by James Parks, Mar 19, 2008
A key international agency ruled today that the Bush administration’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is denying workers’ rights in violation of international labor standards.
The International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) Committee on Freedom of Association held that the NLRB’s definitions of “supervisor” in the Oakwood cases violates freedom of association standards by excluding staff that only occasionally perform supervisory duties from protection of the National Labor Relations Act. The United States is bound to follow international core labor standards as a member of the ILO.
Because the Republican majority on the NLRB has systematically and egregiously reduced the freedom of workers to join unions, the AFL-CIO took the unusual step of filing a complaint with the ILO, an arm of the United Nations, last October.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney welcomed the decision.
The Bush-dominated NLRB has taken every opportunity to arm U.S. employers with the tools to defeat the attempt of workers to gain a voice at work. The ILO’s decision in this case vindicates workers’ rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining, despite the attempts at spinning it by U.S. employers. We will continue to expose the shameful conduct of the U.S. government in every forum available to us as we seek to strengthen the ability of workers to form and join unions.
In three cases collectively known as the Oakwood cases after the lead case, Oakwood Healthcare Inc., the board in 2006 reinterpreted the definition of “supervisor” in a way that greatly expanded the number and type of workers who can be classified as supervisors. The expanded definition applies to workers in every industry and means up to 8 million workers, including nurses, building trades workers, newspaper and television employees and others, may be classified as supervisors and barred from joining unions.
The case originated when some 220 registered nurses at Heritage, an acute-care hospital in Taylor, Mich., voted in a UAW election in February 2002. The NLRB impounded the votes because the hospital, owned by Oakwood, claimed the RNs are supervisors.
The ILO in previous years has ruled that other U.S. government decisions violated workers’ rights, including the 2002 Supreme Court’s Hoffman Plastics ruling, which took the unprecedented step of denying an undocumented immigrant worker lost wages after he was illegally fired for exercising his rights under the National Labor Relations Act to form a union.
In another case, the ILO last year held that airport screeners could not be denied the right to form and join unions and engage in collective bargaining, in the name of “national security.”