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Political News--October & November of 06

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GOP's Latest Assault on Labor Laws

The Party of Big Business has done away with unions for over 8 million  workers by catagorizing them as management.  A similar move in 05 had done away with the overtime higher pay rate for millions.   

FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST (BY ARRIANA), EXCELLENT BLOG WITH NOTED CONTRIBUTORS, see bio below of John Sweeney, the one who wrote this article (AFL-CIO President).

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-sweeney/national-labor-attack-boa_b_30968.html

The Bush administration's attack on working people just hit a peak when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) broadened the definition of who can be considered a supervisor and therefore denied federal labor law protection.

Essentially, Bush's labor board gave employers a road map to block workers' freedom to belong to unions by putting them into a pseudo-management category.  As dissenting NLRB members Wilma Liebman and Dennis Walsh wrote, the decision "threatens to create a new class of workers under federal labor law--workers who have neither the genuine prerogatives of management, nor the statutory rights of ordinary employees."

Most professionals--the fastest growing occupational group of workers--could fall into this phony category, Liebman and Walsh warn. By 2012, they "could number almost 34 million, accounting for 23.3 percent of the workforce."

The Bush NLRB not only ignored decades of legal precedent and its mission to protect rather than restrict workers' rights. It completely ignored the realities of today's workforce, which is more skilled and educated than those of previous generations. Workplace hierarchies have flattened out. Few employees today are in jobs that don't require them to exercise some independent judgment, to show someone else how to perform a task, to pass assignments on to co-workers. This should not cost them their right to a union voice on the job.

Under the board's decision, even low-level employees who spend only 10 to 15 percent of their time directing the work of others can be labeled "supervisors." The rights of anyone who spends 7 hours and 10 minutes a day on routine duties and 50 minutes on "supervisory functions" are at risk.

Most immediately affected by the board's ruling are the charge nurses at an acute care hospital in Michigan whose supervisory status was under question in the lead Kentucky River case. As RNs Working Together, a coalition of AFL-CIO unions that represent nurses, notes, using independent judgment and directing workflow during their shifts makes nurses responsible caregivers, not supervisors. Taking away the union protection nurses count on when they raise concerns about patient care can have devastating effects on the quality of our health care.

The board's decision will resonate well beyond nurses, though. The union rights of building trades workers, newspaper and television employees, technicians and many others are on the line. As The New York Times points out, the board made specific reference to retail workers, providing a blueprint for reclassifying employees of Wal-Mart, grocery stores and other retail operations as supervisors. "The assignment of an employee to a certain department (e.g., housewares) or to a certain shift (e.g., night) or to certain significant overall tasks (e.g., restocking shelves) would generally qualify" a retail worker as having the supervisory responsibility of "assigning," the board's majority wrote.

 

 

 

 

JOHN SWEENEY, AFL-CIO President

The son of Irish immigrants, John J. Sweeney was elected president of the AFL-CIO in October 1995 and has been re-elected three times since.

Born in the
Bronx in New York, Sweeney launched his trade union career with the Ladies Garment Workers. As SEIU president from 1980–1995, Sweeney led the successful Justice for Janitors campaign and increased SEIU membership from 625,000 to 1.1 million.

Under Sweeney’s leadership, the AFL-CIO moved far more resources into the support of national union organizing efforts and dramatically expanded its program for issues education and political action. Sweeney also led the federation to support legalization for undocumented immigrants and expanded outreach to and leadership opportunities for women, people of color, immigrant workers and students. As AFL-CIO president, he established the union movement’s first accredited
National Labor College and spearheaded the innovative Working America affiliate that now includes more than 1 million members.

Labor Board Ruling May Bar Millions of Workers from Forming Unions

By James Parks, Oct 3, 2006

The Republican-dominated National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) voted along party lines to slash long-time federal labor laws protecting workers’ freedom to form unions and opened the door for employers to classify millions of workers as supervisors. Under federal labor law, supervisors are prohibited from forming unions.

The NLRB ruled on three cases, collectively known as “Kentucky River,” but its the lead case Oakwood Healthcare Inc. that creates a new definition of supervisor. Dozens of cases involving the definition of supervisor now before the NLRB will be sent back, with employers having the option to craft arguments that will meet the new definition of supervisor and limit the number of workers who can join a union. 

Although the Oakwood decision covers only nurses, the expanded definition of supervisors means up to 8 million workers, including nurses, building trades workers, newspaper and television employees and others may be barred from joining unions. In Oakwood, the board agreed with the employer that charge nurses are supervisors. But the ruling also sets broad definitions for determining who is a supervisor that invites employers to classify nurses and many low-level employees with minor authority as supervisors. The decision was issued Sept. 29 but not released until today.

