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July 11, 2006

Gutting Labor Rights for Nurses -- and Millions of Others

Today, nurses will rally across the country to protest likely decisions by the National Labor Relations Board that would declare most Registered Nurses (RNs) to be "supervisors" under the law and therefore stripped of any protection under labor law. If these rulings go as expected, mosts RNs could be fired at will if they say anything positive about unions or are even suspected of being in favor of unions.

The core of the problem derives from the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act which denies labor rights to "supervisors", meaning that anyone deemed a supervisor can be fired at will if they say anything nice about unions or try to take action to support unions in their workplace.

Once upon a time, it was generally understood that a supervisor was someone who had some degree of power to hire and fire those below them, but the in a series of decisions, the courts and NLRB have expanded the meaning of supervisor to mean people who, because of their expertise, direct the actions of other employees in some way.

How far this goes has been disputed, but essentially since Registered Nurses often direct other hospital employees on what routine tasks need to happen for patients, the move is to strip RNs of their labor rights.

And here's the kicker-- once a group of nominal "supervisors" lose their labor rights and can be threatened with being fired, they are forced to become anti-union shock troops to spy on other employees and undermine unionization by other workers. So not only does this kind of decision threaten unions for RNs, it threatens the labor rights of workers throughout the health care industry.

This is all part of a trend where the NLRB and the courts, without any legislative change, have been overturning decades of rules to deny workers rights to a wide range of employees previously protected under the law. This American Rights at Work memo outlines additional attacks on labor rights by the NLRB in recent years:

  • July 2004: Graduate teaching and research assistants were deemed students and not employees, making them ineligible for NLRA protection.
  • September 2004: The Labor Board determined that disabled workers who receive rehabilitative services from employers should not be classified as workers and are, therefore, ineligible to form unions under the protections of federal law.
  • November 2004: Employees of temp agencies were barred from organizing with regular employees without both employer and agency permission.
  • This is on top of a range of other rulings that have weakened protections for workers still covered by labor law but now subject to be fired if they stand up for their rights in the workplace.

    But this attack on RNs as nominal "supervisors" could lead to the largest number of workers stripped of their labor rights in modern history. And it could cascade through other workplaces as employers strategically hand nominal supervisory roles to various workers to strip them of their labor rights.

    Posted by Nathan at July 11, 2006 08:27 AM