Ever heard of professionals who act as hired mourners? Or, moirologists – to call them by their professional name! They have a role to play in this world; but probably no one ever dreamt of the possibility of hiring temporary workers by the day to protest against an employer’s treatment of its workers. Can someone who is not an actual employee protest against the treatment being meted out to others? Well, the NLRB said “why not”, when it condoned the payment of $50/worker by a union to persons who joined a protest against Wal-Mart.
So, the next time someone organizes a protest against their employer, they will probably be doing the economy a favor because that strike can increase the demand for temporary work and create employment. As their employer scrambles to find temporary workers to take the place of the striking workers; the union is also hiring temporary workers. Even though their fate is in no way tied to the result of the protest, their participation can impact the outcome of collective bargaining..
Employers who recently heaved a sigh of relief about the court ruling which eliminated the requirement for employers to display notices at the workplace about employees’ right to unionize now have a new threat to worry about.
In this blog, I am not trying to second guess the NLRB, nor am I indicating that I am in favor of – or against – the rights of a union to hire temporary workers to assist in picketing and protesting. For me, the more interesting topic is the often confusing relationships that exist between unions and temporary workers.
The very title of ‘temporary’ seems to indicate that temporary workers have no real rights at the workplace, nor can they unionize. The fact is that temps can join the same union as the permanent workers at the workplace where they are engaged. They need no one’s permission (including the staffing company that assigned them) to do so. In fact, in some assignments union membership is a requirement for employment.
If the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects the right of workers to organize unions and to engage in similar concerted activity for mutual aid or protection; the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is all about establishing a public policy which balances concerns of flexibility and productivity with economic security and fairness for the workers, and looks upon unions as a means to ensuring them. So let’s return to the temporary worker hired by a union to walk a picket line. Will the short-term source of income – often limited to a few days – be attractive enough to potentially alienate the company being picketed, possibly influencing future considerations for assignment once the strike ends? That fundamental question is core to whether we can anticipate a rise in the use of temps to support striking union workers.
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