Killing Unions

KILLING UNIONS….As American manufacturing has declined over the past few decades, so have the old-line labor unions that represent manufacturing workers. That dynamic is pretty obvious.

But there’s much more to labor’s decline than just that. Successive administrations have systematically tipped the bureaucratic scales against labor unions, making it harder to form new unions, harder to join existing unions, and easier for management to harrass and fire union organizers. Nathan Newman writes today about a good example of how this works:

Today, nurses will rally across the country to protest likely decisions by the National Labor Relations Board that would declare most Registered Nurses (RNs) to be “supervisors” under the law and therefore stripped of any protection under labor law.

….Once upon a time, it was generally understood that a supervisor was someone who had some degree of power to hire and fire those below them, but the in a series of decisions, the courts and NLRB have expanded the meaning of supervisor to mean people who, because of their expertise, direct the actions of other employees in some way.

How far this goes has been disputed, but essentially since Registered Nurses often direct other hospital employees on what routine tasks need to happen for patients, the move is to strip RNs of their labor rights.

And here’s the kicker ? once a group of nominal “supervisors” lose their labor rights and can be threatened with being fired, they are forced to become anti-union shock troops to spy on other employees and undermine unionization by other workers. So not only does this kind of decision threaten unions for RNs, it threatens the labor rights of workers throughout the health care industry.

Everyone remembers Reagan firing the air traffic controllers, but for all its drama that didn’t affect private sector unionization at all (and, in the end, didn’t affect public sector unionization very much either). Successive NLRB rulings, however, have steadily chipped away at labor rights and helped companies like Wal-Mart remain happily union free. That’s good for big corporations who contribute to the Republican Party, but not so good for middle class workers who no longer have anyone to fight for pay raises and better working conditions. The result is the three-decade wage stagnation illustrated in the chart above.

Read the rest of Nathan’s post for more details on how this works.