Current labor laws, both from state and federal levels, were enacted to provide employees with rights while working for an employer. Specifically, labor laws clarify certain employer obligations to employees. These laws are codified under both state and federal codes and those laws are used to enforce rules and settle disputes.
These laws can be traced to the post-Civil War and Industrial Revolution eras wherein growing labor unrest led to the passage and codification of the laws. A significant factor involved in creating those laws was the rise of the labor unions. The evolution and growing strength of labor unions created disparities, particularly between a union and non-union workers. As a result, many states passed right to work statutes to close that gap. The Evergreen State, surprisingly, does not close this gap.
Understanding any historical shift requires understanding the context of that history. Much insight can be gained only by first seeking to determine the zeitgeist. During the Industrial Revolution of the 1820s and 1830s, the North experienced a boom in which large employers emerged who employed hundreds of people to produce en mass. Now, Americans can produce a large number of products and sell those products at a cheaper price. This was an advantage for both corporations and consumers. Corporations can reap large profits by having a large customer base; consumers gain because products are cheaper and under stricter controls.
As the labor force grew, so did complaints of mistreatment. It seemed to the workers that they were under the whims of their employers; employers, holding all the leverage, can decide what the employees should be doing, working conditions, pay, and benefits without any oversight. A notable documentation of mistreatment is from Upton Sinclair’s bookThe Jungle, which explains working conditions and other difficulties in the meatpacking business.
While unions existed in England in the 1700s, the concept picked up considerable steam in the United States starting in the late 1800s. Coupled with the rise of Marxism, which spread wildly at the time, labor unions started to mushroom all over the country. Through unionizing and the power it wielded, workers believed that they were on a level playing field with employers.
One important development was the creation of the American Federation of Labor, or AFL, which later became the AFL-CIO. Eventually, this precipitated the creation of the United States Department of Labor and later the Washington Department of Labor and Industry.
Labor unions used considerable weapons to gain leverage, including the threat of boycotts and strikes. Eventually, this led to labor laws governing strikes and how unions and employers should interact. In many states, a set of these laws are called “Right to Work” laws. In most states, Right to Work laws requires employers to provide the same salary, benefits, working conditions, and the like for all employees, regardless whether those employees are union or non-union. This is applicable even if the union was the entity that negotiated the better benefits. Washington state, in contrast to most other states, has no such law. Therefore, non-union employees may find themselves at a disadvantage when negotiating contracts.
Labor issue in the Evergreen state? Contact the labor firm of HKM.