As video footage and imagery from the scenes of Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama and Frito-Lay workers in Topeka, Kansas, roll across the screens in Alaska homes and hands, many of us are realizing that these tough fights for workers’ rights are not just a problem of the past or in another country. The disparity of labor and management rights and wages in the workplace is a very modern problem that affects many of our neighbors, friends and families right here today in the United States.
The corporate culture of business behemoths like Amazon have been eating away at the prosperity of the middle-class American family for decades. When workers try to establish a voice for themselves as a group using their constitutional rights, those invocations should be treated with absolute respect. Instead, companies are free to fire employees under “at-will” clauses and hire someone else that is willing to do the work without questioning the pay, schedule or safety.
Our national labor laws are nearly a century old. As management and their capital have evolved over time to the point of lobbying for creative legislation to gain lucrative profits, the plight of the blue-collar worker has remained stagnant, stuck with an antiquated doctrine from 1935.
Unions built the middle class. The rise and fall of economic inequality closely tracks with the fluctuation of union density; as the collective strength of workers’ bargaining units and their abilities to negotiate for better pay and benefits grew, the gap between the rich and poor shrank considerably. As that strength has weakened, the gap has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression.
Every worker should have the right to collective bargaining, but sadly, there is a serious lack of enforcement against unscrupulous employers who use tactics intended to coerce, harass or stall workers trying to form unions. Supporters are often fired while other workers are forced to attend mandatory meetings designed to intimidate and quench the thirst for better working conditions with fear of reprisal.
With inconsequential penalties for employers that lie and break the law, organizers like me are essentially fighting with our arms tied behind our backs. As a career construction worker, I have seen all too often a lack of fair treatment shown to employees. As a strong supporter of blue-collar workers and their families, I call for our senators to put some teeth in the Nation Labor Relations Board by voting for the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. This bipartisan piece of legislation, supported by Congressman Don Young, would establish actual fines for companies and executives that break the law, affecting the culture change we need to curtail the corporate campaigns against the rise of the middle class.
In America, our constitutional rights are not partisan issues and here in Alaska, we work hard to pursue life, liberty and happiness. We all deserve the right to bargain for the conditions in which we earn the means to afford that pursuit. It’s time to strengthen and reinvigorate the working class; it’s time to pass the PRO Act.
Joshua Lamb is a Recruitment Organizer for Plumbers and Steamfitters, Local 367 in Anchorage. He lives in Wasilla.
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