When immigrants move to Oklahoma, many employers use the opportunity to take advantage of them. This is true even when they are legal residents and paying their taxes. One way immigrant blue-collar workers have found to protect themselves is to organize without forming an official union.
The Oklahoma Bar points out that when workers are part of a union, they benefit from a collective bargaining power. It states that the law protects employees who wish to organize or unionize for the purpose of bargaining to further mutual interests. That said, employees are also free to decide not to participate in these activities. Some employees choose not to join unions because of the fees they charge.
According to the NY Times, a group of workers in New Mexico decided to take a different approach. For some time, the employer of these workers allegedly exploited them. He did not allow them to clock in even though they showed up early and reportedly served customers. When one worker became injured on the job and was forced to take two weeks off, he then received no workers’ compensation.
The employee and nine of his co-workers decided to form a “workers committee” instead of a union to bargain as a group. They then sent the employer a certified letter stating their grievances. Some of these were serious, including failure to provide proper safety gear when they worked with harsh chemicals.
The workers received advice that due to the National Labor Relations Act, they were legally protected from their employer’s retaliation for the decision to bargain as a group even without a union. This allowed them to negotiate for better wages and working conditions. Unfortunately, the employer fired the injured worker and four other employees. They filed a suit and the owner was forced to not just reinstate them but pay back wages.
Ironically, the business owner allegedly only improved working conditions for those who organized against him, but not necessarily the others. This either speaks to the importance of fully organizing as a group or the risk of mixed results in these situations.