America’s workers have a real chance to reverse decisions by the Republican-controlled National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that opened the door for employers to take away union protections from millions of workers in nearly every profession.
Late today, Reps. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) introduced the Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradeworkers (RESPECT) Act to help workers regain their rightful place as partners in the workplace with employers.
The bill would reverse a Republican party-line NLRB vote in September 2006 to slash long-time federal labor law protections of workers’ freedom to form unions.
The rulings came in three cases, collectively known as the Oakwood cases after the lead case, Oakwood Healthcare Inc., which reinterpreted the definition of “supervisor” in a way that greatly expanded the number and types of workers that can be classified as supervisors.
Although two of the three cases involved only nurses, the expanded definition applies to workers in every industry and means up to 8 million workers, including nurses, building trades workers, newspaper and television employees and others, may be classified as supervisors and barred from joining unions. Under federal labor law, supervisors are not protected against retaliation for forming unions.
The NLRB’s new definition of supervisor–which the bill would reverse–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 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. That breaks down to less than an hour a day or one full shift every two weeks.
In their dissent, NLRB members Wilma Liebman and Dennis Walsh said 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 went on to say the Republican majority did not follow what Congress intended in applying the National Labor Relations Act.
The bipartisan legislation also could help break a procedural logjam that is denying workers the right to join a union. 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.
Channels: Legislation & Politics