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Defending Ignorance in the Workplace

Amy Traub

Most American workers have had the legal right to join unions for 76 years. So you might not think letting people know about that right would be controversial, especially when the information is conveyed by yet another poster in the employee break room or office, next to the one that says you can’t make 14-year-olds work in coal mines and that the federal minimum wage is $7.25. But new rules that would require employers to post information about workers’ long-held rights under the National Labor Relations Act are nevertheless stirring up anger.

The Wall Street Journal describes employers as “irate” about the new rule. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it’s disappointed and opposed to the effort to help employees understand their rights.  The Boston Herald thinks asking for posters is a sure sign that the National Labor Relations Board is out of control.

But a quote from a management-side labor lawyer is perhaps the most telling:

"The notice does make it easier for labor to make inroads,” Doreen Davis, a partner in the labor and employment practice at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius told Bloomberg News. “It’s almost like an invitation to non-union employees to start thinking about joining unions.”

If simply reading a poster that summarizes a set of rights most employees have had since the day they joined the workforce is enough to get workers organizing, it says something pretty unfortunate about the state of the American workplace -- and the extent to which the status quo relies on ignorance. I’ll have more to say on the subject as we approach Labor Day.