August 4, 2006  Volume 107 Number 16

Senator Smith heeds appeal from union members over NLRB cases

U.S. Senator Gordon Smith, (R-Oregon), ended his silence July 31 by asking that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hold oral arguments before issuing any rulings on three pending cases known collectively as “Kentucky River.”

The AFL-CIO held national protests the week of July 7, in which it called on Congress to allow oral arguments in the cases. At issue is whether the NLRB will broaden the definition of supervisors to potentially deny millions of workers the right to belong to a union by re-classifying them as supervisors.

The Oregon AFL-CIO and its affiliates collected 2,300 signatures, hosted two rallies, and convinced lawmakers to join their fight to preserve union rights for workers. Oregon’s Democratic congressional delegation signed a letter to the NLRB asking for oral arguments, as did Gov. Ted Kulongoski and a host of statewide and local elected officials.

The only holdouts were Smith and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden.

Smith’s letter to the NLRB asks the Board to hold oral arguments on the three Kentucky River cases. “These cases are too important to our nation’s workers to disregard oral arguments,” he wrote, adding that the federal government should ensure “safer workplaces, improved training, family wages, family health care, retirement security and a voice at work.”

Over the past five years, President Bush’s appointees to the NLRB (three of them recess appointments to avoid Senate confirmation hearings) have taken away or “severely restricted” the rights of millions of workers to organize into unions and enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining, according to a July 13 report issued by U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The 25-page report cites cases by which the Labor Board excluded large categories of workers from being represented by a union by ruling they are not employees, but rank as supervisors. It decided that disabled workers in rehabilitation programs do not constitute employees, depriving 45,000 disabled workers of the right to join a union.

The Board also found that graduate research and teaching assistants are not employees because their primary relationship with the university is educational rather than economic. This decision, the report said, has denied more than 51,000 graduate teaching and research assistants at 1,561 private universities the right to organize.

The NLRB also decided that temporary employees at nursing homes could not join a union with permanent employees unless the temporary agency and the employer agreed to the arrangement. The decision severely restricts the basic rights of more than two million temporary and contract workers.

“President Bush has filled the NLRB with anti-union members who have made it more difficult for workers to organize a labor union,” Miller said in a statement releasing the report. The NLRB has “used double standards, rationales and unfair, inconsistent rulings to give employers more power over workers,” he said.

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