The board’s new definition essentially enables employers to make a supervisor out of any worker who has the authority to assign or direct another and uses independent judgment. Amazingly, the board also ruled that a worker can be classified as a supervisor if he or she spends as little as 10 percent to 15 percent of his or her time overseeing the work of others.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney calls the decisions “outrageous and unjustified.”

It’s the latest example of how the Bush-appointed NLRB is prepared to use legal maneuvering to deny as many workers as possible their basic right to have a voice on the job through their union. The NLRB should protect workers’ rights, not eliminate them. If the administration expects us to take this quietly, they’re mistaken. 

This week, working people are coming together in the streets in cities across the nation to make sure everyone knows that the Bush administration is slashing workers’ right to have a voice on the job.

In their dissent, NLRB members Wilma Liebman and Dennis Walsh say the decision “threatens to create a new class of workers under federal labor law—workers who have neither the genuine prerogatives of management, nor the statutory rights of ordinary employees.” Liebman and Walsh wrote that most professionals and other workers could fall under the new definition of supervisor, “who by 2012 could number almost 34 million, accounting for 23.3 percent of the workforce.” They go on to say that the Republican majority did not follow what Congress intended in applying the National Labor Relations Act: 

Congress cared about the precise scope of the Act’s definition of “supervisor”, and so should the Board. Instead, the majority’s decision reflects an unfortunate failure to engage in the sort of reasoned decision-making that Congress expected from the Board, which has the primary responsibility for developing and applying national labor policy. 

This week, thousands of union members and workers’ rights activists will rally in Boston, Buffalo, N.Y., Burlington, Vt., Nashville, Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., to demand that workers’ freedom to form a union is protected.
 
Currently, the NLRB is holding up dozens of cases that address the definition of supervisor and 60 of those are union election cases. These cases have been sent back to the various regional boards. In some of these cases, workers who voted several years ago to form a union still are waiting for their ballots to be counted. Vanessa Quinn, a member of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1133 and an emergency room nurse in
Kenmore, N.Y., near Buffalo, says expanding the definition of supervisor will be disastrous for nurses: 

In Buffalo, recruiting is already a problem. If we can’t get young people into nursing, we’re in trouble. They need to know they can go into this profession and take care of a family. Without union protection, pay will not be competitive.

AFT and AFT Healthcare in a statement also say the decisions will jeopardize health care:

If nurses and other skilled workers are considered supervisors and lose union protection, they would be extremely reluctant to speak out about patient care problems out of fear of being fired or disciplined.

The ramifications of this case are extremely serious; the decision could have a significant impact on the quality of patient care and workers’ rights.

Michael Verbil, a member of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 412 in Sarasota, Fla., and master electrician, says the decisions are an attempt to weaken unions:

Since I’ve joined the union we’ve been able to get all of our contracts to include pension and health benefits, which didn’t exist before the union. I see this as another push from the government to whittle away at the union’s base.

It just doesn’t make sense. This could destroy the working conditions we’ve fought so hard to achieve. We’re talking about millions of people who could lose their ability to negotiate with their employer, and that is just wrong.

A group of 13 religious leaders wrote the NLRB last month expressing deep concern over the impending decisions. The letter read in part:

Our religious traditions support workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively. We support proposals that expand coverage and access to collective bargaining rather than limit it. We believe that all persons are created in the image of God and as such their work unites them with others and should be endowed with dignity, equality and justice. In the workplace, collective bargaining is the most effective process for workers to express this dimension of their humanity.

Speaking at a Sept. 22 conference on the possible impact of the Kentucky River cases, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) condemned the NLRB’s refusal to conduct oral arguments in these cases:

These decisions could very well change the basic rights of American workers.

Given the stakes, the NLRB needs to be as thorough as possible in hearing testimony. The fact that the NLRB has not held hearings shows that the board is not taking this case as seriously as it should. At the heart of the issue is the right of workers to organize, to bargain collectively and to share in decisions.

CWA member Quinn agrees:

We were just asking to be heard, I don’t know how you get a fair deal when you can’t be heard.

These decisions are just the latest in a string of anti-worker rulings by an agency charged with protecting workers’ rights.

The Republican-controlled NLRB already has taken away the rights of university graduate assistants, workers with disabilities and temporary workers to join a union. And the board, which is supposed to protect workers’ rights has made a series of consistent rulings backing employers’ rights, while ignoring workers’ concerns.