What Business Doesn’t Want YOU to Know

A melodrama is being played out in federal court about whether American workers should be informed of rights that they have possessed for 70 years under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Most workers think the NLRA pertains only to union organizing but it provides most workers the right to join together to improve their wages and working conditions with or without a union. The NLRA can come into play, for example, when an employer fires a non-union employee(s) for discussing a safety concern or other concerns about working conditions.

Employers are spending millions to prevent workers from knowing their rights!

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a rule last summer that would have required most private sector employers to post a notice on Nov. 14, 2011 informing all workers of their rights under the NLRA. There was an immediate outcry from business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and Associated Builders and Contractors (all of which filed lawsuits to block the rule).

Twice delayed, the rule was scheduled to go into effect on April 30, 2012. That’s not going to happen now because of recent federal court rulings in multiple lawsuits. Here are the legal developments:

  • The  U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit  in Washington, D.C., on April 17, 2012 issued a temporary injunction prohibiting implementation of the rule, pending appeal.
  • U.S. District Judge David Norton of South Carolina ruled on April 13, 2012 that the labor board went beyond its legal authority when issuing the rule.
  • U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington, D.C., on March 2, 2012 ruled that the NLRB had the authority to adopt the poster rule, though she said the NLRB exceeded its authority with respect to certain penalty penalties for failing to comply with the rule.

The NLRB says the notice is needed because “many employees protected by the NLRA are unaware of their rights under the statute.”   Requiring employers to post the notice would, according to the NLRB, “increase knowledge of the NLRA among employees, in order to better enable the exercise of rights under the statute.”

Most union workers are aware that the NLRA protects their right to organize but non-union workers may have no idea that the NLRA also protects them,  whether they want to join a union or not. Section 7 of the NLRA guarantees employees the right to engage in “concerted activities” not only for self-organization but also “for the purpose of . . . mutual aid or protection. . . .”

The broad protection of Section 7 applies with particular force to unorganized employees who, because they have no designated bargaining representative, must “speak for themselves as best they [can].”  NLRB v. Washington Aluminum Co., 370 U.S. 9, 14, 82 S.Ct. 1099, 8 L.Ed.2d 298 (1962).

At this point, it is anyone’s guess whether  the NLRA posters will ever see the fluorescent light of break rooms in businesses and factories around the country.  I suggest workers print out this article or an equivalent and (anonymously) post it on their employee bulletin board.

Kidney Donor: Thanks and You’re Fired

Deborah Stevens said she was bullied and fired after donating a kidney so that her boss could get a kidney transplant.

In a complaint filed this week with the New York Division of Human Rights. Stevens says she donated a kidney in August 2011 through the National Kidney Registry on behalf of her boss, Jacqueline Brucia, a comptroller at Atlantic Automotive Group, Inc., which operates car dealerships in New York.  The donation allowed Brucia to get a kidney transplant.

Following the surgery and four weeks of recovery, Stevens, who was Brucia’s administrative assistant, returned to work on Sept. 6, 2011. But she says she continued to suffer various intestinal, digestive and neurological impacts as a result of her surgery.

On her third day back at work after her surgery, Stevens says she left work early because she was feeling ill.  She says Brucia, who had not even returned to the office yet after her kidney implant, called Stevens from her home and said – “You can’t come and go as you please.”

According to Stevens’ complaint, Brucia’s treatment of her “changed dramatically” after Brucia returned to the office -  “Brucia was routinely curt and dismissive with Stevens and was unnecessarily critical of her work performance.”

At one point, Brucia allegedly told Stevens: “Don’t expect to be treated special because of what you did for me.”

Stevens said Brucia bullied her, berated and humiliated her in front of others and reduced her duties. Brucia even allegedly refused to let Stevens leave her desk, exascerbating Stevens’ health problems in the aftermath of her surgery. When Brucia complained of her health condition, she says Brucia responded, “I don’t care; sounds like a personal problem.”

Stevens finally complained to the company’s human resources department, which resulted in her transfer to an inferior position at a location 50 miles away.

On March 5, 2012, Stevens’ attorney sent the company a letter charging that Stevens had been subjected to disability discrimination in violation of federal and state disability laws.  According to her complaint, Stevens’ was fired on April 11, 2012 “purportedly for performance reasons, despite having never been placed on any type of performance improvement plan.”

Stevens told CBS News that the only thanks she got from Brucia for her left kidney was an email stating: “Thanks more than I can ever say.”

In a statement, the Atlantic Auto Group said, “It is unfortunate that one employee has used her own generous act to make up a groundless claim. Atlantic Auto treated her appropriately and acted honorably and fairly, at every turn.”

The Secret Service and the Locker Room

This is a story about two kinds of “employees.”

One is a Colombian woman, 24, who considers herself to be a high-class prostitute – an “escort” – who can command more than a street prostitute because she can dress up and go out to dinner without embarrassing her clients.

The other is a member of the U.S. Secret Service who was in Columbia as part of an advance team prepping for a visit by President Barack Obama to attend the Summit of the Americas. He allegedly agreed to pay the woman $800 one evening but only anted-up $28 the next morning, inciting a fracas of international proportions.

According to the New York Times, the “escort” was eventually paid about $225 – though she told them that she has to pay her pimp $250. If this is true, she lost money on the deal.

Three members of the Secret Service fared even worse. They lost their jobs, which reportedly paid salaries in excess of  $75,000 a year.  One was fired; one retired; and one resigned.  Eight employees remain under investigation and may follow their former co-workers out the door.

The real importance of this scandal involves the negative impact it will surely have on the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama, and the light that it sheds on the seemingly troubled culture of the Secret Service.

Jeffrey Robinson, co-author of “Standing Next to History: An Agent’s Life Inside the Secret Service,” told NPR this week that the agency prefers to hire ex-football players because “they understand how to play their positions in situations where teamwork is essential.”

Of course, football players are not particularly noted for their diplomatic skills or their sensitivity to women.

It all goes to show that sometimes working as a team is not such a good thing – like when testosterone-infused peer pressure kicks in and the team gets drunk, carouses with prostitutes, and then treats them with disdain and disrespect.

That may be what got them in the end – this “escort” thought she was better than that. She was insulted by the pittance proffered in payment.   She also claims to have been offended when the agent allegedly became aggressive and angry with her when she sought more money.

It’s time for the Secret Service to rethink the team concept. It’s 2012, not 1950. That “boys will be boys” locker room mentality is no longer acceptable.

And, while prostitutes may be the most exploited and reviled workers on the face of the earth, it still might be wise to still treat them with  dignity and respect.