Dear Commons Community,
On Thursday the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the owner of a California recycling plant was a “joint employer” with the contractor that hired workers at the plant, essentially forcing both to bargain with the union together or risk violating U.S. labor law. U.S. union leaders said that this landmark U.S. labor board ruling on companies’ obligations toward contract and franchise workers would help them organize manufacturers and e-commerce companies as well as fast food chains. Business groups, arguing that the ruling could lead to higher costs and hurt the economy, are pushing the Republican-led Congress to overturn it, in part it because the company named in the decision – Browning-Ferris – cannot challenge it in a federal court without overcoming a number of procedural hurdles. As reported in Reuters:
“Unions see the decision as a breakthrough not just in efforts to help employees organizes at franchisees of McDonald’s Corp and other chains but also as a tool to counter the proliferation of subcontracting in other industries in which workers are one or two steps removed from the companies indirectly controlling them.
Manufacturers including auto workers, food processors, steelmakers and aerospace companies are potential targets for union campaigns, said Elizabeth Bunn, director of the AFL-CIO’s organizing department, noting that plant workers are often not directly employed by the parent firm.
“You literally can walk into almost any non-union manufacturing plant in the United States and you’ll see workers working on a line and not be able to distinguish who is temp from an agency and who is a direct employee of the company,” she said.
Big labor has focused much of its resources over the past few years on pushing for higher wages in the fast-food industry, and the Browning-Ferris ruling could have implications for an ongoing NLRB case seeking to hold McDonald accountable as a “joint employer” for alleged violations at franchisees.
But union organizers see Thursday’s ruling as paving the way for gains across a range of industries given the widespread use of subcontracting by the manufacturing and service sectors to lower costs.
“It’s certainly a game changer,” said Teague Paterson, a partner at Beeson Tayer & Bodine, a law firm representing the union in the NLRB case. “Unions and workers have been frustrated by these triangulated relations that the board condoned in the past. It certainly opens the door to more organizing.”
This ruling was a surprise and gives a boost to the labor movement at a time when it really could use it.