Most people who work for a living in this country support the idea of having an organization that represents their interests. Yet across the country, unions are under increasing assault -- especially in the South, where state leaders have long viewed hostility to unions as an important part of maintaining a "good climate for business."
A telling example is Smithfield Foods, the mega-pork processing company in North Carolina, known for its egregious violations of worker's rights and recently singled out in a New York Times column by Bob Herbert.
The National Labor Relations Board has always tilted in favor of business and management, but under the Bush administration this bias has been taken to a new level. Stewart Acuff and Sheldon Friedman spell out the situation in a recent Mother Jones editorial:
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 biggest change under the "Kentucky River" proposal would be to make it so millions of people whose jobs include supervision -- no matter how small -- no longer are eligible to join a union:
In its notorious 1980 Yeshiva decision, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that because professors in private universities tend to participate in campus governance via their membership in faculty senates, they were supervisors and therefore not eligible for federal labor law protection of their freedom to form unions and bargain collectively. Henceforth private universities could and did snuff out faculty organizing campaigns with complete impunity. Within a few years of Yeshiva, collective bargaining for faculty had vanished at some two dozen private universities where it had previously been established.
The pending decisions in Kentucky River could be Yeshiva on steroids for workers in every state, occupation and industry who have ever given incidental direction to a colleague or coworker in the performance of their job. The United States is already paying a high economic, social and political price for its failure to protect workers' freedom to form unions; the Bush labor board's rulings may be about to make a bad situation dramatically worse.
American Rights at Work has more on this and other threats under the new Bush labor board.