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Joint Employers

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There is potentially huge news coming out of the National Labor Relations Board that would reclassify temp workers as joint employees of the company where they are temping, thus stripping away much of the reason why companies want temp workers and making them part of potential union bargaining units.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is widely expected to rule by month’s end that Browning-Ferris Industries, a Houston-based waste-disposal company, is a joint employer of workers provided to the firm by a staffing agency, experts say. As a result, the company would be forced to collectively bargain with those employees and could be held liable for any labor violations committed against them.

Such a decision could hit companies from a host of industries, including hospitality, retail, manufacturing, construction, financial service providers, cleaning services and security.

The expected action would be the latest in a string of major wins for labor groups under the Obama administration, which has already issued several sweeping executive actions on worker protections and wages.

Backers say it is a necessary step to protect a vulnerable class of temporary workers and independent contractors. But business groups fear the decision will wreak havoc throughout the private sector.

“It has the potential to change the entire way businesses operate in this country,” said Rob Green, executive director of the National Council of Chain Restaurants.

“There are so many business relationships in the economy that rely on companies providing services to other companies,” he added. “So you can imagine that any business sector could be impacted by the decision.”

This could be gigantic and is another example of how the Obama NLRB has issued decisions favoring workers.* The public persona of temp workers that companies like to employ is something like needing to bring in an extra office worker to catch up on some work or replace someone on maternity leave. But as many of you know, that’s not the case at all. Rather, companies use temporary work as one of their many strategies to shield themselves from liability, training, wages and benefits, and unions. They use pliant state legislatures to carve out broader and broader room for temporary work, effectively creating an entirely new class of worker outside of unions’ ability to organize them. So now you have cases like the Toyota plant in Kentucky, to take one of many examples, where you have long-term workers doing the exact same work as the person next to them except that they don’t work for Toyota and they don’t get the wages and benefits of their co-worker. Not only are these workers presently ineligible for unionization, but they create divides in the workforce that benefits employers by undermining solidarity. There’s absolutely no good reason for this system to exist except to benefit corporations. So you have temp workers in the California lettuce fields who have been there for 10 years and who lack the ability to improve their lives on the job. The NLRB seems to understand this and feels a correction is necessary.

*I do find it hilarious however that the reporter claims it is “the latest in a string of major wins for labor groups under the Obama administration.” Except that whole Trans Pacific Partnership thing! But hey, if you take that tiny little issue out of the equation, I suppose it’s true! But then the story itself is pretty hackish, basically just presenting the corporate point of view, including on McDonald’s controlling its franchisees labor policies but shielding themselves from responsibility through the franchise.

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