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September 8, 2013

READERS’ FORUM: Sept. 8, 2013


Standing up for the worker

In the spirit of education, I would like to submit some information that the average American worker may not know exists.

Among the many laws drafted for the protection of workers is The Wagner Act. The Wagner Act, The National Labor Relations Act (1935), was and is the single most important piece of labor legislation enacted in the United States in the 20th century. The purpose of this bill was to eliminate employers’ interference with the autonomous organization of workers into unions.

Sponsored by Sen. Robert F. Wagner, a Democrat from New York, the Wagner Act established the federal government as the regulator and ultimate arbiter of labor relations. It set up a permanent three-member (now a five-member) National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with the power to protect the rights of workers to organize into unions and penalize employers who violate this enforceable law.

An International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) representative named Mike Lucas uncapped the power of this law, and challenged the board whose duty it was/is to protect every worker in this country. In doing so he opened the door for many potential Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges against unlawful employers and allowed union representatives to defend unrepresented (non-union) employees who would not have any chance of standing up to bullying tactics of unfair employers on their own.

I would like to share some personal experiences I have had with the NLRB. During my normal rounds one day as a representative for IBEW Local 725, I checked on a Wabash Valley construction site that was determined to be a prevailing wage job site. I entered the building and saw three workers inside and struck up a conversation with them. I introduced myself and after a chat I asked them if they were making prevailing wages and benefits, as the local and state governing bodies had set.

They looked at each other and replied that their employer had promised them he would do so but was currently paying them their normal wage, which was far below the prevailing wage and benefit determination. I explained to them the fact that they deserved to make, by law, much more than their employer was currently paying them on this job. I asked them, and they agreed, to fill out some paperwork stating how much they were making, including benefits, which they were not receiving.

Representing these workers, I filed the appropriate ULP charges against the employer with the NLRB. Several days later I got a call from one of the workers who told me that the three had been fired because of their cooperation with the union. I met with the three men and explained that their employer had violated the law and that I would file additional ULP charges with the NLRB, which I did.

The three men were re-hired, with back pay at the prevailing wage, as condition of the violation of the law. Unfortunately, the men were segregated from the rest of the shop’s employees upon their return, which is another violation of the Wagner Act. I filed the appropriate ULP charges yet again. I was just doing my job, but there was more to it than me doing my job. These men were risking their livelihood. They hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, they were doing everything that was right; they were just going to work to make a living for themselves and their families.

The ULP charges I presented were eventually upheld and the unlawful employer was fined. The three employees who were fired, re-hired, then segregated for doing what they thought was right are now all union members; one carpenter and two electricians. They are now making more money with good benefits to provide for their families and don’t have to worry about being alone and unrepresented in the workplace under their former employer’s exploiting practices.

This case is a perfect example of why the NLRB was originally established; to enforce labor laws. This would not have been, nor will be, the case if appointees who end up on the National Labor Relations Board are unsympathetic toward middle-class workers they are charged to represent.

— James D. Runyan

Member IBEW Local 725

Terre Haute

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