Skip to main content

With labor law reform stalled, recognizing "A Civil Right to Unionize"

Jeremy Sprinkle
Social share icons

Excellent op-ed this week in the N.Y. Times

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, he was there to stand with sanitation workers in their demand for the City to recognize their union and bargain a contract. The struggle for civil rights was a demand for justice, and economic justice for all people was a fundamental part of Dr. King's dream.

This week, Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit co-authored an op-ed in the New York Times, making the case that our nation's archaic labor laws have failed to ensure employees are protected from employer discrimination when, in the pursuit of economic justice at work, they try to form a union. While employers routinely violate labor law as the cost of doing business without a union, violations of the Civil Rights Act, one of organized labor's signature legislative accomplishments, carry far greater penalties.

Perhaps, then, Kahlenberg and Marvit argue, the time has come to recognize American's right to form a union "as fundamental as freedom from discrimination in employment and education."

"Corporations will tell you that the American labor movement has declined so significantly because unions are obsolete in a global economy, where American workers have to compete against low-wage nonunion workers in other countries. But many vibrant industrial democracies, including Germany, have strong unions despite facing the same pressures from globalization. Other skeptics suggest that because laws now exist providing for worker safety and overtime pay, American employees no longer feel the need to join unions. But polling has shown that a majority of nonunion workers would like to join a union if they could. In fact, the greatest impediment to unions is weak and anachronistic labor laws. It's time to add the right to organize a labor union, without employer discrimination, to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, because that right is as fundamental as freedom from discrimination in employment and education."

Click here to read more from "A Civil Right to Unionize".