By Beth Shulman
October 6, 2005 - 9:15am ET
Corporations have lots of ways to be profitable, and undercutting their workers attempts to organize a union doesn't have to be one of them. A recent report by the non-profit American Rights at Work spotlights successful companies that understand it can be good business to recognize their workers' right to organize.
These companies have partnered with their employees' unions to provide sustainable wages, employee-retention strategies, better safety practices, health care, and training and professional development opportunities - and surprise! These things actually help the companies to compete globally.
According to the report, "The Labor Day List: Partnerships that Work," companies such as Addus Healthcare, Catholic Health Care West and Brightside Academy provide wages and benefits that are higher than average in their fields, and the reduced turnover and higher morale that result have improved care for patients and children. Cingular Wireless, a leader in telecommunications, partners with the Communications Workers of America to provide good jobs at decent pay. The highly profitable Costco believes strongly that treating workers right results in more productivity and commitment, and it shows in their bottom line.
The Douglas County School District in Colorado agreed to let its teachers organize even though the state had no statutory requirement for collective bargaining. The resulting agreement involves teachers in all decisionmaking and includes bonuses for those whose students excel. And students recently scored higher than the state average in every grade and subject tested by the Colorado State Assessment Program.
These companies and school system have been highly successful by choosing to respect their workers, but others choose the low road to profitability. They combat their workers' efforts to organize in order to keep paying low wages and few benefits. Employers like Wal-Mart, Comcast and Tyson Food are a few that take this approach.
The American Rights at Work study notes that 15,000 workers have been fired or punished so far this year for supporting a union. Human Rights Watch documented the reality in its 2000 report, using terms that sound straight out of the Dark Ages: "Workers who try to form and join trade unions to bargain with their employers are spied on, harassed, pressured, threatened, suspended, fired, deported, or otherwise victimized in reprisal for their exercise of the right to freedom of association."
It is clear that companies can be competitive in the global economy by respecting their workers' rights. But corporations do not have sole responsibility for deciding whether to follow that high road. It is our role as citizens to ensure with our voices and our votes that workers' fundamental rights to organize are upheld. We need to insist that labor laws be reformed to ensure strong and swift penalties against corporations that take the low road. And meanwhile, we need to demand that companies that violate their workers' human rights to organize a union be treated as the lawbreakers they are.
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