Labor News: NLRB and Andy Stern

First some logistics.  Andy Stern is going to be in DC tomorrow as part of this book tour for 'A Country That Works.' He's going to be at Olsson's Bookstore at 1307 19th Street at 7pm and at The Big Hunt 1345 Connecticut Ave at 8pm.  This book matters, and you should go see Andy talk, if only because he's one of the most  powerful people in the progressive movement who gets what we're about.  Over the next few years, my guess is that there will be a strong alliance between labor and blogs, and that Andy will be one of the key drivers building that coalition.

Ok, now on to the big bad news.  The National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, just made it illegal for millions of workers to unionize by reclassifying almost anyone with small supervisory responsibilities as management.  I haven't been able to get in touch with my union friends, but this is really really bad for all of us.  In Virginia, Hospitals are already planning to break the state nurse's union.

Stephen Colbert has the best explanation out there.

The AFL-CIO blog has more details.  Suffice to say, this is going to make the nurse shortage in this country much worse, and it's going to damage our health care system dramatically.  When nurses can't organize and speak out, it means that errors and corruption by hospital management will probably multiply and worsen since there will be a strong disincentive towards speaking up.  

Politically, this is going to be bad for Democrats because labor is a huge funder of the party, and provides reliable volunteers and muscle for GOTV efforts.  There is nothing good in this decision at all.  It's classic Bush, and it's going to hurt anyone who has to go to a hospital.  Rallies are scheduled, and I'm trying to find out what else is planned.

Heckova job, NLRB.

There's more...

Labor Unions on the defensive in upcoming NLRB "Kentucky River" rulings

*Cross-posted on Politics with a Pulse*

As the NewStandard (a great independent, non profit newspaper) reports, 8 million workers could lose their union-protected collective-bargaining rights as a result of several impending National Labor Relations Board rulings in what is collectively known as the "Kentucky River" cases.

The NLRB, which is stacked with pro-business Bush appointees, could shift the definition of a "supervisor" in the workplace which, as a result of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, would bar those with that designation from being a part of a union. Barring supervisors from unions has worked to splinter solidarity in the workplace against employers. Historically though the definition of a "supervisor" under US Labor Law has been defined as the power to hire or fire other employees. But employers are trying to change that and broaden the definition of a "supervisor" into someone who delegates responsibilities to other employees.

This is just part of a larger trend of employers in this country actively and systematically working to undermine workers' rights in tandem with weak labor laws. In 2000, Human Rights Watch published a critical report of the state of labor rights, especially the right to join and form a labor union:
"Many workers who try to form and join trade unions to bargain with their employers are spied on, harassed, pressured, threatened, suspended, fired, deported or otherwise victimized in reprisal for their exercise of the right to freedom of association."

Furthermore:
"Millions of workers are expressly barred from the law's protection of the right to organize. U.S. legal doctrine allowing employers to permanently replace workers who exercise the right to strike effectively nullifies the right."

These NLRB rulings, if they occur as expected will deprive even more workers in this country of their basic human right under the UN to take part in a labor union. Labor unions are the only institution in this country that actively fights for workers' rights. They provide workers with leverage against employers not only for better pay and benefits but also arbritary decisions such as firings. An EPI report comparing unionized and non-unionized workers in terms of salaries and benefits illustrate the importance of labor unions. It concludes that " unions reduce wage inequality because they raise wages more for low- and middle-wage workers than for higher-wage workers, more for blue-collar than for white-collar workers, and more for workers who do not have a college degree."

This comes at a time when real wages are on the decline in the US. Only those at the top of the income spectrum are receiving raises that are outpacing wages. This quote from the New York Times article sums it up best:
" wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation's gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960's."

Its no surprise that this is happening at a time where trade unions power has been increasingly diminished. The article even mentions that but doesn't point out the forces in the federal government (the Bush administration) that are making things worse for trade unions like these "Kentucky Rivers" cases or, as the Human Rights Watch report points out, Labor laws  [that] have failed to keep pace with changes in the economy and new forms of employment relationships," and weak enforcement of current  labor laws.

There's more...

American Workers' Freedom to Form Unions Threatened Under Bush NLRB

This is a crosspost from Daily Kos.

A few nights ago, a group of New Jersey nurses in contract negotiations with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital held a candlelight vigil. The nurses are seeking contract language that will protect them from an expected anti-worker decision by the Bush-packed National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB is set to rule on three cases collectively known as "Kentucky River"--and the ruling literally could take away bargaining rights from hundreds of thousands of employees.

And not just nurses. If the NLRB agrees to alter the definition of "supervisor," building trades workers, newspaper and television employees, port workers and many others could be prohibited from forming unions.

There's more...

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