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  • NLRB Decision Clears Way For Temps To Join Mixed Bargaining Units
    Posted On: Aug 10, 2016

    By JoAnne Powers, August 11, 2016

    A recent ruling from the National Labor Relations Board has overturned a Bush-era precedent that has prevented temporary and permanent workers from uniting to collectively bargain over wages and working conditions.  The previous rules required unions to get the consent of both the permanent employer and the staffing agency in order for workers to form a mixed bargaining unit.  The decision returns the law to a standard set during the Clinton administration.  The new decision stems from a petition filed by the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, or SMART, Local 19 over workers with the contractor Miller & Anderson in Pennsylvania.

    Martin W. Milz, Legal Counsel with Local 19, says the precedent has essentially stood as a roadblock to organization of employees in this type of bargaining unit: 

    [Martin W. Milz]: “There’s actually no evidence of any situation in which the two involved employers approved bargaining in such situations, since that standard has existed.  So it was really quite an obstacle for organizers.”

    Milz says the use of temporary workers, especially in the construction industry, has increased dramatically over the last few decades:

    [Martin W. Milz]: “Often it can be used both to reinforce to the permanent employees the replicability of their status there, that they can be swapped out for a temp, which would undermine their bargaining position in the workplace through the fear that they’re easily replaceable.  By the same token, temporary employees are kind of on their own when they’re sent off into these environments where they’re working as long-term temps, as well.  It was always assumed that temps, being the employee of a staffing agency, could organize among themselves in a staffing agency in a single bargaining unit in that fashion…but those people never end up working together for a long enough period of time.  Being a temp kind of isolates you.  So there’s no real ability to organize simply the staffing agency, which left those folks on their own.  So organizing in a mixed unit of permanent and temporary employees who are working long-term for a single user-employer, could potentially empower both groups, permanent employees and temporary employees, to get the best deal.”

    Companies often see temporary workers as the ultimate ‘at-will’ employees, and disclaim responsibility for their working conditions:

    [Martin W. Milz]: “They can put up their hands and say, ‘We’re, essentially, just renting you from the other company.  They’re responsible for salary and some other terms and conditions of employment, so it’s on them.’  That gives the user-employer a shield to say ‘well, it’s not on us.”

    Milz says this new NLRB decision provides a new tool for organizers:

    [Martin W. Milz]: “They can go in and examine a situation and see, do temporary and permanent employees share a community of interest that bargaining in a single unit would benefit both temporary and permanent employees equally?  And also is it a hook to increase the chances of success in running an NLRB election to represent workers within that employer?”

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