Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Most Americans are aware of the National Labor Relations Act [NLRA] enacted and signed into law on July 5, 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.   It was this Act which established protections for the nation's workers, and put in place mechanisms to hold union elections, to help resolve labor disputes, and to mediate issues between employers and employees.  The National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] is the enforcement arm for the NLRA.

However, few Americans realize that 77 years ago the NLRA specifically excluded two groups of workers:  agricultural workers and domestic workers.  And worse, those two groups of American workers are still excluded from the Act and have no recourse to the laws, procedures, and protections of the Act.

The very words of the Act:

§ 152. Definitions

(3) The term "employee" shall include any employee, and shall not be limited to the employees of a particular employer, unless the Act explicitly states otherwise, and shall include any individual whose work has ceased as a consequence of, or in connection with, any current labor dispute or because of any unfair labor practice, and who has not obtained any other regular and substantially equivalent employment, but shall not include any individual employed as an agricultural laborer, or in the domestic service of any family or person at his home, or any individual employed by his parent or spouse, or any individual having the status of an independent contractor, or any individual employed as a supervisor, or any individual employed by an employer subject to the Railway Labor Act, as amended from time to time, or by any other person who is not an employer as herein defined.

And why were these two groups excluded in 1935?  Historians tell us that the  reason for their exclusion at that time was both groups were primarily African Americans.  Many members of Congress with larger populations of African Americans would not vote for the Act without this exclusion.

Even more shameful for our country is that over these past 77 years no session of Congress has ever attempted to amend Section 152 and to remove this blatantly racist exclusion.

And why does Congress today not try to amend that original Act?  In my opinion, it is because so many of those workers are unauthorized immigrants.  To many of us, this seems yet another punitive action against a large group without political voice or power.

Here in California, recent attempts to assist farm workers and domestic workers in the State resulted in two bills which passed the State Legislature.  However, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed both measures.  Fortunately, he has indicated an openness to sign future versions if certain changes are made.  I urge our Legislature to take up those two issues once again in January when their new Session begins.

To his credit, Governor Brown did help pass and sign the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975.  Modeled after the NLRA, ever since it has covered the States farm workers with similar protections.

Nothing has been done for domestic workers, however.  With Baby Boomers turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day, one can imagine the huge number of domestic workers will be needed in the coming years to help care for this large population.

I hope and pray that organized labor and other groups working on behalf of the poor across the country would press the next Congress to end the shameful exclusion of farm workers and domestic workers.

It is the only just step for us to take as a nation.