‘Sensible’ NLRB decision expands definition of joint employer

kono-mcdonalds-franchisesWASHINGTON, D.C. (Aug. 31, 2015) — In a 3-2 decision issued last Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board determined that the waste management agency Browning-Ferris should be considered a “joint employer” of its temporary workers, expanding the definition of what it means to be an employer in the United States and making companies –including giant fast-food corporations — potentially liable for labor violations committed by franchisees, staffing contractors and temp agencies.

The ruling opens the door for low-wage workers to improve their conditions by organizing unions not only at fast-food restaurants, but also in many other industries where employers exploit long-standing staffing loopholes that help them avoid collective bargaining relationships.

As the New York Times points out in an editorial published today:

At stake is the balance of power between low-wage workers and powerful corporations. Under existing law, a corporate parent could simply close a franchise if workers tried to unionize. As a joint employer, however, it would be against the law to interfere in union organizing. Similarly, corporate parents have held for decades that franchisees have sole control of workers’ pay. But as joint employers, corporations could be held accountable for pay and working conditions, and be required to bargain in good faith with unionized employees.

After Thursday’s decision was announced, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement:

This decision may very well signal the beginning of the end of outdated laws that fail to address an economic structure tilted against working people. It means more working people can engage in meaningful collective bargaining by bringing all parties who control their wages and other conditions of employment to the table.

Simply put, labor laws in America have failed to keep pace as the workplace has continued to evolve. This is one of many sensible, new avenues that can help bring workplace laws into the 21st century and reflect the true nature of today’s economy.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) distributed the following statement:

The labor market has changed dramatically over the past 30 years, but that shouldn’t be the end of basic worker protections or earning a living wage. I applaud the Board for carrying out its mission to adapt the NLRA to changing patterns in the labor market to protect workers’ basic rights. Today, too many big companies can shirk responsibility for poor working conditions and low wages, leaving workers with no real recourse for improving workplace conditions.

This decision marks an important update to the Board’s standard to ensure workers can exercise their rights and have a voice in the workplace. Instead of allowing the biggest corporations to rig the system against small businesses and workers, we need to make sure our country, economy, and workplaces work for all Americans, not just the wealthiest few.

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