National Labor Attack Board

The Bush administration's attack on working people just hit a peak when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) broadened the definition of who can be considered a supervisor and therefore denied federal labor law protection.

Essentially, Bush's labor board gave employers a road map to block workers' freedom to belong to unions by putting them into a pseudo-management category. As dissenting NLRB members Wilma Liebman and Dennis Walsh wrote, the decision "threatens to create a new class of workers under federal labor law--workers who have neither the genuine prerogatives of management, nor the statutory rights of ordinary employees."

Most professionals--the fastest growing occupational group of workers--could fall into this phony category, Liebman and Walsh warn. By 2012, they "could number almost 34 million, accounting for 23.3 percent of the workforce."

The Bush NLRB not only ignored decades of legal precedent and its mission to protect rather than restrict workers' rights. It completely ignored the realities of today's workforce, which is more skilled and educated than those of previous generations. Workplace hierarchies have flattened out. Few employees today are in jobs that don't require them to exercise some independent judgment, to show someone else how to perform a task, to pass assignments on to co-workers. This should not cost them their right to a union voice on the job.

Under the board's decision, even low-level employees who spend only 10 to 15 percent of their time directing the work of others can be labeled "supervisors." The rights of anyone who spends 7 hours and 10 minutes a day on routine duties and 50 minutes on "supervisory functions" are at risk.

Most immediately affected by the board's ruling are the charge nurses at an acute care hospital in Michigan whose supervisory status was under question in the lead Kentucky River case. As RNs Working Together, a coalition of AFL-CIO unions that represent nurses, notes, using independent judgment and directing workflow during their shifts makes nurses responsible caregivers, not supervisors. Taking away the union protection nurses count on when they raise concerns about patient care can have devastating effects on the quality of our health care.

The board's decision will resonate well beyond nurses, though. The union rights of building trades workers, newspaper and television employees, technicians and many others are on the line. As The New York Times points out, the board made specific reference to retail workers, providing a blueprint for reclassifying employees of Wal-Mart, grocery stores and other retail operations as supervisors. "The assignment of an employee to a certain department (e.g., housewares) or to a certain shift (e.g., night) or to certain significant overall tasks (e.g., restocking shelves) would generally qualify" a retail worker as having the supervisory responsibility of "assigning," the board's majority wrote.

I doubt it's coincidental that the Bush board has taken aim at the union rights of professional workers. They now make up more than 51 percent of union members. Our economy is expected to add 6 million professional and technical jobs by 2014, while most employment sectors stagnate--thanks to the anti-jobs policies of the Bush administration.

The Bush NLRB decision is really the natural progression of its escalating attack on workers and their unions. Our rights are in shreds after six years of rule by Bush and his party's leadership in Congress. And we will not restore those rights until we restore a pro-worker national government.

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