50 Years of National and State Legislation

by Leslie Sigurdson 

 

Legislation at the national and state levels has affected Unions in a number of ways. At the national level, there have been laws passed that have been good for Unions and laws that have not helped Unions. Legislation at the state level seems to be almost always beneficial to Unions.
   The time line for this essay will focus on the years from 1960 to present day. However, one law that was passed before 1960 that still has an impact on Unions today is the Taft-Hartley Act. The act limited Unions' ability to strike and since the ability to strike is a crucial way to put pressure on employers, its passage was bad for Unions.
   The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 along with the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 are examples of legislation that was good for Unions. Employers were prohibited from many forms of discrimination and were required to pay equally for people doing equal work. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 allowed employees trial by jury and to recover damages if discriminated against and this was also positive for Unions and their members.
   On December 29, 1970, the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was signed into law. OSHA works to prevent on the job injuries, illnesses, and fatalities by creating standards for safety in the workplace. The creation of OSHA has been extremely important to Unions because it limits worker's exposure to dangerous chemicals and can penalize employers for keeping their workplaces unsafe.
   The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974 was enacted to set minimum standards for many pension and health plans. Amendments to ERISA have included the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1985. Its purpose is to help in keeping medical coverage to those who lose their obs. Another amendment is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 which deals with discrimination against working families who have pre-existing medical conditions. ERISA was amended again in 2006 to better protect pensions. ERISA has been a positive piece of legislation for Unions.
   The year 1990 brought passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This prohibits employers of 15 or more from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FLMA) was passed allowing employees time off for family or medical reasons. Unions and their families benefitted by getting protection from discrimination for being disabled and time off to help meet family responsibilities.
   In 1994, the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) went into effect. This is a trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It appears that NAFTA has had a negative effect on Unions by causing a re-location of jobs from the U.S. to Mexico and lower wages in the U.S.
   Legislation in Washington State is largely favorable to Unions. In 1961, RCW 49.46 established a minimum hourly wage. 1973 brought passage of RCW 49.17, the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA). WISHA standards must meet or exceed those of OSHA. RCW 49.70 was passed in 1984 and provides for the disclosure of information of hazardous substances. In 1995, RCW 49.60 formed a Human RIGHTS Commission to provide freedom form discrimination.
   Legislation in Washington State is largely favorable to Unions. In 1961, RCW 49.46 established a minimum hourly wage. 1973 brought passage of RCW 49.17, the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA). WISHA standards must meet or exceed those of OSHA. RCW 49.70 was passed in 1984 and provides for the disclosure of information of hazardous substances. In 1995, RCW 49.60 formed a Human RIGHTS Commission to provide freedom form discrimination.
   Other laws that support Unions include RCW 49.44. Passed in 2003, it makes it unlawful to bring in out-of-state persons to replace employees in a labor dispute. Also in 2003, RCW 4.44.120 made in unlawful to subject employees to lie detector tests. RCW49.44.480 prohibits employers from requiring employees or prospective employees to submit genetic information.
   Washington State law also provides for leave due to domestic violence (RCW 49.76.2008), family leave (RCW 49.78.2006), family leave insurance (RCW 49.86.2007), and military family leave (RCW 49.77.2008).
   In conclusion, legislation at the national level has been beneficial to Unions through protection from discrimination, improved safety, family leave, and benefits. Taft-Hartley's ability to limit strikes and the ratification of NAFTA are examples of legislation that have negatively affected Unions. It appears that Washington State legislation is, in almost all cases, favorable to Unions and their members.

 

Works Cited

"All about OSHA." United States Department of Labor. 2006. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Web. 22 Feb 2010.
http://www.osha.gov/Publications/3302-06N-2006-English.html

Faux, Jeff. "NAFTA at 10." Economic Policy Institute. 09 Feb 2004. Economic Policy Institute, Web. 22 Feb 2010.
http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/webfeatures_viewpoints_nafta_legacy_at10/

"Labor Unions." Encyclopedia Americana. 2003. 16. New York, NY: Grolier International, Inc., 2003. Print.

"The National Archives." Teaching With Documents: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. National Archives and Records Administration, Web. 22 Feb 2010.
http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/civil-rights-act/

"Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act." Washington State Legislature. Washington State Government, Web. 22 Feb 2010.
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=49.17