The Obama Administration has just passed a groundbreaking ruling in favor of working Americans. In a landmark decision this Thursday, The National Labor Relations Board ruled that companies will be held accountable for violations committed against their labor force, even if that labor was hired by an outsourced, third party- like a franchise. This decision means that untouchable giants like McDonalds can be pulled into collective bargaining negotiation and will be held liable to ground-level workers.
The reality that laborers will now be able to negotiate directly with their corporate overlords employers, instead of only the middlemen like franchise owners or staffing agencies is something that McDonalds, in particular, has feared for years.
McDonald’s and other corporate chains, whose business model subsists of poverty wages for low-level staff, influences the working conditions of these employees (dictating their uniforms, for example) but does not recognize them as direct employees. They have been clear of any legal obligations through the franchise-loophole.
Democratic members spoke out against this in their decision, making it clear that it was not fair that the corporation is absolved of all responsibility to workers, while maintaining such influence. “It is not the goal of joint-employer law to guarantee the freedom of employers to insulate themselves from their legal responsibility to workers, while maintaining control of the workplace,” they wrote. “Such an approach has no basis in the [National Labor Relations] Act or in federal labor policy,” they wrote.
We can thank the Browning Ferris case, organized by Teamsters, for this appeal. Houston based waste management firm, Browning-Ferris, hired Leadpoint Business Services to staff a recycling facility in California; the Teamsters felt that Browning Ferris should be considered a joint employer with the staffing agency.
The ramifications of the case are huge. Up until today, corporations like McDonalds have avoided their obligation to set decent hours, living wages, and reasonable job responsibilities, by using the franchise model as a buffer. Now, they will have to be a part of any negotiations that take place between worker and employer.
The vote was, of course, split by party lines. The Obama appointed Democratic majority board, ruled 3-2 in favor of the Teamsters, with Republicans predictably voting against the people. No surprises there.
If corporations want to be considered people, and have ingrained themselves into the legal consciousness as such, they may as well begin to treat their actual human staff less like not labor-capital machines, and more as people. They can start out with accountability; we’ll take it. It is up to the Democrats and the voters to continue to put pressure on these companies, and use the vote to make sure our interests are represented before theirs. This could be a breath of fresh life into the American organized labor, which has been long suffering at the hands of the Republican Party.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.