Workers at Novelis Testify to United Nations Official: U.S. Labor Laws Negatively Impact the Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

(Pittsburgh) – Workers seeking USW representation at Novelis this month provided testimony to Maina Kiai, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur tasked with visiting various countries and evaluating their citizens’ rights to peacefully assemble and form associations.

The U.N.’s Human Rights Council affirmed these freedoms in October 2010 and established the position of Special Rapporteur to assess access to these fundamental human rights. This includes the right to establish religious associations, political parties, and activist groups, as well as the right to freely form labor unions and bargain collectively.

Since May 2011, Kiai has visited Georgia, Rwanda, Oman, Kazakhstan, Chile, Korea and the United Kingdom. This is the first time the United States has been evaluated by the Special Rapporteur.

Workers attempting to join the USW at Novelis in Oswego, N.Y., told Kiai about their struggles to assert their right to union representation and the ways in which U.S. labor laws hinder their abilities to form associations.

Workers at Novelis have been trying to form a union since the fall of 2013. Though a strong majority of workers signed union cards, the company engaged in such egregious anti-union activity that the USW ultimately lost the union election by a slim margin.

However, the regional NLRB found that the environment Novelis created was so hostile to the union that a fair election was impossible. In October 2014, an administrative law judge agreed and in a rare move, threw out the results of the election, ordering Novelis to recognize the USW as the exclusive collective bargaining representative. Since then, Novelis has yet to begin bargaining and continues to drag its feet with appeals.

“Nothing is moving. We are still in limbo,” said Lori Sawyer, a worker at Novelis for more than 25 years. “You can’t even mention the word union there because you feel like there’s a target on your back.”

Workers at Asarco in Arizona and Texas are similarly struggling with lengthy appeals that the company is using to delay bargaining a fair contract. They also provided testimony to the Special Rapporteur this month.

Kiai issued a statement summarizing his findings from his U.S. tour. The full text is available at:

The USW represents 850,000 men and women employed in metals, mining, pulp and paper, rubber, chemicals, glass, auto supply and the energy-producing industries, along with a growing number of workers in public sector and service occupations.

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