News & Events

When it comes to union activity, politics matters!

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
May 2007 Edition

By Joe Twarog
Associate Director, Labor Education & Training

All too often one hears hard workers, solid citizens and active union members saying that “I will be active in the union, but I don’t believe in getting involved in politics.” This is stated as if “politics” is some sort of filthy disease that will contaminate whatever else they are involved with.

Yet our everyday world is immersed in politics. It is part of the fabric of our lives. One cannot avoid it. It pervades our society for better or for worse. In fact, it is somewhat naïve to believe that by ignoring this area of life it will then be neutralized.

Consider how the political sphere impacts workers’ lives, both locally and nationally. Here are some recent examples.

  • The National Labor Relation Board, under the current administration, has been so politicized that nurses’ right to a union is threatened by anti-union decisions such as the Kentucky River and Oakwood cases. In these cases the board has redefined the term “employees” by claiming that many of the daily independent decisions nurses make as professionals makes them “supervisors” and therefore ineligible to be in a union.
  • Two then newly elected governors who took office in 2005 in Indiana and Missouri rescinded collective bargaining rights for public employees in those states by executive order on their first day in office! This forced public sector unions to disband in those states.
  • Former Gov. Mitt Romney repeatedly tried to have public sector “supervisors,” who currently have collective bargaining rights under Mass. General Laws, Chap. 150 (e), denied those rights.
  • California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attacks on organized labor through initiative petitions (all of which failed at the ballot box).
  • The Secret Ballot Protection Act, which would outlaw union recognition through card check sponsored by Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and would mandate government-supervised secret ballot elections as the sole manner for a union to become recognized in the workplace.
  • President Bush’s denial of union rights to Homeland Security employees in the name of expediency.
  • Congressional minority party opposition to the expansion of rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • Weingarten rights, which allow for representation in investigatory interviews with supervisors that could result in discipline, have been revoked for nonunion workplaces by the NLRB.
  • Former New York mayor and current presidential candidate Rudy Guiliani publicly (with all of the media watching and recording) praised the police and firefighters after the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, and then fought them privately tooth and nail for their requests for better equipment, better safety protections and better staffing.
  • “The Family Time Flexibility Act” introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and “The Family Time and Workplace Flexibility Act” introduced by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) are designed to undermine some basic provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, including the 40- hour workweek—allowing employers to work their employees almost unlimited hours. It is important to note that already the average employee in the U.S. now works 350 hours more per year than does the typical European worker (according to the National Organization for Women).
  • Last year’s Congressional debate to increase minimum wage ($5.15 per hour) was opposed by inserting “poison pill amendments” such as that offered by Sen. Enzi (R-Wyo.) which would have gutted several provisions of the Fair Labor Standard Act by eliminating wage and hour protections for millions of workers, cutting overtime pay by replacing the 40-hour workweek with an 80-hour, two-week work period and lowering wages for tipped workers. Yet, the opponents of unions and workers’ rights firmly believe in political action. They do not take any hands-off purist line that “politics is dirty.” They work tirelessly to undercut union rights by massive funding campaigns to get their like-minded candidates elected and then legislation passed. In 2004 alone, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce spent $24.5 million lobbying the federal government, generally in opposition to bills that would increase workers’ rights on the job.


But with a new Congress, there is hope on the horizon. There is finally legislative action in the area of major labor law reform. At least two significant measures have been introduced for debate.

  1. The Employee Free Choice Act (see the Massachusetts Nurse January 2007 for a full description of this bill.), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced the legislation in the Senate (S.1041) and Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.), Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), and Peter King (R-N.Y.) introduced the bill in the House.
  2. The Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradesworkers (RESPECT) Act (H.1644/ S.969) to protect the rights of workers now threatened to be categorized as “supervisors” and denied their rights to organize and limit the ability of employers to take away union protections was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Kennedy and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and in the House by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Andrews.

So politics in fact does matter. It is inescapable. Ignoring it does not make it all “go away,” but only allows those who do not necessarily have the best interests of workers to run freely with their own anti-worker agendas. There is a need for all MNA bargaining units to become actively involved.