Extremists vs. freedom to organize

While labor and its congressional allies push legalization of card-check recognition of unions to represent workers, a group of radical right Republicans is pushing to outlaw card check.

The Democrats, led by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), want to make it easier for workers to organize, following the intent of original U.S. labor law passed in 1935. The Republicans, led by Reps. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio), don’t.

The present battleground is the GOP-run House Education and the Workforce Committee. Boehner is its chair and Miller is its top Democrat, who would take over if Democrats win the House Nov. 2.

The battle pits two pieces of legislation: HR 4343, named “The Secret Ballot Protection Act,” versus the Miller-Kennedy bill, the “Employee Free Choice Act” (HR 3619 and S 1925).

Miller’s bill would establish card check as the prime alternative to the NLRB’s slow pro-business election process. It provides that if a majority of workers sign authorization cards the employer must automatically recognize that the union represents the workers.

No further sessions to mark up any labor bill and get it out of committee are scheduled.

Miller has more than 200 representatives – including half a dozen Republicans – as co-sponsors of the pro-card check bill, and Kennedy has signed on more than 30 senators.

Board to Tas: You aren’t really workers

The National Labor Relations Board ruled July 15 that teaching and research assistants at private colleges are not “employees” covered by labor law.

“The board concluded graduate student assistants, who perform services at a university in connection with their studies, have a predominately academic, rather than economic, relationship with their school,” the NLRB stated in its 3-2 ruling in a Brown University case, reversing a previous NLRB ruling.

Teaching assistants (TAs) suffer from low stipends, lack of health benefits, no tenure and huge teaching loads, among other ills. The decision not only affected Brown’s TAs, but also left in limbo the 1,200 TAs at New York University who won the original pro-employee ruling in November 2000.

AFT Secretary-Treasurer Edward J. McElroy said, “Graduate employees are obviously workers. … If a member of the NLRB can’t recognize a worker when they see one, they shouldn’t be on a national labor board.”

Farm workers win travel time pay

A federal judge has ordered a big Salinas, Calif., produce farm to pay 3,000 farm workers for the time they spent riding its buses, under its orders, from its parking lot to its fields.

The case involves workers for D’Arrigo Brothers, a giant produce farming operation headquartered in Salinas, but with fields all over the state’s productive Central Valley.

For years, D’Arrigo forced its workers to drive from their homes, often 35 miles away or more, to its Salinas parking lot to board buses to the fields. Sometimes the fields were near the workers’ homes, but that didn’t matter, UFW Vice President Efren Barajas said.

The UFW sued in 2000. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled in late March that D’Arrigo owes the workers money for time they spent aboard the company buses from 1996-2000.

“The main thing was that the company was in violation of the law, and now they’ll pay for the time they didn’t pay for the workers. There wasn’t any respect for the workers’ time,” Barajas said.

OSHA ‘alliance’ leaves union out

United Steelworkers of America President Leo W. Gerard expressed astonishment that OSHA and several steel industry trade associations had formed an “alliance” on safety without any union involvement.

Gerard said, “The trade associations have opposed every OSHA standard that applies to the steel industry. Meanwhile, many steel companies have made deep cuts in their own safety and health staff.

“If they were really interested in safety, they would have turned to the men and women who make these plants run,” Gerard said. “Apparently, OSHA’s political bosses and the industry trade associations are more anti-union than they are pro-safety.”

“I want to make it clear that our criticism applies to the political appointees running OSHA,” Gerard said. “The dedicated career inspectors in the field had no part in this charade.”

Labor Update was compiled by
Terrie Albano (talbano@pww.org). Roberta Wood and Mark Gruenberg contributed.