2017 Manifesto.

The promise to repeal the 2016 Act will relax some restrictions on the right to strike and reverse the attempt to bankrupt the Labour Party by repealing the latest restrictions on political funds; the 10 yearly ballots on political funds should also go as well. As an aside, I have often wondered why, in the context of reclaiming our rule books, a call to repeal of the 1911 Act that forced the unions to have political funds separate from their general funds has never found favour.

There is however no incongruity for the Campaign in supporting the advice being given by the Institute of Employment Rights to the Labour Front Bench that will break the 40 year grip of neo-liberalism. The labour rights offer in For the Many, Not The Fewwill provide for an extensive and positive new legal framework for unions, their members and workers generally.

Whatever is in the package does not mean that the Campaign is demobilised; it may well be that further work will be necessary on the right to strike and reclaiming our rule books.

Andy Green is National Secretary of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom. He is also Unite convenor at Tilbury Docks; a member of the Unite Executive Council, Docks & Rails Sector; and, a rank and file activist in the International Dockers’ Council.

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