Thursday, October 05, 2006

Blatant Plagiarism ... for Economic Justice

Sometimes someone else writes something so dead-on that we have no choice but to cut-and-paste whole cloth. Tuesday's NLRB decision excluding nurses and other workers with limited supervisory duties from union membership was a stab in the back of working families.

With apologies to Podesta & company, here's what the Center for American Progress says about it today:
Working Americans Under Attack

Workers' rights have been severely crippled. On Tuesday, President Bush's National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) -- "easily the most anti-worker labor board in history" -- issued a decision that will deny the right to organize to as many as 8 million workers in 200 occupations. Under the Taft-Hartley Act, "supervisors" in an organization are prohibited from joining unions. In a party-line vote of the five-member NLRB, the three Bush appointees voted to broadly interpret who can be called a supervisor, extending to someone who "spends as little as 10 percent to 15 percent of his or her time overseeing the work of others." AFL-CIO President John Sweeney noted, "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." Working Americans' right to organize has suffered under the Bush administration. Currently, 32 million workers -- 25 percent of the workforce -- have no right to form a union under federal, state, or local law. Even though productivity has steadily risen, the restriction on workers' rights has contributed to lower wages and a "middle class in turmoil." Tuesday's NLRB decision is a defeat for workers everywhere. In a blistering dissent, the two board members appointed by former President Clinton warned that the ruling "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."

'FAR OUT OF STEP WITH WORKPLACE REALITY': The 1947 Taft-Hartley amendments to the National Labor Relations Act were never meant to exclude professional workers who have no power to hire, fire, or discipline employees. But that's exactly what the NLRB ruled on Tuesday. In 2001, the Supreme Court -- with Justice Antonin Scalia writing for the majority -- forced the board to reexamine the definition of "supervisor," ruling that the definition set by the then-Clinton appointee-dominated board was too strict. But as the AFL-CIO's Stewart Acuff points out, Tuesday's Oakwood Healthcare, Inc. ruling goes "far beyond the clear intent of Congress, far beyond NLRB precedent, far more than necessary to comply with the Supreme Court's 2001 Kentucky River decision that gave rise to the ruling, and far out of step with workplace reality." The majority wrote that a supervisor is now someone who can assign "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)" or someone who has "men under him" and can decide "what job shall be undertaken next or who shall do it."

EXACERBATING THE CARE CRISIS: The nation is undergoing a "care crisis." A recent study in the Health Affairs medical journal "found 6,700 patient deaths and 4 million days of hospital care could be avoided each year by increasing staff of registered nurses," which requires not only training additional nurses, but also recruiting and retaining them in hospital positions. The Oakwood ruling will directly affect nurses, classifying more as supervisors ineligible for union protection. Lower unionization levels definitely won't help recruit more nurses or improve healthcare. Acuff notes, "Nurse unions lead the way in advocating for lower patient-to-nurse ratios and limits on mandatory excessive overtime, both of which have major consequences for patient care. It is no accident -- and has been documented by solid scholarly research -- 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." Vanessa Quinn, an emergency room nurse in upstate New York, said that expanding the definition of who is a supervisor is disastrous: "If we can't get young people into nursing, we're in trouble. They need to know they can go into this profession and take care of a family. Without union protection, pay will not be competitive."

WIDE-REACHING RESTRICTIONS FOR MILLIONS OF WORKERS: The Oakwood decision will go far beyond nurses though. The conservative National Association of Manufacturers yesterday applauded the NLRB's Oakwood decision, stating that it "updated a few decades of old 'us vs. them' workplace notions and brought federal labor law closer to the realities of the 21st Century workplace." But the problem with the ruling is precisely that it ignores the realities of the 21st century workforce, which, as Sweeney notes, "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." By spending as little as 10 percent of the day "supervising" others -- even "minor, incidental, or occasional supervisory duties" -- an employee will lose the right to union representation. As the New York Times noted, "most of the nation's more than 20 million professional workers could fall into that category because many professionals, like a doctor overseeing nurses or a lawyer overseeing a secretary, could be deemed supervisors under the board's new guidelines." By 2010, this number could jump to 34 million professional workers, accounting for over 23 percent of the workforce.

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