US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Harkin, Blumenthal, Durbin Introduce Bill Protecting Union Rights

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

WASHINGTON – Today, Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Re-empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradeworkers (RESPECT) Act. This legislation would modify present law to ensure workers are not stripped of their union protection.

“I have always believed that every working American should have the same right that every CEO in this country has – the right to negotiate and sign a contract that ensures fair treatment on the job,” said Harkin.  “ The National Labor Relations Act is supposed to guarantee this basic right, but unfortunately too many people are excluded from the Act’s protections.  The RESPECT Act takes an important step to address this problem, ensuring that workers who have no authority to hire and fire cannot be mis-labeled as ‘supervisors’ and denied their rights.  By restoring a voice on the job to millions of American workers, the RESPECT Act will help ensure that these workers can speak up for fair treatment and achieve their dreams of a middle class life.”

“The RESPECT Act is a crucial step toward ensuring hardworking men and women are not unjustly denied the right to join a labor union,”said Blumenthal. “This legislation corrects flaws in current statute that would otherwise unfairly prevent millions of workers from joining together in setting key terms of their employment. Without these rights, they could experience lower wages, fewer benefits, and deteriorating working conditions. Protecting the rights of workers in Connecticut and across the country to join together in good faith is central to the growth of the middle-class, and this bill protects those rights.”

“Millions of hard-working men and women, both in Illinois and across America, lack the basic right to discuss the terms of their working conditions,” said Durbin.“The RESPECT Act would correct this by narrowing the definition of a supervisor so it more accurately mirrors the workplace reality.   Making this change will strengthen our middle-class and empower workers and their families by giving them a say in their employment.”

AFL-CIO President  Richard Trumka said,“The AFL-CIO applauds Senators Blumenthal, Durbin and Harkin for introducing the RESPECT Act. During the Bush Administration, the NLRB radically broadened its interpretation of the term ‘supervisor’ and paved the way for employers to misclassify workers as ‘supervisors’ in order to deny them the right to a voice on the job. The RESPECT Act will undo this harm and restore the rights taken away so workers can advocate for themselves and the people they serve.”

Three decisions handed down by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in October of 2006, known collectively as the Kentucky River cases, threaten to expand the interpretation of who may be classified as a supervisor. Under the current law, individuals spending as little as 10 percent of their time performing supervisory duties can be considered management and stripped of their right to join a union. Without the clarification and changes proposed by the bill, workers in a wide range of industries could be denied their right to collective bargain without any change in their job description or responsibilities.

The RESPECT Act would change the definition of supervisor under current law.  The first change eliminates the terms “assign” and “responsibly to direct” from the list of supervisory duties in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935. Eliminating these terms would mean that only those with real authority to affect employees’ terms of employment could be classified as supervisors.

The second change requires that an employee have supervisory duties during a majority of his or her work time in order to be considered a true supervisor and therefore excluded from coverage under the NLRA.  The current definition does not address a growing practice of lower-level employees assuming some occasional supervisory duties. Both of these clear and simple changes to the NLRA would correct flaws in the statute and provide protection for millions of hard-working men and women.

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