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About Northwest labor press. (Portland , Ore.) 1987-current | View Entire Issue (July 6, 2006)
Definition of ‘supervisor’ at issue
Bush’s NLRB may further erode workers’ union rights
Have you ever shown a co-worker how to perform a task, or
been asked to look over someone else’s work? If so, your free-
dom to form a union and bargain collectively is in danger.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is considering
three cases that could alter the definition of “supervisor” — and
that could mean hundreds of thousands of nurses, building trades
workers, newspaper and television employees and others could
be prohibited from forming or joining a union.
A decision in favor of employers in these three cases — often
referred to as the “Kentucky River” decisions because they will
serve to clarify issues left open by the Supreme Court’s Kentucky
River decision in 2001 — could further erode workers’ freedom
to form unions by expanding the definition of supervisors. Unlike
other employees, “supervisors” do not have protected rights under
the National Labor Relations Act. Supervisors are barred from
joining a union and can be subject to disciplinary actions or dis-
missal for participating in any union activities. Employers often
try to classify workers as supervisors in order to deny them the
right to vote in a union election.
According to the AFL-CIO, industries that utilize workers as
“team leaders” to direct or assign the work of others, or where it
is common for higher skilled employees to give instructions to
lower skilled employees — as in health care, building trades and
port shipping — will be at risk of losing federal workplace pro-
In Seattle, Virginia Mason Medical Center is already attempt-
ing to re-label all 600 of its registered nurses as supervisors, thus
making them ineligible to be part of the Washington State Nurses
Association. Nurses from throughout Washington State plan to
rally Monday, July 10, from 4 to 5 p.m. at the medical center to
protest the move. The rally is in conjunction with a National Week
of Action sponsored by the national AFL-CIO to draw attention to
the pending NLRB ruling.
In Portland, Jobs with Justice will hold a “Workers’ Rights
Rally” at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 13, at the South Park Blocks
(SW Park and Salmon downtown). Gov. Ted Kulongoski has been
invited to speak.
The Oregon AFL-CIO and the Northwest Oregon Labor Coun-
cil are also collecting letters from union members that will be for-
warded to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and U.S. Representatives Earl
Blumenauer, David Wu and Darlene Hooley. The letters ask the
congressional representatives to appeal to the Labor Board for an
opportunity to provide oral arguments before ruling in the Ken-
tucky River cases.
The five-member NLRB — which is made up of three Repub-
licans and two Democrats, all appointed by President George W.
Bush — has refused since 2001 to hear oral arguments in any
case. Prior labor boards have wanted oral arguments in cases of
great significance, said the AFL-CIO. It is the only five-year pe-
riod in the last 25 years in which the Board has not held any oral
“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,” said Stewart Acuff, di-
rector of the AFL-CIO Organizing Department.
The “Kentucky River” decisions revolve around three lead
cases before the NLRB. Two cases — Oakwood Healthcare Inc.
in Michigan and Golden Crest Healthcare Center in Minnesota
— relate to registered nurses' supervisory status. A third, Croft
Metals Inc. in Mississippi, affects load supervisors in a shipping
department as well as other production employees.
And while the the three lead cases are grouped together as
“Kentucky River,” the NLRB has not consolidated them, which
means their rulings will not necessarily come out on the same day.
Currently, 135 cases are being held up at the NLRB awaiting
the outcome of the Kentucky River decisions; 60 are union elec-
tion cases. In some of these cases, workers who voted to form a
union several years ago are still waiting for their ballots to be
counted. If the NLRB issues a broad decision, many of the work-
ers who voted in those elections will never have their votes
Congress opened the door in 1947 by excluding supervisors
from labor law coverage as part of the anti-union Taft-Hartley
amendments to the National Labor Relations Act.
NLRB reports on bargaining rights, elections nationally and in Northwest
Union organizing is holding steady at virtually nil, and complaints
of employer violations of labor law are on the decline, judging from
the most recent annual report of the National Labor Relations Board,
the federal agency that administers the basic law governing relations
between labor unions and business.
The NLRB reported that during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30,
2005, it oversaw 2,649 union elections covering 146,822 workers;
voter turnout was 80 percent on average, and majorities voted “Union
yes” 56.8 percent of the time, resulting in 69,537 new union mem-
bers, or about 4 hundredths of a percent of the U.S. workforce. How-
ever, that figure doesn’t capture voluntary recognition of workers,
such as took place at Cingular Wireless. Some unions are trying to
organize workers without going through NLRB-sponsored elections,
because the election rules are seen as favoring the employer.
Just over 57 percent of union elections were held in workplaces
with less than 30 workers; only 12 elections took place in units of
over 1,000 workers.
In Oregon, the NLRB oversaw 51 union elections with 2,095 em-
ployees eligible to vote. Twenty-six of those elections were won by
unions. Eligible employees cast 1,601 valid votes — 878 of them
for unionization. In all, 1,230 new union members were gained.
