Rights to be Union
Left to the States to Decide
Prior to federal labor legislation, regulation of labor unions was left largely to the states. Labor relations law was governed and developed by state courts on a case-by-case basis. This is a process of judicial development known as Common Law. You can find records dating back to the late 1700s where workers began to organize into worker associations.
Uniting for a Common Cause
The concept of workers uniting for a common cause to improve their working conditions was initially greeted with hostility in the courts. An important and historical case involving the Philadelphia Cordwainers in 1806 decided that it was an unlawful conspiracy for workers to form organizations for mutual aid. In this case, a group of men refused to work as shoemakers except at certain specified prices - prices higher than they had previously been paid.
An Important Decision
In 1842, the Massachusetts Supreme Court upheld the rights of workers to form associations. More and more states gradually shared the same viewpoint. Even though courts began to recognize workers' rights, workers were now evaluated on what methods the unions could use to accomplish their goals. The ultimate tool for workers was to strike, or withhold their labor.
Even withholding the purchase of goods as a boycott was later found to interfere with the free flow of goods in commerce. Remember, the United States Constitution has a provision of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. When it came to worker's struggles at the work place, it was viewed as the restriction of commerce or restraint of trade, and was perceived to be a violation of antitrust laws.
The Passage of the National Labor Relations Act
In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed and was commonly known as the Wagner Act. This legislation established employee rights to organize, join unions and engage in collective bargaining. It also established employer unfair labor practices, making it unlawful for an employer to interfere with employee rights to join a union. Congress established the National Labor Relations Board to oversee the enforcement of the NLRA because it mistrusted the manner in which the courts historically sided with employer interests.
The NLRA, which has been watered down time and time again, has reduced the ability of workers to have an equal basis with employers to deal with their working conditions.
Learn more about your rights with a private employer under the National Labor Relations Act.
The Passage of the Iowa Public Employment Relations Act
In 1974, the Iowa Legislature passed the Iowa Public Employment Relations Act in fear that teachers would go on strike, as teachers were in other states at the time. Governor Robert Ray understood that the best way to avoid illegal strikes and disruptions in government services was to create a framework in which employee rights were respected, but he also recognized that the needs of the citizens were equally important.
Modeled after the National Labor Relations Act, the Iowa legislation was developed by compromises that would produce a balance of rights for employees while protecting the interests of efficient government and local control. The final compromise was no to the right to strike, but yes to binding arbitration. The State regulation has a limited list of mandatory items of bargaining. However, it does include payroll dues deduction for membership participation in the union.
Learn more about your rights with a public employer under the Iowa Public Employment Relations Act.
Remember, employee rights are not a given.
They are man-made laws that can be erased with the stroke of a pen. This is why it's so important for you to be politically active. If you enjoy what you have today, be prepared to fight to keep it.