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The Bosses War of Attrition: One Third of Union Members Could Disappear

Health care, living wages, pensions, job protections, the weekend -- all this could be taken away from as many as eight million already unionized workers, based on a ruling made by The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). On Tuesday, October 3rd the NLRB released a ruling on the Kentucky River Case, in which charge nurses, who give direction to other nurses, can be reclassifed as supervisors by employers. In a decision that that could make up to eight million workers ineligible for union membership, the charge nurses are now effectively barred from joining or being in a union. Because veteran nurses often rotate charge nurse assignments and duties, depending on hospital practice, a great number of nurses are expected to be impacted.

The Bosses War of Attrition: One Third of Union Members Could Disappear
by Patrick Star (NEFAC-Boston)

Health care, living wages, pensions, job protections, the weekend -- all this could be taken away from as many as eight million already unionized workers, based on a ruling made by The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

On Tuesday, October 3rd the NLRB released a ruling on the Kentucky River Case, in which charge nurses, who give direction to other nurses, can be reclassifed as supervisors by employers. In a decision that that could make up to eight million workers ineligible for union membership, the charge nurses are now effectively barred from joining or being in a union. Because veteran nurses often rotate charge nurse assignments and duties, depending on hospital practice, a great number of nurses are expected to be impacted.

The NLRB’s new definition allows employers to reclassify any worker who has the authority to assign or direct another and uses independent judgement. The Board also ruled that a worker can be reclassified even if they spend as little as ten to fifteen percent of their time overseeing the work of others. Additionally, the language of the ruling is so vague that nursing is not the only area affected. It is expected that building tradespeople and workers in just about any unionized industry will suffer from their bosses' newly broad latitude to reclassify them out of their unions.

The Kentucky River ruling is not without precedent. In the NLRB vs. Yeshiva University ruling, issued in 1980, the entire faculty of Yeshiva University was declared managerial, hence held to be ineligible for collective bargaining rights. Although 37 private universities made claims to the NLRB stemming from the Yeshiva case, that ruling was specific enough that it could not be applied to as many workerplaces as the Kentucky River ruling. The Kentucky River ruling can be applied potentially to a variety of job titles -- including journeymen and lead men, building trades workers who often direct workers with less experience.

In the building trades, there is a formal education structure for training new workers, with the journeyman acting as a teacher and the apprentice learning as a pupil. Lead building trades workers are often specialized in a work process, and can give direction to a crew on how to complete a task, in a structure that has been in place for centuries, dating back to the guild system of the middle ages. In all of these positions, more experienced workers assist inexperienced workers in completing the task in front of them, with none of the workers having the power to hire, fire, discipline, or change policy -- powers that typically define a boss or supervisor. Like charge nurses, lead building tradespeople often rotate in and out of their roles, a reality ignored by the NLRB’s ruling. But in the business of anti-unionism, reality is set aside and replaced with the tunnel vision of making profits.

Since the 1970s, a rise of union-busting law firms has occurred, who make huge profits assisting employers in fighting to keep unions out. These firms have worked closely with pro-boss legislative lobbyists, resulting in anti-union policies such as 'right to work' laws. This profitable market of law firms representing bosses has widened the struggle between bosses and workers to include another enemy of workers in the camp of the bosses.

Solidarity is Our Weapon!

Millions of union workers aren’t going to have their union rights taken away tomorrow. The likely time for bosses to strip workers of their union rights will be during contract negotiations; whether they are the first contract negotiations resulting from a union drive or when expiring contracts are being negotiated.

The AFL-CIO and Change to Win Federation are focusing their energies on a campaign of letter writing and rallies. Across the country workers are participating in this campaign. So far workers are losing. The bosses run the courts and we workers will not win this war against our rights to be in a union on the boss’s battlefield.

In the 1930’s, when federal labor legislation that protected workers was created, it wasn’t a result of letter writing or rallying outside the bosses institutions, congress, the supreme court, or the white house. Any battle won has been a direct result of militancy on the job. From the Flint Sit down Strike to the Longshoreman’s Strike of 1934, we workers have won our battles on the job.

Their weapon is to divide and conquer. Our weapon must be solidarity. When the first of our sisters and brothers get classified out of a union, we must all stand behind them. The first strike resulting from this NLRB ruling must be the spark that ignites a collective fire so fierce that the bosses and politicians fear us like they feared our workers movement in the 1930’s. If we allow our sisters and brothers to be picked off one by one our movement will slowly shrink and die.

Not one concession will be made. Now is the time to prepare for the all out class war that is already upon us. Solidarity is our strategy. Direct action and general strikes must be some of our weapons. We must act, we
must win.

For more information on the state by state breakdown of who may be affected by the Kentucky River ruling go to:

Patrick Star is a member of NEFAC, and is a rank and file member of the United Brotherhood of Caprenters, Boston Local 67.