Workers May Be Able To Join Unions
By Glenn Burkins
The World Street Journal
-- The National Labor Relations Board is poised to make it easier
for the growing number of temporary workers to join labor unions.
that make it “virtually impossible" for temps to join
unions alongside an employer's permanent staff are based on a
"flimsy premise” says NLRB Chairman William B. Gould
tomorrow, the board will hear arguments in cases in which the
unionization of temporary workers is at issue. While board members
won't discuss pending cases, several of them, such as Mr. Gould,
have said publicly that they believe existing rules are outmoded
in light of the recent growth in the temporary employment industry.
warn of repercussions -- and a probable court fight -- if the
regulations are changed. “If you start messing around in
this area,” says Dan Yager, general counsel for the Labor
Policy Association, a business lobbying group, “clearly
it's going to discourage the use of temporary workers.”
has taken on greater significance with the changes in the temporary
staffing industry. The Labor Department says about 2.2 million
people worked as temporary employees last year, up from just 417,000
mainly to clerical workers, temporary agencies today offer a wide
range of occupations. Factory workers, engineers, architects,
computer programmers, designers and even lawyers can be hired
through temporary agencies. Manpower Inc., the nation's largest
temporary employment agency, recently said it would begin supplying
physicists for some of its high-technology clients. On any given
day, Manpower sends more than 165,000 people to work in various
companies, says Terry A. Hueneke, the company's executive vice
president. It will employ about 800,000 people this year. And,
he says, Manpower's billable hours are growing at a rate of about
12% a year. Mr. Hueneke wouldn't discuss the labor cases.
industry's growth, the labor laws that govern temporary workers
have not changed, critics say. For example, if temporary workers
are sent into a unionized company, they are prohibited from joining
that company's bargaining unit without first getting consent from
both the company and the temporary agency that sent them. For
labor-law purposes, the two companies are deemed to be “joint
employers.” In the cases now before the labor board, union
and their lawyers will argue for changing that rule.
In one case,
Teamsters Local 89 is seeking to represent temporary workers at
American Commercial Marine Service Co.'s Jeffboat division of
Jeffersonville, Ind. The Union has represented the company's 600
permanent workers since 1971. Jeffboat, which manufactures tugboats,
barges and floating casinos, also employs about 100 temps supplied
by TT&O Enterprises Inc.
In an earlier
ruling, an NLRB regional director said that because Jeffboat and
TT&O were joint employers, the Teamsters would need joint
consent to represent the temporary staff. The Union had argued
that since Jeffboat controls virtually every aspect of the work
environment, it alone should be considered the true employer.
filed before the labor board Jeffboat called the Teamsters a “financially
bankrupt union” looking to collect union dues. The company's
lawyer, David W. Miller, says the temporary workers never asked
for Teamsters representation. Officials of Local 89 couldn't be
reached for comment.
have slashed their payrolls, unions have accused some of hiring
temporary workers to avoid paying benefits to permanent staffs.
Stephen Lerner, assistant organizing director at the AFL-CIO,
calls it a “moral issue,” as well as a legal issue.
The current rule, he says, allows employers to "do a half-step"
and duck their responsibility for workers.
the NLRB chairman, says the rule also has had the unintended effect
of widening the economic gap among American workers. “The
whole nature of the employment relationship is changing,”
In a second
case, the NLRB must decide if 15 temporary workers at M.B. Sturgis
Inc., a maker of flexible gas hoses in Maryland Heights, Mo.,
should be included with the company's 35 permanent workers represented
by Textile Processors Local 108. While the permanent staff gets
health and life insurance, paid holidays, vacations, and contributions
to an employee stock ownership plan, the temporary workers get
none of that. Although Sturgis has agreed to include the temporary
workers in its bargaining union [sic], the temporary agency that
supplies them has not.
of the Labor Policy Association says most temporary workers have
no desire for union representation. “A lot of the people
who are in the temporary work force are in it by choice,”
he says, “and they are not in it for an extended period
of time.” He says Mr. Gould, appointed by President Clinton,
is out to “rewrite labor law” as a favor to union
temporary workers, the labor board also will hear arguments concerning
contract workers, who are not covered by many of the labor laws
that protect employees. In recent years, Mr. Gould says, employers
have been expanding their definition of contract workers in an
attempt to circumvent those laws. The board is expected to rule
on the cases sometime next year.