The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 27, 2006

Jury still out on effect of NLRB's anti-union supervisor decision

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON - The Oct. 3 NLRB ruling that could deny union rights to eight million U.S. workers "may have far-reaching and adverse effects" on unionized construction workers, according to a letter sent to affiliates by AFL-CIO Building Trades Department Edward Sullivan.

Or, maybe not.

Legal eagles among the unionized trades, nonunion Associated Builders and Contractors and the Associated General Contractors have all looked at the NLRB rulings and have come up with differing, tentative opinions as to how they could impact the building industry.

As we reported in our last issue, the National Labor Relations Board on Oct. 3 voted along party lines (three Republican appointees, two Democrats) to change federal labor laws as they pertain to the term "supervisor."

The NLRB ruled on three cases, collectively known as "Kentucky River." But it's the ruling on the lead case, Oakwood Healthcare Inc., that essentially invites U.S. employers to make a supervisor out of any nurse who has the authority to assign or direct another and who uses independent judgment. Reclassifying workers as supervisors essentially takes away their right to union representation.

Nurses are the targets in the case, but there has been a debate for months over what other classifications of workers could be affected. The construction industry - which employs a similar informal supervisory structure to nurses - has been seen as a prime target for extending the new legal precedent.

"It's too soon to say how this will impact employers in the construction industry," said Associated Builders and Contractors attorney Maurice Baskin, to the Construction Labor Report.

Mechanical Contractors Association Executive Director of Labor Relations and Government Affairs John McNerney said they expect the NLRB decisions to be "largely benign" to their collective bargaining agreements.

But an attorney for the Associated General Contractors, which represents union and nonunion contractors, told the labor report that the NLRB's rulings have a "potentially significant impact" on the construction industry.

Sullivan said the Building Trades Department will review the matter and develop a "comprehensive strategy" for the future. A legal memo from the department said the ruling may have more of an impact legal processes in relation to organizing campaigns than in affecting current rank-and-file workers.