By JoAnne Powers, August 12, 2016
The National Labor Relations Board recently overturned a labor law precedent preventing temporary and permanent workers from uniting to collectively bargain over wages and working conditions. The previous ruling, under the Bush Administration, 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 new decision returns the law to a standard set during the Clinton administration.
Martin W. Milz is Legal Counsel with the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, or SMART, Local 19, who filed the petition with the NLRB. Milz placed the new ruling in the context of earlier decisions the current Board has made:
[Martin W. Milz]: “I think it’s a necessary step that the board has been taking here to recognize that there are lots of ‘forgotten employees’ within our current economy: those that work for franchisees, these temporary employees. It starts with the Browning-Ferris decision that came out August 2015 where the board recognized a new standard for the joint employment of a bargaining unit, where you would have, like in the case of McDonald’s, potentially, a parent corporation and a franchisee, both of whom have control over the terms and conditions of employment in varying degrees. [All of these situations need to be analyzed individually,] but to say that there is some responsibility for both parties for collective bargaining there. Both, say, the McDonald’s corporation and its smaller franchisees to participate in this discussion. I think that’s extremely important because the franchisee had a degree of insulation from organizing to say, ‘oh, there’s nothing we can do about bargaining about certain terms because they are dictated to us by the parent corporation’. Where the Miller & Anderson comes in is to say that in that relationship there doesn’t need to be consent to bargain with the group as a whole [between the franchisee and the parent corporation.]”
The board approved the rule change on a 3-to-1 vote, with the lone Republican member providing the dissenting vote. With the often-partisan nature of the NLRB and frequent reversals of decisions as the Presidency changes hands, Milz says that the Presidential election plays a crucial role in labor matters:
[Martin W. Milz]: “The National Labor Relations Board composition is one of those things that gets forgotten within the bigger picture. Everyone thinks of the Supreme Court, but there are dozens upon dozens of federal agencies who make regulations and rules that really do apply to people’s everyday lives. And I think the current makeup of the National Labor Relations Board has done an excellent job, from labor’s perspective, of swinging the pendulum back after the Bush administration undid many of the changes that took place under the Clinton Administration, to swing the pendulum back, somewhat, in favor of workers. I very much want to see that trend continue. Like temporary workers, there are a lot of segments of our society, a lot of other segments of working people who can get left behind by the decisions and the rules that the NLRB and other Federal agencies can make. Those are, in large part, dependent on presidential appointments. [So I think it’s crucial that we maintain a democratic majority on the NLRB and in all of the other federal agencies.]”