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.
ruled on three cases, collectively known as “Kentucky River,” but
it’s 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.
the Oakwood decision covers only nurses, the expanded definition of superviors
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
thousands of union members and workers’ rights activists will rally in Boston, Buffalo, N.Y., Burlington, Vt., Nashville, Portland, Ore., and
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 Healthcare in a statement also say the decisions will jeopardize health care:
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.
of this case are extremely serious; the decision could have a significant impact on the quality of patient care and workers’
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:
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.
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.
of 13 religious leaders wrote the NLRB last month expressing deep concern over the impending decisions. The letter read in
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.
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:
decisions could very well change the basic rights of American workers.
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.
just asking to be heard, I don’t know how you get a fair deal when you can’t be heard.
decisions are just the latest in a string of anti-worker rulings by an agency charged with protecting workers’ rights.
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.