November 26, 2005

Organizing Temp Workers

The other day I pointed to research showing that temp work wasn't really the best way for anyone, especially those kicked off the welfare rolls, to move up the ladder and land a steady job. That brings up the obvious question, "Well, why don't temp workers organize?" What are the obstacles? Especially since about 27 percent of the workforce is employed in "nonstandard" arrangements.

As it turns out, back in 2000, the National Labor Relations Board actually ruled in MB Sturgis that temp workers who perform the same job as regular employees at a company share a "community of interests," and unions can organize and negotiate for these workers. That obviously affects a lot of things, including wages and benefits, but one of the best is that contingent workers could have access to employer-provided training programs that can eventually help them get full-time employment. Here's the sort of thing temp workers could, in theory, take advantage of:
In the telecommunications industry, where complex new technologies are constantly being introduced, large employers such as Verizon and SBC Communications have long partnered with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) to offer telecom workers advanced technical training. Now, through the union’s CWA/NETT academy, other workers can take advantage of an array of programs offering training in the highly specialized skills telecom employers need. After only three years, CWA/NETT has already graduated more than 1,000 workers.

Some smaller firms have adopted a similar approach. For example, Tucker Technology Inc., an Oakland, California, information-technology firm, offers its clients a range of hardware- and software-design and sophisticated installation services. Through its partnership with the CWA, Tucker is able to train the cabling technicians, design engineers, and other workers it needs.
The catch, though, is that Sturgis is no longer valid. The Bush-appointed NLRB overturned it in November of 2004—ruling instead that temp workers could join forces with employees and unionize only if both the temp agency and employer agree to it. In other words, never. Granted, the relative impact of this is rather small, since in practice Sturgis mainly affected those temp workers in unionized industries—roughly 10 percent—but it still matters. While we're at it, one might ask why the "independent" Federal Reserve Board sets aside five votes for heads of institutions owned by commercial banks, while the NLRB certainly doesn't have nearly half its seats reserved for unionists, but obviously I just don't understand democracy very well.
-- Brad Plumer 4:58 PM || ||