Labor Union and Social justice
Published 05 Aug 2016
Social justice dictates that it is the duty of the state to give protection to labor by ensuring equal work opportunities regardless of age, sex, or race and by regulating the relations between workers and employers.
In view of the recognition that an unequal bargaining situation exists between the labor and the employers, the state has provided more rights and protection to the labor. The rights of the workers include the right to self-organization, the right to collective bargaining and the right to security of tenure. Pursuant to the workers’ right to self-organization, the state granted the employees the right to form unions.
The labor union is an association of workers created and formed for purposes of bargaining with a particular employer and to make sure that the interests and welfare of the workers regarding their terms and conditions of employment are well protected. The union represents each member to the employer. Thus, any demands or grievances by an employee or a group of employees regarding their employment would be properly addressed by the union to the employer. As the representative of the workers, the union has the duty to bargain with the employer such terms and conditions of employment in a manner that would be beneficial to the workers. Truly, the existence of a union in a group of workers working for a particular employer guarantees that the workers’ right are guarded and strictly observed by the employer at all times.
In Labor Exercens, Pope John Paul II stressed the importance of forming unions. “Worker solidarity, together with a clearer and more committed realization by others of workers’ rights, has in many cases brought about profound changes. . .”
However, the state policy on protection to labor does not only include the protection of the rights of the workers but the rights of the employers as well. Likewise, it is also the duty of the state to protect the interest of the employer and the protection that it extends to the workers should not result in injustice on the part of the employer. There should always be a balance between the interest of both the workers and employers. Although the existence of the union is highly encouraged, the fact exists that the labor union is a burden on the part of the employer. When employees in a certain company are unionized, it restricts one way or another, the employer’s management prerogative. Management prerogative is the right of the employers to prescribe terms and conditions of employment which include but not limited to salary rate, bonuses, fringe benefits, leaves, promotion, and termination.
The existence of a labor union and the employer’s management prerogative on the other side usually causes some conflicts that require the power of the state to balance the interest of both parties. Since rights of workers and the employers are both recognized, a question exists as to which of the said interests should be given more priority.
Considering the foregoing circumstances, this paper aims to discuss the importance of labor union in protecting the rights of the employees and the reason why the state should first ensure the rights of the union and the workers composing it before considering the prerogative of the management.
The Role of the Labor Union
The primary duty of the labor union is to protect the rights of the workers and to prevent workers from being abused by their employers. The labor union is the one that bargains with the employer with regard to the terms and conditions of employment in a manner that is in accordance with law and acceptable to all workers. Although the law equally protects the right of the employer, the fact exists that such right must be regulated; otherwise, the employer would freely advance their interest which is to minimize the cost of labor and to maximize their profits. They are willing to achieve the same even to the extent of sacrificing or violating the rights of the workers by not giving what is properly due to them. Thus, the indispensable role of a labor union comes in. The union itself is a powerful instrument of each worker in ensuring that his right is properly observed and recognized by his employer.
The power to strike is a concrete example of the labor union’s ability or capacity to relay their grievances to the employer. The strike is a concerted action of employees performed through temporary stoppage of work due to the labor dispute. It is the strongest weapon that a labor union may resort in order or ventilate labor demands. Since it is a powerful right given to a legitimate labor union, the labor laws ensure that it will be properly and reasonably used in accordance with the prescribed rules. Hence, there are only two types of the strike, to wit, a) strike arising from Unfair Labor Practice and b) strike arising from bargaining deadlock. When the reason for the strike does not fall under the any of the two types, then the strike is considered illegal.
One of the most recent strikes which have been in the news all over the world since the start of November was the strike conducted by the American Writer’s Guild. Robert Towne, the author of “Chinatown,” best described the situation the Writers Guild of America is in right now. “A strike is like the war in a way: Nobody wins but they are also sometimes unavoidable. I guess this is unavoidable.” Indeed, the writers have joined together to fight for the protection of their right.
In October 2007, the members of Writers Guild of America, composing of at least 12,000 members, gave their union leaders the authority to conduct a strike action if they will not be able to enter into a favorable contract with the producers. Prior to this voting, the Writers Guild of American had been negotiating with the major studios better terms conditions of their contract that have expired last October 31, 2007.
The Writers Guild of America finally went on economic strike which started last November 5, 2007. In essence, the main issue for the strike was the entitlement of writers to income arising from the distribution and the reselling of the shows to other media such as the internet, DVD, and mobile phones. The writers, recognizing that the internet has become a major source of entertainment for people, have asked the producers that they should be entitled to a percentage of the profits from sales generated through the internet. The writers in effect are asking for residual payments of 2.5% of the profits for the shows that are being sold over the internet and over cellular phones. (Aaron Barnhart p.2) Also, they want to receive twice the amount they are currently getting for the payments from sales of DVD. According to the writers, they will not allow themselves to be cheated once again by the producers who are earning so much from the sales of TV shows and movies to other forms of media.
One the other the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are asking for status quo mainly because of the uncertainty involving the sales through the internet. Historically, the first strike involving the writers happened in 1988 which lasted for almost 6 months and which caused the show business industry losses totaling to $500 million. Now, people say that there is a possibility that this current strike may last longer than that in 1988.
Although the state both protects the rights of the workers and employers, the right of the workers to self-organization should take precedence above everything else. As part of that right is the right to form, establish and join a labor union. The right of the labor union cannot be sacrificed in favor of the so-called management prerogative. The employer has no choice but to collectively bargain with the union, otherwise, he will violate labor laws which specifically protect the rights of the labor union.
A definite example of a circumstance wherein the right of the union takes precedence over the right of the employer is when the union conducts a strike. It is a fact that a strike may cause serious losses on the part of the employer arising from the temporary stoppage of work. Nonetheless, the employer cannot invoke that such concerted activity is tantamount to the unjust taking of his private property since the workers are merely exercising their right. As previously discussed, the strike is the labor union’s way of getting what they want when the workers feel that they are aggrieved by the conditions of employment prescribed by the employer.
Although strike may sometimes lead to violence or loss of jobs of some workers, particularly when the action has been adjudged illegal, it is still the strongest weapon of the labor union against abusive employers. It is still the most effective means of exercising the right of the union which is to challenge whatever policies implemented by the employer which directly prejudice the interest of the workers.
In the existing relation between the workers and the employer, the workers are considered as the weaker party. Thus, the law gives more protection to the workers by allowing them to form a union that will serve as their voice to the employer. Although all workers have the same labor rights, workers of the particular employer who are unionized have more ability to utilize and maximize their rights than those employees who have no labor union. The reason is that they are well represented and they are secured that the employer has the duty to listen and act on their grievances. Therefore, all workers should realize the indispensability of being a part of a labor union.