Bush appointees poised to wipe out 1/3 of labor movement

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:

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

For more information on Kentucky River, see stories at Mother Jones and DailyKos.

  • Green, but Seeing Red (unverified)

    OK, enough is enough. Like them or not (and I do), there's no doubt that the progressive movement needs unions to be strong or we are all screwed.

  • Go Tom (unverified)

    If this goes through, I could be called a supervisor because I oversee three guys on a construction site. I don't get to hire or fire them, though sometimes I wish I could. I don't have that power. I'm not a supervisor. If I'm getting a promotion, give me a raise and some authority, don't take my rights away.

    I have had union jobs and nonunion jobs. Almost always, workers get more respect in a union shop. This is nothing but another money-grabbing attempt to take money from hard-working people and give it to the Ken Lays of the world. What the heck.

  • Anon (unverified)

    My aunt is a nurse and just heard about this from her union. She said that if she acts as a charge nurse even once a week, she'll be considered a supervisor and could be kicked out of her union.

  • lionloco (unverified)

    Again we see demonstrated the secrecy cloud from this administration. No public hearings on NLRB actions. No public hearings on decisions that affect all workers in this country. I fail to see why many citizens of this country have buried their heads in the sand with regard to all the moral and judicial laws this administration has broken. There is no justifiable reason for a worker who has no authority to hire and fire, reprimand, or promote a co-worker to be considered a "manager". How many of us have trained our co-workers in our current jobs as we transition to a better job, or on a different shift, or in another part of our place of work? How many of us have been in "lead" positions for projects where we direct the work, but definitely do not have the power to replace or reprimand our co-workers? Is this really a "management" position? Come on! This administration's relentless attack on the workforce of America at their corporate sponsor's direction, the bastardization of the NLRB and it's mission, and the corrupt use of National Security to invade all aspects of the lives of the citizens of this country is in-excusable. Workers and Citizens, Wake Up! Take Action! Your family's future is being mortgaged, your rights at work are being lost to this administrations lust for the almighty corporate dollar, and your personal rights are being flushed down the toilet in the name of National Security! ALL HAIL CEASAR!!

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    one-third of what? what's left to eliminate?

    i totally agree that unions are vital to the survival of American democracy; god knows how awful the 20th century would have been without unions. but, like liberals in general, unions seemed to do all they could in the last 40 years to destroy themselves. between Jimmy Hoffa, a general lack of democracy in many unions, and the rise of neo-conservatism, both unions and liberals moved to the brink of obsolesence.

    the SEIU and other worker-oriented unions appear to be on the right track. the only approach that's going to work, for both unions and Dems, is the deanista one: grassroots activism plus political smarts plus use of all possible tools, including the net and one-on-one campaigning. we need unions, but just like so many important issues are currently hopeless at the national level (the DLC sure doesn't help our cause), we have to find our solutions out "here" — at the 'roots.

  • (Show?)

    a general lack of democracy in many unions,

    If you like unions, and you seem to, then don't go spreading the other side's myths. Employers have many times more judgments against them for breaking federal labor law than do unions. Sure, there are bad seeds in any institution, but 95% of union staff and leaders are there to make things better for workers.

    I have worked for the AFL-CIO in several states and find union staff and leaders to some of the most committed advocates for social justice I've ever known. Many people come from union families and see that the union gave them opportunities they otherwise would not have had. Others have started with nothing and see the union as the only way to earn a fair wage and be able to have health insurance to their families, and then move into leadership. I love seeing a guy in a hard hat know as much about policy as a guy in a suit.

    Unions are the main barrier to this country being totally divided between the rich and the poor. Progressives who complain about unions are shooting themselves in the foot.

  • Chris (unverified)

    The neocons and fascists are ready to move against the unions. Who would have guessed?

    Unions need to engage in evolution and move to the next stage and become worker-owners instead of wage slaves.

  • Cheryl Kelso (unverified)

    This administration is doing everything it can to bust unions and reward corporations. They are packing the NLRB to support corporate issues. They threatened to send the National Guard into Washington State when our Longshoremen were locked out of their jobs. They have threatened our federal workers with a new labor system that would gut civil service and bring back the spoils system. They are hiring incompetents to head federal agencies (FEMA is only the tip of the iceberg). They award federal contracts to employers that save money by taking away health care benefits. They have no system in place to track where all the money is spent. This administration is in the pocket of big business and without unions, the workers are at their mercy.

  • Bob Tucker (unverified)

    From the well known, left-wing, radical, liberal rag, Fortune Magazine, June 7:

    "By law, American workers have the right to form unions and bargain over wages and working conditions.

    Trying to exercise those right is another matter entirely - workers are routinely fired or discriminated against for supporting unions, most employers hire anti-union consultants to block organizing drives and some go so far as to close down work sites when employees vote for a union.

