By Tom Chamberlain of Portland, Oregon. Tom is the president of the Oregon AFL-CIO.
Brown v. Board of Education. Buckley v. Valeo. Roe v. Wade.
Regardless of where you stand politically, there’s no doubt that these pivotal cases drastically altered the political landscape on desegregation, campaign finance and reproductive rights at the federal, state and local level for advocates on both sides. Now there’s another storm quietly brewing on the not-so-distant horizon that could drown America’s progressive movement: It’s called “Kentucky River,” and it’s ugly.
In a nutshell, Kentucky River is an attempt to drastically weaken the power of America’s progressive movement by draining America’s workers of their most powerful means of having a voice at work and in the political arena: union membership. If this attack is successful, working families will have far less say in elections and in the legislative process. This undermines our democracy and threatens the issues that we all care about: good jobs, affordable health care, quality public schools, retirement security and more. Further, without strong unions, Oregon will be far more vulnerable to right-wing ballot measures like the Colorado TABOR.
Unlike the Supreme Court cases mentioned above, the Kentucky River rulings will be made behind closed doors at the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees federal labor law. With four out of the five members appointed by President George W. Bush, the current NLRB has an abysmal record on workers’ rights. Among other things, they’ve ruled against the rights of graduate teaching assistants and disabled people to join together in a union. And worse, they have departed from their predecessors by not even allowing public hearings on these important cases.
The name “Kentucky River” comes from a ruling that the NLRB is poised to make last this summer on three cases which will broaden the definition of who is considered a “supervisor” and set a precedent for an endless number of cases to follow. The reason this is important is because “employees” have rights and protections under 1935’s National Labor Relations Act, but “supervisors” do not. Thus, with the stroke of a pen, the number of American workers who will be eligible to choose union membership could be whittled down significantly – estimates put the number between two and eight million workers.
At risk are the collective bargaining rights of:
- Construction workers
- Electricians and other building trades workers
- Longshore workers
- Any other skilled worker who sometimes directs the work of a fellow employee
This attack could potentially wipe out one-third of the union movement. Our best hope of delaying this decision is to get Congress to urge the NLRB to hold public hearings with oral arguments on the Kentucky River cases. Since the NLRB is stuck in a Bush vortex, our next line of defense is Congress. They can – and must – protect the working status of America’s workers in order to beat back this attack on the right to organize.
You can join the movement by attending one of the events below. I also urge you to sign up for the Oregon AFL-CIO Weekly Update and get more news on this and other progressive issues we are fighting for in the coming months.
But this week, we need you to fight for us. Come to the rallies for workers’ rights:
EUGENE: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at noon, with AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stuart Acuff and Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain, at the Federal Building Plaza at 7th and Pearl in Eugene
PORTLAND: Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 10 am, with Governor Ted Kulongoski and Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain, at the South Park Blocks, SW Salmon and Park in Portland