The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) and UE Local 150, which represents thousands of public employees who work for state agencies and municipal governments in North Carolina, filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO) on December 9, 2005, charging the U.S. government and the State of North Carolina with violations of international law protecting workers’ rights to association and collective bargaining. On the same day, a delegation of labor leaders from six states and three countries delivered a copy of the complaint to Governor Mike Easley.
The filing was timed to coincide with the commemoration of International Human Rights Day. It was also a high point of the Public Sector Workers Convergence, in which union leaders and activists from several countries met to address the unique needs of state and local employees.
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At the heart of the complaint is North Carolina General Statute 95-98, which makes it illegal for the state, counties, cities, or any other political subdivisions of the state to enter into contracts or agreements with any labor union or other bargaining agent. While public-sector workers in North Carolina have technically been free to join labor organizations since 1969, the prohibition of collective bargaining agreements has largely undermined workers’ main objective in exercising their freedom to associate in the workplace. UE contends that this violates ILO Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize), 98 (the Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively), and 151 (the Right of Public Workers to Organize and Procedures to Determine Conditions of Employment in the Public Sector).
“What better time than International Human Rights Days to remind the State of North Carolina that its employees have the same rights as any other workers?” asked UE Director of Organizing Robert Kingsley.
“International law is clear: workers have a right to organize and to bargain collectively to protect and improve their wages and working conditions,” said Robin Alexander, UE Director of International Labor Affairs. “General Statute 95-98 flies in the face of that, specifically denying those basic rights to the people who provide services to North Carolina taxpayers. The governments of the United States and the State of North Carolina owe workers the protections of international law and have failed to deliver. UE wants them to answer for their failures.”
The delegation delivering the complaint to the Governor included labor leaders from Canada, Mexico, and Japan, as well as from North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, and Pennsylvania. “It is worth noting that Canada, Mexico and Japan are North Carolina’s top three international trading partners,” Kingsley observed. “There is a rising reluctance among nations to engage in unrestricted trade with states or nations that fail to respect basic human and worker rights.”