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Introduction Of The "Re-Empowerment Of Skilled And Professional Employees And Construction And Trades Workers (Respect) Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


* Mr. ANDREWS. Madam Speaker, today I rise to fight for middle class Americans by introducing the ``Re-empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction and Tradesworkers (RESPECT) Act.'' Day after day, middle class families are struggling to survive as their real incomes decline and the costs of basic necessities increase. A major contributor to this middle class squeeze is the decline in workers' freedom to organize and collectively bargain. Organized workers earn more, have greater access to healthcare benefits, and are more likely to have guaranteed pensions than unorganized workers. When workers get their fair share, the economy benefits and the middle class grows stronger.

* Yet the freedom to organize and collectively bargain has been under severe assault in recent decades, thanks to weak federal labor laws in dire need of reform. It has also been rolled back by a number of misguided decisions by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the last few years. These decisions have operated to strip millions of workers entirely of their freedom to organize. The RESPECT Act serves to restore that freedom by addressing a series of decisions which stray dramatically from and undermine the original intent of the National Labor Relations Board and which fly in the face of common sense. This bill provides clarity in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) on one aspect of the fundamental question of coverage: who is an employee and who is a supervisor.

* Last year, the NLRB issued a trio of decisions, collectively often referred to as the ``Kentucky River'' decisions, which eviscerated the meanings of ``employee'' and ``supervisor'' under the NLRA. The NLRA protects employees' freedom to organize and collectively bargain. Supervisors are not considered employees and are therefore not covered by the Act's protections. If an individual is determined to be a supervisor, she has no right to organize, no right to engage in concerted activity with her fellow employees, and no right to collectively bargain. Every fundamental right protected by the Act may turn on this question of whether she is a supervisor or an employee. The Kentucky River decisions dramatically expanded the definition of supervisor far beyond the limits that the framers of the Act intended and far beyond the limits of common sense. In so doing, it stripped an estimated 8 million workers--particularly skilled and professional employees--of the freedom to organize.

* In the workplace, people know who the supervisor is. A supervisor has the power to discipline, reward, promote, hire, and/or fire employees. The legislative history of the NLRA reflects these common sense understandings of who is or is not a supervisor. Congress drafted the NLRA to exclude from its protections only genuine supervisors with true management prerogatives, not minor supervisory employees, professionals, or skilled workers.

* Yet the NLRB ignored common sense and legislative history in the Kentucky River decisions. For professional and skilled employees, who often provide direction to other employees, the NLRB's action is devastating. A nurse who directs another person to conduct a single, discrete task, such as clipping a patient's toenails, would be considered to have supervisory authority under these recent decisions. So would a nurse who assigns a patient to a nurse for a single shift.

* A carpenter who tells an apprentice how to form a joint would also be considered to have supervisory authority. These skilled and professional workers have no power to promote, discipline, reward, hire, or fire--and yet they would be supervisors, according to the NLRB, even if they only held the authority to ``direct'' a person on single, discrete tasks just 10 percent of the time. Having been classified as a supervisor without realizing it, these employees may be subject to lawful discipline for trying to organize a union when they thought they were employees with every right to organize.

* Because of these decisions, over 8 million American workers are denied their fundamental freedom of association today. As the dissent pointed out in one of the decisions, 34 million Americans may fall into this category of workers stripped of their statutory rights by 2012.

* The impact of the Kentucky River decisions is already being felt, particularly in the health care industry, where respect for workers' rights is critical to efficient health care delivery and high quality patient care. In a case in Utah, an NLRB Regional Director, applying the NLRB's new definition of ``supervisor,'' found that virtually all of the registered nurses in a potential bargaining unit, 64 out of 88, were designated as supervisors, with the remaining 24 nurses excluded only because they had less than one year's service. Those remaining nurses will likely qualify as supervisors after they have completed their first year of nursing. Absurd decisions breed absurd results. As the New York Times explained in an October 7, 2006 editorial: ``[R]esponsibilities like making out a schedule do not amount to management. If they did, interns would be the only non-managers in many of today's workplaces.''

* The Kentucky River decisions are not an anomaly for the current Board. In the last five years, the Board has repeatedly ruled to deny or restrict the fundamental rights of entire categories of workers. These include 45,000 disabled workers who lost their right to organize; 51,000 teaching and research assistants who lost their right to organize; and 2 million temporary workers who have had their right to organize severely curtailed.

* The RESPECT Act will make two simple and clarifying changes to the definition of supervisor under the NLRA. It will: (1) eliminate the terms ``assign'' and ``responsibility to direct'' from the list of supervisory duties; and (2) require that employees possess supervisory duties during a majority of their work time in order to be excluded from coverage under the Act as a supervisor. Eliminating ``assign'' and ``responsibility to direct'' from the supervisor definition will effectuate Congress' intent to define supervisors as only those individuals who have genuine management prerogatives and the real authority to affect employees' terms of employment. As the NLRB has proven, these terms are open to abuse and misinterpretation, far afield from their common-sense and originally intended meanings, by those seeking to roll back workers' freedoms.

* Requiring that employees possess supervisory duties for a majority of their work time will create a fair, bright-line rule when determining whether an individual is a supervisor. Someone who possesses a modicum of supervisory authority a minority of the time should not be denied their fundamental rights.

* Madam Speaker, the NLRA guarantees the freedom to organize and collectively bargain for America's private sector workforce. That freedom is a fundamental human right and a proven key to a strong middle class. It is unconscionable that the rights of an estimated 8 million Americans--and many more in coming years--be put at risk by such deeply flawed decisionmaking as we have seen in the Kentucky River line of cases. The RESPECT Act does nothing more than clarify the law to ensure it is not misinterpreted or undermined on a fundamental question of coverage. All workers, including skilled and professional workers, have the right to organize. The RESPECT Act does not allow true supervisors to engage in organizing or collective bargaining. But it ensures that those individuals who are excluded from the NLRA's protections due to their supervisory status do indeed carry the genuine prerogatives of management. I urge all of my colleagues to stand with me as we fight to return these fundamental protections to millions workers who deserve the chance to win livable wages, fair benefits, decent working conditions, and a brighter future for their families.

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