    'There's a crisis in workers' rights,' says Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of an advocacy group called American Rights At Work. 'The system is simply not working.'

    Between 1993 and 2003, an average of 22,633 workers per year were ordered to receive back pay from their employers by the National Labor Relations Board because they were fired, demoted or discriminated against because of union activity, the union-backed group says."

    Apparently this isn't enough for the right. Everyday this administration and the right are working not just to defeat progressives one issue or one fight at a time, but to ELIMINATE opposition and dissent (no wonder they like China and Saudi Arabia so much - they're roll models).

    Oh...and while the President only pays attention the laws that he likes, this is still technically the law of the land via the National Labor Relations Act...

    "It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection. "

  • Dan J (unverified)

    Ya T.A,

    "...like liberals in general, unions seemed to do all they could in the last 40 years to destroy themselves"

    quit your complaining and get back in the narrow Liberal opinion shadow. You comments aren't in step with lefty fantasyland of how the world should work. "Progressives who complain about unions are shooting themselves in the foot."

    A really concerning question that hasn't been discussed is what will happen to all of the NFL quarterbacks? You do realize they are part of the Player Union don't you? Can anyone make the arguement that these leaders are not supervisors of some type?

    What about those poor airplane pilots knocking down $110K per year. Aren't they in charge of the airplane they fly? They might also be considered supervisors.

    These two professionals will be forced out of the protective glove of the union and into the dark mist of the free markets.

    Worse yet, they won't know how to vote without the endorsements of their highly compensated union leaders.

  • union activist (unverified)

    On the question of unions and the grassroots-

    I worked my ass off in 2004 knocking on doors, sitting in phone banks, and getting other people to volunteer. Tens of thousands of union people volunteered to turn out union voters in every state in the country. In case you don't get where I'm going with this, union campaigns are member driven, and democratic, and grassroots. Come volunteer in a union activity sometime; they're some of the best places to see grassroots democracy in action.

  • BobTucker (unverified)

    This cut off. Here's the law piece: It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.

  • Amanda Fritz, RN (unverified)

    An unintended consequence if the NLRB rules against nurses, will be that it will be even more difficult for hospitals to find nurses willing to perform charge duties. They'll certainly have to pay charge nurses significantly more than the minimal differential currently offered, and perhaps have to pay them salaries instead of hourly, and specifically recruit for tham as management positions. If all nurses are excluded from unions, look for the current improvement in wages and recruitment for nurses to be reversed. The most significant victories for nurses all over the country are all union-led and union-supported.

    I'm not able to attend the rally on Thursday due to a long-scheduled vacation trip. Thank you to all willing to show up to support nurses again, just as you did during the OHSU strike.

  • Becky (unverified)

    Another interesting Bush attack on unions is the planned NAFTA Superhighway running up from Mexico through Texas and on up into Canada. The huge highway will allow shippers to avoid sending goods through coastal ports because the containers will be able to be hauled up this extremely wide shipping highway. "Left out in the cold will be American trucking and logistics companies, especially union shops. In bypassing union ports and truck lines, the Bush Administration will effectively remove the clout of the Teamsters and Longshoremen unions."

    Good for Grover Norquist, big corporations and Republicans, bad for Democrats and family wage jobs.

  • union supporter (unverified)

    Unions have been under attack for a number of years, a complacent attitude on the part of union members and a coordinated assault from big business have left them hurting. It's time for the general public to understand the importance of unions in their lives, wether they are a member of a union or not. Without this simple education all of us are in for a very difficult time as our country slips slowly toward facism.

  • David Wright (unverified)

    Extensive -- some might say exhaustive, or exhausting ;-) commentary available here.

    The upshot? These rulings could certainly dramatically curtail union membership. That will have a major impact on some select jobs/industries, to be sure.

    But given that 7 out of 8 workers in the U.S. are not union members now, and the impact of unions (exclusive of current labor laws for which we do owe a historical debt of gratitude) is relatively minor, this is not likely to be a particularly popular cause.

    Why should the 87% of us (92% in the private sector) who aren't union members care about this one way or the other?

  • (Show?)

    Why should the 87% of us (92% in the private sector) who aren't union members care about this one way or the other?

    Workers should care about unions because in Congress and in State Legislatures, unions are the sole defenders of the minimum wage, workplace rights, safety on the job, fair unemployment insurance, etc. Your non-union job is better than it would be without the advocacy of unions.

    Progressives should care about unions because we help elect pro-worker candidates, who are often many times better than their opponents on progressive issues like the environment, civil rights, affordable and accessible health care, fair funding for public services, consumer protection, etc.

    Without unions, this country will quickly slide into rich vs. poor. Depending on who you are, this may be appealing to you. It scares the bejesus out of me.

  • (Show?)

    Editor's note: TypePad crashed today, and all comments made between 12:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. PST were lost. Our apologies. We're not happy either.

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