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October 03, 2006

Big loss for Labor--

The National Labor Relations Board ruled today that a range of professionals are now deemed "supervisors" and thus lose all protections under labor law. That means if they say a positive thing about unions, their bosses are free to fire them at will. The AFL-CIO has more here.

To put this denial of labor rights in perspective, 32 million workers or 25% of the workforce already have no right to form a union under federal, state or local law (see this GAO report and this ARAW summary).

This includes:

Supervisors 16.6 million workers, 8 million new supervisors plus traditional 8.6 million now excluded (see EPI report)
Agricultural Workers 3 million workers
Domestic Workers 1 million workers
Independent Contractors 7 million workers
Managers 10 million workers
Employees of religious institutions 500,000 workers

Additionally, millions of public employees are excluded from labor law protections and depend on state law for whether they have any labor rights.

Beyond the official numbers excluded, in practice, the millions of undocumented workers in the country have no labor rights since when they seek for form unions, they can be fired at will by employers without financial penalty under the Hoffman Plastics decision by the Supreme Court.

Human Rights Watch has analyzed these exclusions as violations of international human rights laws covering labor rights.

See also this report by Hon. George Miller of Committee on Education and Workforce on NLRB stripping workers of rights, including denying organizing rights to disabled workers, graduate teaching assistants, and many temporary workers.

But beyond the statistics of who CAN'T be organized, these kinds of exclusions means that other workers rights are also undermined. The fact that independent contractors can't unionize means that many firms can contract out work to block or undermine unionization. Undocumented workers in the workplace can be threatened with deportation to break unions.

And the new expansive definition of "supervisor" means that more workers will be given nominal supervisory responsibilities to undermine their right to unionize-- and lock every union vote in endless delays as companies litigate who is and who is not a supervisor. Even if the workers "win", the election will probably be delayed long enough to kill the union drive.

And here are the dynamics when large numbers of workers are declared to be supervisors-- it means that friends in the workplace immediately are turned into enemies as supervisors are told to spy on their friends or lose their jobs. Instead of a union being about workers challenging the power of top management, it is turned into an internal workplace civil war.

But divide and conquer, pitting people against each other based on race, ethnicity, gender and now menial distinctions in authority on the shopfloor are the tools of the trade for the corporate rightwing. This decision is just one more bullet to the rights of working Americans.

Posted by Nathan at October 3, 2006 08:20 AM