Northwest labor press. (Portland , Ore.) 1987-current, July 21, 2006, Image 1

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Page 6
V olume 107
Number 14
J uly 21, 2006
P ortland
Union rights of eight million
workers at stake in NLRB ruling
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will soon de-
cide three cases, known collectively as the Kentucky River
cases, which could change the basic rights of workers in
America. If the NLRB accedes to the demands the employers
are making in these cases to significantly broaden the defini-
tion of “supervisor,” hundreds of thousands of employees
could be stripped of their contract protections and millions
more across the economy could be denied the right to form
unions or engage in collective bargaining.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the nation’s
primary law determining the rights of employees to join
unions and bargain collectively, excludes “supervisors” from
the definition of “employee.” A supervisor is defined as: “any
individual having authority, in the interest of the employer, to
hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, as-
sign, reward, or discipline other employees, or responsibly to
direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to rec-
ommend such action, if in connection with the foregoing the
exercise of such authority is not of a merely routine or clerical
nature, but requires the use of independent judgment.”
The three cases are: Oakwood Healthcare Inc., Golden
Crest Healthcare Center, and Croft Metals, Inc. The cases deal
respectively with registered nurses (RNs) acting as “charge”
nurses in a hospital; “charge” nurses (RNs and LPNs) in a
long-term care facility; and “leadmen” and “load supervisors”
in a manufacturing facility.
The upcoming cases all involve whether these employees
can be classified as supervisors and thus excluded from NLRA
protections and participation in collective bargaining because
they “responsibly direct other employees” while using “inde-
pendent judgment.” But until now no one would have called
these employees “supervisors” in the traditional sense because
they do not have authority to hire, fire, discipline, evaluate, or
promote the employees they supposedly supervise.
Skilled and experienced workers such as registered nurses,
who give instructions to co-workers about how and when to
perform certain tasks, are particularly vulnerable to reclassifi-
cation as supervisors under this push for a broader reinterpre-
tation of the term. For example, nurses who tell orderlies or
nurse aides to do certain things for particular patients are at
high risk of reclassification, as are journeymen construction
workers who guide other workers on a crew.
These forthcoming decisions have the potential to affect a
wide range of workers, including many in the building and
construction, broadcast, energy, shipping, accounting and
health care industries. The very broad definition of “supervi-
sor” employers are seeking ultimately could take away the
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Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski joined about 300 union members at a rally July
13 in downtown Portland to encourage the National Labor Relations Board
to hold public hearings before ruling on a series of cases that could strip
workers of their right to belong to a union. Prior to the rally, Kulongoski’s
staff hand-delivered a letter to the Portland NLRB office signed by all the
Democratic members of Oregon’s congressional delegation — along with
signatures from more than 2,000 working Oregonians — asking for public
hearings. “My efforts to protect Oregon’s middle class and create a strong
and fair economy depend upon a healthy labor movement in our country,”
Kulongoski said. “Oregonians deserve to be heard in decisions that could
weaken worker rights and core labor protections.”
Transit Union-TriMet contract comes to grief
Less than half-way through a six-year labor
agreement with TriMet, union officers at
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 are
complaining that the Portland-area public
transit agency is breaking its bargain.
Associate Editor
On June 20, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 filed an un-
fair labor practice complaint with the Oregon Employment Relations
Board, the agency that adjudicates public employee labor disputes.
As detailed in the complaint, TriMet has basically gutted the griev-
ance process for union workers, routinely taking months to schedule
low-level meetings, ignoring its own grievance-settling commit-
ments, and breaking public employee collective bargaining law by
making changes in the workplace without notifying the union or get-
ting employee assent.
ATU has 2,130 members at TriMet. For the last three years,
they’ve been filing grievances at the rate of about five a week. That’s
over 250 a year. And grievances are taking a while to process. Of the
more than 130 grievances that were unresolved as of the end of 2005,
over three dozen dated back to 2004.
A grievance is basically a formal complaint by a worker. Most
union workers have the right to file a grievance if they believe they’ve
been disciplined unfairly, or their employer has violated terms of a
B URIED I N P APERWORK : Lifting aloft their files on TriMet
grievances that are currently at the arbitration stage is enough
to give ATU Executive Secretary Currie Reese and President Jon
Hunt an upper-body workout.
union contract or its own past practice. There’s no “typical” griev-
ance, because issues are so varied, but recent examples at TriMet
have included allegations of unfair termination or denial of promo-
tion, employees working outside of their classification, having
nonunion workers do the work of union workers, favoritism in as-
signing overtime, failure to pay the correct scale, use of outside sub-
contractors, and denial of family leave.
Under ATU’s contract with TriMet, grievances can go through as
many as four steps before resolution.
The first step was added in 2005 as a way to cut down on the
number of grievances filed. A “pre-grievance” step, it consists of an
informal meeting with the worker, their immediate supervisor, and a
local union officer to see if some speedy shop floor resolution can be
found, for complaints that don’t involve discipline.
But ATU President Jon Hunt says that step isn’t working. Super-
visors clam up, talk to higher-ups, and pass it onto the next level —
Step Two. Step Two is a formal grievance, presented in writing to the
department director. Then the department director, union officer and
the worker filing the grievance are supposed to meet and try to reach
an acceptable resolution. If they can’t, it goes to Step Three — a joint
committee with two representatives from each side. The committee
meets monthly to hear grievances, and then issues decisions uphold-
ing or denying part or all of a grievance. Too often, that’s not the end,
and it goes to Step Four — arbitration.
Arbitration is expensive. Professional arbitrators cost $1,000 a
day, and court reporters $700 a day; even more expensive is the cost
of outside attorneys. So before the union commits to spending that
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