Good news from Washington—the federal agency charged with enforcing labor law—the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] – has proposed modifying its rules to close the loopholes that employers use to delay and discourage employees seeking union representation. American Rights at Work explains that “by cutting back on needless bureaucracy and discouraging costly, frivolous litigation, the proposed rule modernizes the union election process. In so doing, the rule would improve stability and reduce conflict in the workplace.” If the rules are made final, this will be the most significant positive change at the NLRB in decades.That’s why the Guild quickly mobilized our members to sign on to a group petition in support of the rules change. Our friends at the Service Employees International Union coordinated a mass petition drop-off, hand delivering our signatures along with those it collected. SEIU’s Richard Negri blogged: “When I told NLRB Executive Secretary Lester A. Heltzer that he was holding a letter signed by more than 15,000 workers and worker activists who support the proposed rule change, he was impressed, saying the action was ‘definitely a first.’”
Many of the Guild members who signed our petition wrote comments explaining why this issue is so important to them. WGAE member Brad Desch wrote “at a time when working people are having such a hard time making ends meets and living decently, this protection is more important than ever.” Council Member Ted Schreiber explained “the freedom to organize IS freedom of speech.” Hillary Martin wrote “I never got rich working as a Union member. But I saw my non-union colleagues working 7-day weeks and in constant fear of losing their jobs.”
The petition delivery coincided with two days of hearings on the rule change in which labor groups, employees struggling to join unions, respected academics and economists faced off against high priced union-busting law firms who make a living by blocking people from joining unions. The AFL-CIO’s live coverage of the hearings is still online.
Labor attorney Hope Singer testified in support of the modifications, explaining how the current delays hurt creative professionals in the entertainment industry:
“Under the present system, any employer who wishes to ensure that there will be no union representation can have that wish met, and the movie will be completed, released worldwide with advanced DVD purchases on Amazon and eventually at your local convenience store before an election [to join a union] can be held.”
Speaking of which, executives at the nonfiction TV production company ITV Studios are still delaying the ratification of their employees’ vote to join the Guild. It has been 7 months and counting. WGAE member Janice Legnitto included a pertinent message to the NLRB along with her petition signature. She wrote;
“For the past two decades, the cable television industry has destroyed writers’ ability to earn salaries that are commensurate with other TV professionals such as camera men and women and editors. The result has been devastating for writers’ economic survival. This has happened while the industry has reaped record profits year after year.
The only way that writers can win the right to earn a fair wage and share profits with cable TV owners is to make it possible for them to have the right to vote in free and fair elections in every cable television shop in America.”
We will keep you posted on ways to support writers and producers in nonfiction TV. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be on our email list.
ADDENDUM: the AFL just posted a blog post explaining what the rules changes would do and wouldn’t do.
One hundred years ago on March 25, 1911 a fire erupted on the top floors of a shirtwaist factory in a Manhattan that in just 30 minutes took the lives of 146 workers, mostly young women. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire sparked reform in workplace health and safety as well as a drive to organize garment workers, but 100 years later workers are still struggling for safe workplaces and a voice on the job.
The fire and its aftermath remade the American workplace. Dozens of fire safety laws– basic things like requiring fire exits– were adopted as a direct result of worker organizing inspired by this tragedy. It built public support for the nascent union movement that created the middle class. Collective bargaining is what enabled American workers to achieve a comfortable standard of living.
Today, from Wisconsin to NYC the right to collective bargaining is being threatened. 250 writers and producers working in nonfiction TV voted to join the Writers Guild and bargain collectively for better pay and healthcare . But employers like ITV and Lion TV are now refusing to recognize their employees’ democratic choice to negotiate a contract collectively. Learn more about the movement to change non-fiction TV at NonFictionUnited.org.
For a comprehensive look at the Triangle Fire in the context of contemporary worker struggles around the country visit the AFL-CIO’s blog to read and watch their feature “The Triangle Fire: Still Burning Before Our Nation”.
Triangle Fire, a documentary written by WGAE member Mark Zwonitzer, was aired on PBS to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the tragedy. Click here to watch it online at the American Experience website.
Today and over the following few days there will be events around the country to commemorate the tragedy and catalyze support for improving workers rights. Please visit the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition’s site for a calendar of events.
Elana Levin is Director of Communications for the Writers Guild of America, East. Thank you to the Transport Workers Union site for letting me paraphrase the opening paragraph of your article “Struggle for Workers’ Rights Continues 100 Year Later” which is an excellent read.