The National Labor Relations Board is expected to rule, possibly within days, on a case that could drastically change the relationship between millions of workers and their employers. The board, dominated by Democratic appointees, is expected to declare that companies that hire other firms to provide labor have an employer-employee relationship with the workers brought in by those firms.
The NLRB foreshadowed the expected ruling in a controversial finding earlier this month, which found that fast food giant McDonalds is a joint employer of the restaurant workers hired by McDonalds’ franchisees. But the case in question now could stretch far beyond the restaurant industry in terms of its impact.
The use of temporary workers has surged in U.S. businesses, because of the flexibility that temporary staffing provides, and because it relieves the firm using the temp workers’ services of many different obligations, from tax withholding to health insurance to collective bargaining.
The rise of temporary workers has been looked at with alarm by labor unions, who see it as a way for employers to shield themselves from unfair labor practices law. The petition now pending before the NLRB represents a major landmark in the ongoing debate.
The case centers on a petition from a Teamsters Union local in California representing workers hired by Leadpoint Business Services to work in a recycling plant owned by a subsidiary of Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI). The union argues that Browning-Ferris is ultimately an employer of the temporary workers brought on by Leadpoint and is, therefore, liable for what the union alleges are intolerable working conditions in the plant and ought to be required to negotiate a contract with its workers.
Attorney Michael G. Pedhirney, in a brief filed by Leadpoint, argued that “There is simply no basis to impose a bargaining obligation on BFI as BFI does not employ the employees in the petitioned-for bargaining unit in any manner.”
Attorneys representing BFI were equally adamant, writing, “BFI simply does not control that terms and conditions of employment of Leadpoint’s employees such that it can be deemed an employer under the Board’s applicable standards – it is not even a close call.”
However, the consensus among those watching the case is that the NLRB is likely to rule in favor of the petitioners, who argue that preventing workers from negotiating directly with the end user of their services restricts them to what the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Labor Relations and Research Center described in an amicus brief as “second-class terms and conditions of employment.”
An amicus brief filed by the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Restaurant Association, and the National Waste & Recycling Association warned that a ruling in favor of the petitioners “will disrupt operations, likely increase costs, and impair [companies’] ability to respond to changing market conditions and demands.”