In 1965, at the height of the civil rights movement, a decision by the Supreme Court to dismantle Southern lunch counters was seen as a clear decision against Jim Crow segregation. It gave rise to the slogan: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Some 60 years later, a decision by the Supreme Court to dismantle a private company’s right to use force to deliver a vital medical product rekindles the mantra – “Ain’t No Mountains High Enough.”
The Supreme Court’s opinion in Planned Parenthood v Holder, a 5-4 decision that also struck down key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was an attack on the right of people to seek vital health care services. It would strike down the longstanding principle of collective bargaining, placing a severe threat to the health and welfare of millions of working-class Americans. In the years since the decision, however, this threat has been replaced by a different kind of threat – the use of violence and intimidation against workers seeking their rights and taking collective action to achieve their goals. Our country’s current low unemployment rate must not mean a system that holds “As Seen on TV” jobless benefits. A real recovery would translate into wage increases for all workers, no matter their past or present past abuses or disgraces.
The court’s assault on the rights of workers served no one’s interests. Almost three decades ago, with consent of Congress, employees of the United Parcel Service, the largest company in the world, initiated and signed a collective bargaining agreement that protected the right of millions of employees to collectively bargain for the fair distribution of wages and working conditions. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found in 2003 that UPS had violated the collective bargaining agreement, violating the NLRA. In response, UPS refused to negotiate, forcing 22,000 non-union drivers to go out on strike for more than two months. The company was about to begin the process of de-unionising its delivery and logistics operations when the Bush administration, under pressure from its pro-business allies and corporate special interests, refused to provide enough judges to administer the law at the trial court level. The NLRB denied UPS’ request for a rehearing and, with a 3-2 vote, refused to comply with the Bush administration’s flood of delays and refusals to comply with its charter.
In a rare act of bipartisan cooperation, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the USA Freedom Act of 2014, a proposed statutory framework to provide lawful surveillance of Americans. One key provision in the USA Freedom Act would limit the power of the companies to challenge the National Labor Relations Board’s rulings. Specifically, provisions of the Act would weaken the ability of the service companies to challenge unions’ right to collectively bargain. In the first amendment, HR 2959, the House easily passed HR 1551, an amendment by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) to limit service company challenges of union certification elections, eviscerating one of the strongest legal weapons in the arsenal of the NLRB.
Under the circumstances, where contract negotiations were at an impasse, the NLRB provides protection of employees to select from among union and non-union alternatives and to engage in collective bargaining to achieve the reasonable wages and working conditions for which we are entitled. Unfortunately, the Bush administration ensured that it would not receive any such protection with its efforts to circumvent the NLRA. Over the years, it has stopped what could have been a major initiative that would have helped unions organize and strength their ranks and helped to ensure a fair and democratic process. By standing in the way of a clear attempt to end unfair labour practices by the Bush administration, President Obama has also proved himself not the champion of workers but of corporate special interests.
Not surprisingly, workers at UPS are not satisfied with the mixed signals coming from Washington. In September of 2014, the Teamsters sought to have 100,000 UPS drivers and managers participate in a protest of the president’s signing of HR 1551. But before the rally could begin, on the basis of official orders, FedEx – a wholly owned subsidiary of UPS – sent its police officers and canine unit to provide security for the service company’s employees and elected officials. The president’s White House press pool could later report that FedEx had not provided reasonable security for its customers and that the Washington Post itself had been the target of the canine unit.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Last June, members of UPS’ engineering and technical units held a peaceful protest at the presidential residence in Crawford, Texas. Secret Service agents threatened them with arrest for trespassing after they left a pile of “UPS Love.”