- The biggest news is the terrible Kentucky River decision from the NLRB. In this decision, issued on September 29 and released Oct. 3, the NLRB ruled that employees who spend as little as 10 – 15% of their time overseeing other employees can be classified as “supervisors”. The impact is potentially devestating – up to 8 million workers could lose their rights to bargain collectively, as the National Labor Relations Act does not protect supervisors. Consequently, employers will be able to assign employees a small amount of supervisory responsibility in order to prevent them from forming a union. In particular, this decision is a problem for charge nurses, who are given light supervisory roles over other nurses. Many are predicting that the decision will further exacerbate the nursing shortage and increase the cost of health care.
Unions are working to overturn the ruling through Congress and the courts. Congress can override the ruling by writing into law its own, narrower definition. Whether that’s likely in today’s environment – or January’s – and whether such a move would gain Bush’s signature, is still an open question. The AFL-CIO has been organizing street protests to attempt to build Congressional support for an override. SEIU, whose core constituency includes nurses, is insisting that employers should not attempt to undermine nurses’ unions using the ruling.
- Andy Stern’s new book, A Country that Works, was released earlier this month, and Stern is going on a nationwide reading tour to discuss the book. A partial review of the book is up at the Cambridge Drinking Liberally blog. Cambridge Drinking Liberally is trying to get Stern to visit the Boston area, but his schedule is already quite packed.
The book focuses on Stern’s ideas for revitalizing the labor movement. As chief organizer and later president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Stern has been instrumental in overseeing the dramatic growth of SEIU over the past twenty years. His platform of labor movement reform calls for each union to focus on organizing an entire industry; for unions to work together, when possible, with employers to provide them with added value and to improve their competitiveness; and for domestic unions to work together with international unions in order to respond to globalization.
- The Employee Free Choice Act has gained some momentum over the past few months. The bill would make it possible for employees to voluntarily join unions without fearing reprisal from their employers. The act would require employers to recognize any bargaining unit which had gained the support of a majority of the employees. Since employees would be able to declare their support for the union at any time and in any place by signing union membership cards, employers would have far fewer chances to intimidate or harass workers. A study by Peter Hart Research Associates shows that up to 57 million workers want to join a union.
Currently the bill has 43 sponsors in the Senate and 216 in the House. Those numbers include 1 Republican Senator and about 15 Republican Representatives. Both Massachusetts Senators and all ten Representatives are signed on as co-sponsors. The AFL-CIO claims that Bush will sign it if passed (though I personally find that hard to believe.) The main obstacles appear to be unwillingness of House and Senate leadership to allow the bill to come to a vote. If Democrats retake both houses of Congress, there is reasonable hope that EFCA would pass, although of course its passage would depend on which candidates were elected. Unfortunately, it’s hard to believe that Bush would sign the act into law, and harder still to see it pass with veto-proof majorities.
- China has seen a marked uptick in labor activism over the past few months. The most visible indication of this trend is the organization of chapters of the All Chinese Federation of Trade Unions in Chinese Wal-Mart stores. The effort met with steep resistance from Wal-Mart and support from the Chinese government. For perhaps the first time, ACFTU’s Wal-Mart effort required confrontational organizing tactics. The renewed labor activism in Chin has culminated in recent government actions to give the ACFTU real teeth. The Chinese government is reportedly concerned with the growing income gap and the rise of sweatshop labor. If the Chinese labor movement can succeed in significantly boosting the standard of living and working conditions in China, then American outsourcers will have a harder time eliminating jobs here while exploiting workers there. Of course, US companies in China are trying to fight the proposed law.
- With some seed money from SEIU, Barbara Ehrenreich recently launched United Professionals, a quasi-union for professional workers. An attempt to battle outsourcing, UP seeks to represent “unemployed, underemployed and anxiously employed workers”. UP plans to advocate on behalf of its members, as well as provide insurance support, job assistance, and legal assistance. The organization’s first major initiative is to start local chapters throughout the country.
- Massachusetts Ballot Question 3 will allow child care providers paid for by the state to organize a union. A child care providers union would raise standards for child care providers, reducing turnover and improving the quality of care. It would also allow child care providers to work with the state to provide parents with a lower-cost option for child care. Unionized child care providers in other states have successfully advocated for better state support for child care, expand access to state nutrition programs, and improve training for child care providers. Contact the Campaign for Our Children’s Future for more information!
Unions are fundamentally about the idea that “we’re all in this together”, and about banding together to make everyone’s life better. Unions don’t just help workers earn fair wages and benefits, they prevent poor working conditions and exploitation. The more we can support workers’ efforts to organize, the better off we will all be.