Center for American Progress

Workers’ Rights Threatened: A Discussion of the Pending National Labor Relations Board Cases

Workers’ Rights Threatened: A Discussion of the Pending National Labor Relations Board Cases

Center event discusses the potential outcome of the Kentucky River cases, which could deny many workers the right to unionize.

The Center for American Progress held an event yesterday to discuss the pending national labor relations board cases and their threat to workers’ rights.

The government-run National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will issue rulings in the coming weeks on the three “Kentucky River Cases.” The outcomes of these decisions could broaden the definitions of “supervisors,” thus excluding millions of workers from the right to unionize. Five distinguished panelists discussed the cases and their potentially negative consequences for working people.

The cases stem from disputes over the definition of “supervisor” as delineated in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The Act gave private sector workers the right to unionize, but excluded “supervisors” from such guarantees. This allowed employers to deem their employees “supervisors” in order to deny them union rights.

Legal battles over this issue came to a head in 2001 when the Supreme Court’s Kentucky River decision rejected part of the NLRB’s definition of “supervisor.” If the Republican-controlled NLRB, interpreting the Court’s ruling, decides to broaden the definition of “supervisor” in the three Kentucky cases, millions of workers could be stripped of their right to union protection.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro denounced the refusal of the Republican-controlled National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to allow oral arguments and hearings over the matter. She spoke critically of the “growing imbalances of power” between unions and big business in American society, arguing that a broadening of the definition of “supervisor” would only exacerbate these problems. She said that such an outcome would especially hurt America’s nurses, who filed the cases as a result of diminishing union rights.

Fred Feinstein explained how the controversies arose over time, and argued that it was likely the NRLB decision will go through extensive appeals. According to Feinstein, an unfavorable ruling against the nurses would not only affect other workers, but also hurt the movements for equal pay and universal healthcare.

Cheryl Johnson expanded on this point, saying that broadening the definition would weaken unions, thus lessening workers’ ability to confront rising healthcare costs and declining wages.

Sarah Fox, however, expressed hope that the labor movement would be able to frame the issue as important to the progressive movement as a whole. Regardless of the outcome, panelists agreed that the anti-union stance of the Bush administration will take a large toll on the aspirations and futures of American workers.

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