The AFL-CIO has designated the month of June as “Voice@Work Month” and has launched a month-long campaign aimed at shining a spotlight on the struggles workers face when they try to form unions – and the need to reform the nation’s unfair labor laws.

“We know public and community support will be crucially important in helping thousands of workers win union contracts,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. “But large-scale change and the true freedom to join together in a union will come only when we reform America’s inadequate labor laws.”

Sweeney said enforcement of these laws is so weak that employers have little to fear if they violate them. At least one-fourth of employers illegally fire workers for supporting the union during organizing campaigns, he said, and 78 percent force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with managers and 92 percent force employees to attend mandatory closed-door meetings against the union.

According to “Unfair Advantage,” a study released in August 2000 by Human Rights Watch, workers attempting to organize unions “are spied on, harassed, pressured, threatened, suspended, fired, deported or otherwise victimized.”

“But when workers see that others are standing with them in their struggle, they feel encouraged to continue their efforts for a voice at work,” Sweeney said.

There has been a steady increase in the reprisals meted out against workers attempting to exercise their right to organize. In the 1950s, for example, workers who suffered reprisals numbered in the hundreds each year. In the 1960s, the number climbed into the thousands, reaching slightly over 6,000 in 1969.

By the 1990s more than 20,000 workers each year were victims of discrimination, leading to a back-pay order by the National Labor Relations Board.

A highlight of Voice@Work Month promises to be a hearing convened in Washington, D.C., by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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