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ECONOMICS -
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A New Assault on Workers' Rights

Posted in the database on Tuesday, July 04th, 2006 @ 14:59:23 MST (2363 views)
by Stewart Acuff and Sheldon Friedman    ZNet  

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A ruling by Bush's NLRB could weaken labor protections for hundreds of thousands of workers

Just when the last thing America's workers need is another economic kick in the groin, the Bush labor board is poised to deliver what could be its lowest and most devastating blow yet. The Bush National Labor Relations Board is easily the most anti-worker labor board in history and has lost few opportunities to turn back the clock on workers' rights*but even against this sorry backdrop, the scope of what they now are contemplating is breathtaking.

In a series of pending cases known as Kentucky River, the National Labor Relations Board could strip what remains of federal labor law protections from hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of workers whose jobs include even minor, incidental or occasional supervisory duties. The pending cases involve charge nurses in a hospital and a nursing home and lead workers in a manufacturing plant, but these workers, though they constitute a large group, could be just the tip of the iceberg.

The consequences of bad labor board rulings in these cases will reverberate far and wide, potentially stripping coverage in every nook and cranny of the workforce and creating innumerable new opportunities for mischief by employers and their hired gun consultants bent on denying workers' their fundamental human right to form a union. Long established unions and collective bargaining relationships will also unravel, as employers emboldened by the Bush labor board's rulings assert that they no longer have a duty under federal labor law to recognize or bargain with their employees' unions. It will be back to the law of the jungle in industries like health care, where disruptions from labor disputes became so severe in the early 1970s that Congress passed special legislation to bring employees of private non-profit hospitals under federal labor law coverage.

The stakes are high for the public, too. In health care, for example, solid scholarly research has documented that heart attack survival rates are higher for patients in hospitals where nurses have a union than in hospitals where nurses do not have a union. Bad rulings in Kentucky River may be good news for morticians, but they will be very bad news for everyone else.

Already in 2000, months before George Bush was declared President, Human Rights Watch issued a powerful report that found U.S. labor laws were grossly out-of- compliance with international human rights norms and were failing utterly to protect workers' basic freedom to form unions and bargain collectively. HRW's bill of particulars was lengthy, but it is noteworthy that the first item on their list was the failure of the United States to extend coverage of its labor laws to so many millions of workers*including, among others, managers and supervisors in the private sector. As the HRW report made clear, there is no valid excuse in human rights terms for such enormous exclusions from coverage. Two years later when the Government Accountability Office put a pencil to it, they estimated that fully 32 million federal, state and private sector workers lacked coverage under U.S. labor laws and thus were denied even the minimal protections afforded by these laws of their human right to form unions and bargain collectively. Included in this number were nearly eleven million private sector managers and supervisors, even before the Bush labor board's rulings in Kentucky River.

The ink was barely dry on the GAO report before the huge numbers they reported became out of date, in the wake of a full-scale assault on workers' rights by the Bush administration, its labor board, and right-wing Republican governors in several states. In the private sector, the Bush labor board stripped coverage from graduate student employees, certain disabled workers, and employees of temporary help agencies. These retrograde rulings harmed large numbers of workers, but are a drop in the bucket compared with the probable impact of Kentucky River.

Congress opened the door in 1947 by excluding supervisors from labor law coverage as part of the notoriously anti-worker Taft-Hartley amen