Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Labor Advocates Charge Firms Get Leeway to Resist Unions

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Labor Advocates Charge Firms Get Leeway to Resist Unions

Article excerpt

HOUSTON _ Federal laws give workers the right to organize a union.

But labor lawyers say these laws offer scant help when an employer decides to fight.

An employer who doesn't want a union can drag proceedings out for years and end up with no penalty, they say. Or a company can fire employees who are organizing the union and escape with little more than a slap on the wrist.

Patrick Flynn, a labor lawyer in Houston, says, "For many, it's cheaper to violate the law than abide by the law."

If an employer fires someone for union activity, three things eventually could happen, Flynn says. The employer might have to post a notice that it violated a worker's rights, it may have to give the employee his job back, and it may have to fork over back pay.

It usually takes a year or two to litigate these cases, and chances are the fired worker would get another job during that time. Workers often don't want their old jobs back and if they are earning the same as their previous salary or more, they wouldn't get back wages.

But all this may change if Congress approves legislation to strengthen the hand of the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that deals with union-organizing disputes.

Sen. Paul Simon, D.-Ill., and Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., each have introduced measures to speed up the union election process, get decisions quicker in wrongful termination cases, and give employees three times their wages in back pay if they are illegally terminated.

While those proposals may change the law someday, they aren't doing much for the folks at Upstage Center in Alvin, Texas.

Hugh Weaks, a rigger who used to work for Upstage Center installing the sound, light and curtains for many of the big rock-and-roll, sports and theatrical shows that come to Houston, contends he is being frozen out of work while he exercises his right to organize a union. The International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the company.

The company has indicated it won't negotiate with the union, says Jim Hicks, a lawyer representing the union. So what if the labor board issues a decision two years from now that the company has to negotiate? …

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