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February 22, 2005

Changing the Legal Rules to Allow Organizing

Sometimes the hardest part of forming a union is creating an employer with whom to bargain. Here's an example of the more innovative approaches to organizing new workers previously nearly impossible to bring into unions, in this case child care workers

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has signed an executive order to allow 47,000 day care workers to organize themselves into unions and collectively bargain with the state on behalf of those workers. Read the order and it may seem a little odd, since it talks about a "representative designated by a majority of day care...providers" and using the "state action exemption" to protect them from liability under antitrust laws. And despite the fact that the workers will organize under state employee labor laws, they won't be state employees.

So what's this all about?

Many social service workers, such as home health care aides who take care of the elderly or child care workers taking care of children, are hired directly by their clients, even though their funding may ultimately come from the state government. So the providers are not employees but small independent businesses or self-employed independent contractors.

So what this executive order states is that these mini-businesses may band together and designate bargaining agents to negotiate with the state over wages and conditions. Now, normally such businesses banding together would violate federal antitrust law, but states have the legal right to "exempt" certain combinations from antitrust laws if they combine together under the auspices of a system of state regulations.

So voila, 47,000 day care workers move from a legal status barring them from collectively organizing into one where they can.

This model is also being promoted in other states, including Rhode Island as detailed by matthewRI at Rhode Island's Future.

The reality is that nothing good will be coming from changes in federal law for labor in the next four years, but this is a good example of changes we can fight for at the state level to improve workers lives.

Posted by Nathan at February 22, 2005 11:21 PM