Labor Activists Gather in Kansas City to
Discuss Challenges of Labor Law
It was a diverse group. A labor attorney and an arbitrator. Active union members and retirees. Workers trying to organize, including one who had been fired, who are running into a legal brick wall. They came together on a Saturday to discuss the state of labor law and a strategy of how to deal with its restrictions.
The June 23 conference, Workers and the Law, was called by the kclabor.org web site and was endorsed by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1287 and the Kansas City Area Labor Party. Featured speakers included:
Doug Bonney, Kansas City labor and civil liberties attorney and editor of the Know Your Rights feature on the kclabor.org web site
Bob Kutchko, a FedEx driver long involved in the Teamsters effort to organize that company, and webmaster of Union Pride
Ed Bruno, former Director of Organization for the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers (UE) and currently New England Regional Organizer for the Labor Party
Bonney presented an historical overview of the main components of U.S. labor law. He began by passing around a copy of a cartoon that had appeared in a workers newspaper, Rip-Saw, in 1914. It showed the Capitol building surrounded by belching smokestacks labeled “National Association of Manufacturers.” It was entitled “Labor Law Factory.” Bonney told the group “that's still where most labor law comes from today.”
Kutchko described how labor law had been manipulated to assist FedEx. While United Parcel comes under the National Labor Relations Act that covers most private sector workers, FedEx lawyers succeeded in securing a ruling that they belonged under the jurisdiction of the Railway Labor Act. That determination had enormous implications for union organizing. Whereas under the NLRA the Teamsters could have organized terminal by terminal, needing only to win a majority of workers voting in an election, under the RLA they would have to organize all U.S. operations of FedEx simultaneously and win a majority of all workers—including those who don't vote.
Bruno explained how the power of workers is primarily mobilized through organization and solidarity. Even the best labor law—including the Wagner Act that supposedly gave workers rights from 1935-47—are restrictions on that power. If unions had been completely law abiding they would not exist as effective organizations today. The Labor Party's approach to securing a workers Bill of Rights focuses on building around human rights that are inherent in the U.S. constitution, especially in the First and Thirteenth Amendments. He described the discussion the Labor Party is organizing around a position paper, Toward a New American Labor Law.
After a lively discussion a number of conference participants headed for a showing of the film Bread and Roses that told the inspiring story of how Los Angeles janitors used organization and solidarity to win an impressive victory.
Text of Doug Bonney's presentation
Labor Party discussion paper