In Washington, 169 NLRB elections took place, with 126 union
victories. Some 8,951 employees were eligible to vote; 5, 958 cast
ballots — with 3,686 voting for unionization. All told, labor added
5,803 new members.
For the fourth year in a row, the number of complaints alleging
47,600 union workers to
leave GM, Delphi Auto
DETROIT (PAI) — Accepting company buyout offers negotiated with the
United Auto Workers, approximately 47,600 union workers — all UAW members
— will leave General Motors and Delphi Auto Parts by the end of this year.
The departures, with 35,000 at GM and 12,600 — half of UAW’s members
there — at Delphi, will help the two firms financially. GM lost $10.6 billion on
U.S. operations last year, but turned a profit in the first quarter of this year.
Delphi is in bankruptcy and bargaining with a six-union coalition, led by UAW
and the Communications Workers of America, over its future. Its buyout includes
return of 5,000 workers to its former parent, GM.
Combined with early retirements at Ford, the GM and Delphi buyouts will cut
UAW’s auto and parts members by 50,000 by the end of 2006, news reports said.
The buyouts will wipe out entire shifts at some GM plants. The UAW local at a
sport utility vehicle plant in Oklahoma City said 60 percent of its 2,400 members
are leaving and another 377 will be shifted to other GM plants. The Oklahoma
City plant is already scheduled to close.
GM said other high numbers of workers would leave its Doraville, Ga., minivan
plant (1,531 out of 2,700), the Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. (1,356 out of
4,800), transmission plants in Toledo, Ohio (1,226 out of 3,200) and Ypsilanti,
Mich. (1,163 out of 3,300) and its North Engine plant in Flint, Mich. (1,107 out of
GM offered buyouts to all 113,000 of its UAW members, while Delphi offered
them to its 24,000 UAW members and its 9,000 workers represented by the five
other unions, including CWA and the Steelworkers. Workers with at least 30 years
on the job at GM get $35,000 to leave, plus full benefits and pensions. Those with
shorter service get up to $140,000 each in a lump-sum cash payment, but no health
or other benefits.
JULY 7, 2006
employer labor law violations fell. In 2005, there were 24,720
charges of “unfair labor practices” filed. The most common charge
against employers is refusal to bargain with a union, followed by il-
legal firing or discrimination against workers for union activity.
In cases where the NLRB found that workers had been fired or
discriminated against for union activity, the agency won a total of
$83.8 million in back pay and 2,008 offers of reinstatement; 1,580
workers accepted reinstatement.
Though its legal and bureaucratic language can make it a chal-
lenge to interpret, the full report is available at
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a mostly party-line vote,
the Senate on June 21 refused to raise the federal mini-
mum wage to $7.25 an hour over three years.
The vote was 52–46 in favor of increasing the mini-
mum wage for the first time in nearly 10 years. But thanks
to what Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) called the “par-
liamentary gymnastics” of Senate Republican leaders, his
minimum wage increase amendment to the U.S. Depart-
ment of Defense Authorization bill needed 60 votes rather
than a simple majority to pass.
In the Pacific Northwest, only Oregon Republican
Gordon Smith voted against the wage increase.
As a smokescreen to give Republican senators elec-
tion year cover for voting against raising the federal min-
imum wage from its current $5.15 an hour, Sen. Michael
Enzi (R-Wyo.) offered an alternative $1.10 an hour raise
loaded with “poison pill” measures that would actually
harm workers and their families, the AFL-CIO said.
Enzi’s amendment, which also was defeated, would
NORTHWEST LABOR PRESS
have gutted several provisions of the Fair Labor Standard
Act. Like previous Republican maneuvers to block a real
minimum wage increase, Enzi’s amendment would have
eliminated wage and hour protections for millions of
workers, cut overtime pay by replacing the 40-hour work
week with an 80-hour, two-week work period and low-
ered wages for tipped workers.
The Senate’s defeat of the minimum wage hike came
just a day after a new study revealed the wage’s buying
power had fallen to a 51-year low. It also followed, by a
little more than a week, a 2 percent cost-of-living raise
for members of the House of Representatives — their
ninth raise since the minimum wage was last increased.
As part of an ethics reform bill in 1989, Congress gave
up their ability to accept pay for speeches and made an-
nual cost-of-living pay increases automatic unless the
lawmakers voted otherwise.
Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah tried to get a
direct vote to block the COLA, but his motion was re-
jected on a vote of 249-167.
The raise will bump congressional salaries $3,300 to
$168,500 a year, starting Jan. 1, 2007.
The pay hike also applies to the vice president — who
is president of the Senate — congressional leaders and
Supreme Court justices.
This year, Vice President Dick Cheney and House
Speaker Dennis Hastert receive $212,100. Associate jus-
tices receive $203,000. House and Senate party leaders