Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hopeful signs are on the horizon

This might not be obvious, but there are a lot of things to be optimistic about right now. At least, according to this editorial from the New York Times.

While they're not specifically talking about journalism, the author has a point.

Even before the economy bottomed out, our industry was under siege. Politically this has been one of the worst periods for middle-class workers, including journalists, in quite some time.

One of the biggest problems has been the pro-business National Labor Relations Board, the government body responsible for adjudicating disputes between employees and management.

The reality of NLRA enforcement falls far short of its goals. Many workers who try to form and join trade unions to bargain with their employers are spied on, harassed, pressured, threatened, suspended, fired, deported or otherwise victimized in reprisal for their exercise of the right to freedom of association...In the United States, labor law enforcement efforts often fail to deter unlawful conduct. When the law is applied, enervating delays and weak remedies invite continued violations. Any employer intent on resisting workers’ self-organization can drag out legal proceedings for years, fearing little more than an order to post a written notice in the workplace promising not to repeat the unlawful conduct and grant back pay to a worker fired for organizing....As a result, a culture of near impunity has taken shape in much of U.S. labor law and practice. Human Rights Watch: “Unfair Advantage: Workers’ Freedom of Association in the United States under International Human Rights Standards”
Right now, the penalties for employers that engage in employee intimidation and retaliation amounts nothing more than a slap on the wrist. It's probably not a coincidence that union membership has gone down significantly in recent history, just as it shouldn't be surprising that harassment, intimidation, and retaliation have become commonplace for employees involved in union activity. 25% of companies fire workers involved in union activity. What do they have to lose?

The statistics have proven that unionized workers earn more, and receive better benefits than their non-union counterparts. Yet union membership is down to just 8% of the workforce.

So what's the fix? Well along with the appointment of a more balanced NLRB, which will help shape the economic reality for US workers, there's also the Employee Free Choice Act, which addresses some of the most egregious liberties taken by the business community and restores equality to American labor.

Perhaps most importantly for LANG journalists, there's the appointment of California Congresswoman Hilda Solis as President Obama's Labor Secretary. Solis is a familiar face to many at the Guild and CWA, well known for her unstinting support for California workers and journalists.

None of this specifically addresses the problems facing the newspaper industry. But efforts like these will have a significant impact on the US economy, the primary reason for our declining circulation and advertising, according to industry experts. Also, there's no question that providing strength and vitality to our newsrooms will mean better journalism.

That's not to say any of this will be easy. It won't. But few things of lasting importance come easily or without sacrifice. We're facing a long and difficult road back to equality. But change has never been more essential that it is right now.

Let's get started.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why not hire a lawyer and sue the pants off of MediaNews? They have been violation contracts for years, and looks like they will in Denver, so take them to civil court and forget about NRLB. Let the lawyers work it out.