This is meant to be a brief introduction to let you know, as workers, some basic points to keep in mind when working on the job and the issues you face that deals with you, your fellow workers, and the bosses. We’ll cover basic points and follow with some general legal terms and cover the government organizations that handle labor law, which can be useful to workers when dealing with problems on the job. Then we’ll go on to address other points to consider when developing a plan of organizing and how to use these government organizations that handle labor law. Finally, we’ll finish with a general argument why workers should bother with any of this.
There are some exceptions to these rules, depending on the field of work you are in (like being a teacher or other state employee) and what your legal title is, such as “contractor” or “supervisor”, but in general this information applies to all workers.
- It is legal to organize at your job.
- You don’t have to be in a formal union to do any of this.
- Organizing is nothing more than collaborating with your fellow workers to fix problems at the job – this could be anything from issues dealing with safety violations, sexual harassment, problems with your work schedule, or the general treatment of workers by the boss.
- It is crucial to collaborate with your fellow workers separate from management. Workers and bosses DO NOT share the same interest. Their job is to work you as hard as possible in the interest of the business while giving you as little pay as possible; the worker’s interest is the opposite. The harder you work, the more profit they get. More profit does not mean more pay for you as workers, but usually means bonuses for bosses. There is not profit sharing between businesses and workers; it does not trickle down.
- The bosses are already organized to protect their interests (chamber of commerce, business associations, etc). This is why you have to be organized to protect your interests as workers. You cannot rely on bosses to protect your interests. This is like relying on a stranger to manage your personal affairs. You wouldn’t trust someone who doesn’t know you to have access to your personal finances, telling you what to do as if they know whats in your best interest. The relationship between bosses and workers is the same.
- Even though it is legal to organize with your fellow workers, the bosses will work very hard to stop you from doing this, including firing you. You have to be careful when organizing. DO NOT give bosses information about your intentions or efforts to organize with your fellow workers.
Virginia is an “at will employment” state. This means a boss can fire any worker for any reason, as long as it is not considered “wrongful termination.” Wrongful termination means that a boss has fired a worker for illegal reasons, such as:
- Firing in violation of federal and state anti-discrimination laws
- Firing as a form of sexual harassment
- Firing in violation of labor laws
- Firing in retaliation because a worker has filed a complaint or claim against the boss.
There are three major government agencies that handle these issues, which you can file a complaint with, they are:
National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – The NLRB is a federal agency which has the power to protect workers’ rights to organize and to determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative. The agency also acts to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices committed by bosses:
Workers covered by the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act or Wagner Act) are guaranteed the right to form, join, or assist a labor organization, and to bargain collectively through chosen representatives. Workers may also join together to improve terms and conditions of employment without a union.
The law gives workers the right to act together, including the right to strike, so they can improve their pay, working conditions, or fix job-related problems, even if they aren’t in a union.
The law forbids bosses from interfering with workers in the exercise of rights to form, join or assist a labor organization for collective bargaining, or from working together to improve terms and conditions of employment.
If any aspect of this law is violated by your boss you have the right to file a complaint with the NLRB.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws protect you against employment discrimination when it involves:
- Unfair treatment because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
- Harassment by managers, co-workers, or others in your workplace, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
- Denial of a reasonable workplace accommodation that you need because of your religious beliefs or disability.
- Retaliation because you complained about job discrimination, or assisted with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (VDLI) – The VDLI is meant to enforce safety and health regulations against bosses in Virginia. The Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Compliance Program (VOSH), which the VDLI enforces, covers all bosses and workers in Virginia. VDLI conducts safety and health inspections in response to accidents, complaints, referrals, and randomly scheduled inspections of high hazard industries.
Legal Institutions and Strategy
While workers can use the NLRB, EEOC, and the VDLI to help fight against unfair treatment and unsafe work conditions they should not be relied on to fight our battles for us. Oftentimes these organizations work in favor of the bosses, they make it difficult to prove workers are right, and they can take a long time to come to a decision to rule in favor or against workers.
Real power and strength is based in taking action on our own initiative. This means if the boss refuses to address workers’ issues that workers will respond in kind by showing that business as usual will not go on until our issues are addressed. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as work stoppages, slowdowns, sickouts, and whistleblowing to customers and the general public.
There are countless examples throughout history, on a small and large scale, of workers taking action against their bosses and winning better conditions as a result.
Why do this?
Unfortunately workers have been in a losing battle for decades, union membership has been steadily declining, many good paying jobs have become automated or shipped out overseas, workers’ real wages have been steadily declining while costs of living have been steadily increasing, and workers’ culture has been steadily destroyed – it is now unfamiliar to most workers that they can or should band together and fight back against the bosses and the corporations that make billions of dollars every year off the backs of workers. We are not promoted to even think of ourselves as workers but just individuals, as if we don’t live under a class system. We are not even taught our labor rights in the schools.
This has all contributed to the problems we see today for workers. Those who are in control, who own the government, who own the media, who own the things we need to live, will only continue to push for the continued weakening of the working class. If we do not fight back we can never expect our conditions as workers to improve. Workers have only ever improved our conditions and built our power from fighting. What have our families told us when a bully attacks? We fight back.
How to Protect Ourselves
Study and review your employee handbook. Start a workplace journal, record and document all incidents, work schedules, exact times clocked in and out before you begin concerted activity. You have to stop the boss from having any reason to fire or discipline you, such as “bad performance”. In order to do this you have to be on time, don’t violate rules, or don’t get caught doing it. This all makes it hard for a boss to argue that they are doing anything but retaliating against you for engaging in concerted activity.