Thursday, March 10, 2011

Collective Bargaining as a Constitutional Right?--Op Ed

By Thomas Linzey And Mari Margil
March 7, 2011
In the ongoing face-off between Gov. Scott Walker and public unions in Wisconsin over collective bargaining, one point seems to have been missed. It has to do with what is and is not a right under our system of law.

Put simply, collective bargaining isn't a right in Wisconsin. Rather, it's a privilege that's been statutorily granted by the state Legislature, which the Legislature may, as it is now considering, take away. Contrast that with constitutional rights, which no legislature can nullify.

It's discouraging, but most of the progress that's been made over the past 50 years by labor, as well as by environmental groups, hasn't been about expanding rights of workers or the environment but has instead focused on convincing legislators to regulate working conditions and terms and to regulate how quickly the natural environment will be developed.

Regulating working conditions doesn't change who's really in control of the workplace. Regulations operate within our current system of law in which private employers can legally strip constitutional rights from workers, replace striking workers and force workers to attend non-work related "captive audience" meetings where failure to attend can result in firing.

While the system affords constitutional rights to those who own the workplace, it relegates workers to a lesser status, grudgingly allowing some regulation of working conditions. That strikingly differential treatment is reflected in how our system of law treats corporations and unions.

Creating a corporation requires only completing a form and paying a fee. Unionizing a workplace, on the other hand, requires jumping through a series of byzantine hoops while the employer retains the power to threaten employees and close the workplace....continued.....