NLRB sticks it to workers

LAS VEGAS — Millions of American workers will now need to get permission from the boss to join a union organizing drive as a result of a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The ruling affects employees hired by temp agencies to fill positions in this country’s factories, offices, hospitals, airports and call centers. These “agency workers” work side by side with other employees, often performing identical tasks under the same supervisors. But the George Bush-appointed majority of the NLRB has barred agency employees from joining with their non-agency co-workers to bargaining collectively, unless both the agency and the user employer give their okay.

Jon Hiatt, general counsel of the AFL-CIO, cited this decision at a press briefing during the meeting of the executive council of the federation held here this month. The ruling reversed an earlier NLRB decision that had extended the law’s protection to temporary workers. It was one of a series of 40 to 45 such reversals in recent months, said Hiatt. The decisions of the Bush-appointed majority of the Labor Board “are remarkable in their consistency,” Hiatt noted. “They consistently expand employers’ rights, constrict workers’ rights, limit the number of workers covered by legal protections, and weaken the already meager remedies” available to workers when their employers violate their rights. Hiatt also pointed to rulings denying organizing rights to graduate students who teach and to disabled workers employed as janitors. The NLRB ruled these workers don’t have union rights because their relation with their employer is “primarily educational” in the case of the teaching graduate students and “primarily rehabilitative” in the case of the janitors.

These decisions aren’t just bad, said Hiatt. “They explicitly reverse Board law.” They even reverse cases that were decided by previous Boards with Republican majorities.”

“Workers are being driven away from the very agency that is supposed to protect them,” Hiatt claimed. And, he warned, “we haven’t seen nuthin’ yet!”

More and more workers and unions are doing everything they can to avoid organizing campaigns governed by the NLRB procedures, said AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stuart Acuff. But a corporate legal attack is looming against what has emerged as a more viable alternative - card check recognition. Under the card check procedure, an employer recognizes and bargains with the union when a majority of workers sign authorization cards. Employers agree to this procedure, often as a result of community pressure or as a result of other union contracts. But cases set to come before the Board challenge the validity of card check recognition even where the employer agrees to the procedure.

Despite its aggressive campaign against workplace rights, the Bush NLRB appears to be bucking public sentiment. Surveys show 50 percent of U.S. workers would like to have a union, even though barely 14 percent are now represented. And the Employee Free Choice Act, which would mandate card check recognition, has garnered amazing bi-partisan support in Congress, with 39 supporters in the Senate and 210 in the House of Representatives.

rwood@pww.org