The movement to win collective bargaining rights for North Carolina public sector workers continues in the state legislature. During this long session that began at the end of January 2009, two bills to repeal the ban were introduced, House Bill 750 and Senate Bill 427. This is a major step forward as we face strong opponents to repealing the ban. During the 2007–2008 session, House Bill 1583 got support in the Judiciary II Committee but did not make it to the floor of the General Assembly. The corporate lobbyists hoped that this would effectively defeat and silence the legislative support as well as the movement for collective bargaining rights among rank-and-file workers and their communities. Neither was true.
In between the 2007–2008 and the current 2009–2010 sessions, the struggles of workers against problems they face in providing essential public services—such as mental health care, municipal, education, janitorial and emergency services —intensified greatly.
Workers throughout the Department of Health and Human Services conducted a major campaign that mobilized and involved thousands of workers in demanding a Mental Health Workers Bill of Rights.
City workers, workers in the Department of Administration, and Housekeepers on the UNC Campuses—led by the NC Public Service Workers Union-UE150 and the International Worker Justice Campaign—helped to educate workers, legislators, and the community about the need for collective bargaining rights. This included hosting an international delegation of trade unions from Japan, Canada, Mexico, and India who came to investigate what NC has done to comply with the ruling of the United Nation’s International Labor Organization, which declared North Carolina to be out of compliance with international standards and laws.
The right to collectively bargain has risen to be among the top demands of the HKonJ Coalition of more than 100 community, labor, and faith-based organizations throughout the state. HKonJ mobilized 7,000 people to the NC state capitol on Feb 14, 2009. The leader of the HKonJ Coalition and State President of the NAACP, Rev. William Barber, II, spoke to legislators and supporters at a press conference in early April calling for the repeal of the Jim Crow statute NCGS § 95-98 that prohibits public workers from bargaining for a contract with their employers.
The Hear Our Public Employees (HOPE) Coalition, which brings together labor unions and community and faith based supporters demanding the repeal of NCGS § 95-98, has grown despite the efforts of the NC Chamber of Commerce, the NC League of Municipalities, and the NC Sheriff’s Association, who among others want absolute power over their workers and thus the services they provide to their communities.
The financial crisis and the arbitrary cutting of jobs and services by state and local government shows why public sector workers need collective bargaining rights; why the rank-and-file must be more organized to press for this right; why community support and vehicles to engage this support are needed; and why it must be raised in international bodies as an issue of human rights. This is the mission of the International Worker Justice Campaign as a rank-and-file led movement for collective bargaining rights.