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NLRB Smacks Down Organizing Rights of Temps

January/February 2005 IBEW Journal

The Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), in a November 19 ruling, gutted the rights of the nations expanding temporary work force to organize into unions.


In a 3-2 decision, the board overturned the four-year, Clinton-era precedent set in the M.B. Sturgis case, which allowed temporary workers supplied by staffing firms the right to form a combined union with full-time employees of the company.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney denounced the boards action, stating, "Despite frequent rhetoric from the current administration about meeting the challenges of the 21st century," the Bush board has "reversed a decision that was designed in part to recognize changing employment patterns and remove an arbitrary barrier to organizing among temporary workers."

The board dismissed a petition by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 seeking to represent employees at Oakwood Care Nursing Home in Oakdale, N.Y. The nursing home and N&W Agency Inc. jointly determined the agency workers pay and benefits. Oakwood supervises them, and they work side by side with workers employed solely by the nursing home.

The dissenting members of the board, William Liebman and Dennis Walsh, both Democrats, accused the majority of "accelerating the expansion of a permanent underclass of workers" and charged that the "resultwhich exalts business flexibility at the complete expense of employee rightsis the opposite of what Congress intended."

Kate L. Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. told The Washington Post, "Its a very big deal...Sturgis said you cant put a temp label on someone to avoid unionizing. Now, by overturning Sturgis, they are giving employers another incentive to disenfranchise workers."

IBEW President Edwin D. Hill condemned the boards action, stating, "The Republicans talked a blue streak about their moral values during the 2004 campaign. Where is the morality in giving a hammer to employers to beat down the rights of the largest growing section of the U.S. work force?"

This past summer the NLRB, also along partisan lines, voted to deny university teaching and research assistants the protections of the National Labor Relations Act, which include the right to form unions, and also restricted rights of workers with disabilities to organize.