DAVID BRANCACCIO: It is Now On the News. I'm David Brancaccio. I'm here in Oakland, California with the executive director of the California Nurses' Association, Roseanne DiMorrow. Hello Roseanne.
ROSE ANN DEMORO: Hi, David.
BRANCACCIO: Big topic and one of the most important cases, I am led to believe, in a very long time coming down from the National Labor Relations Board. This affects who can join a union in America. You've been watching this case for a while?
DEMORO: We've been deeply concerned about this case for over a decade because what happened is that professionals had the right to unionize, starting a decision in Congress in 1947. When registered nurses actually became more involved in unionization, employers tried every way they could to prohibit that.
With this the cases that have been pending, the Bush labor board have been pretty serious in terms of opening the door to is line authority are those people who essentially controlled the flow of work on any— in any given occupation eligible for unionization, even if they don't hire, they don't fire and they don't discipline. There are a number of cases backing this case up. We have actually done protests in advance of this decision knowing that the Bush administration would undoubtedly be responsive to the hospital corporations that were trying to undo unionization for registered nurses.
In August we did a sit down in the streets in the financial district in Chicago with nurses across the nation in front of the American Hospital Association to protect this pending decision. And because we think it's deadly serious, not just for registered nurses and not just for the rest of the workers in America, but for patients. Because what happens here is a nurse on a unit who essentially is just working with her colleagues are asking one of the other people in the unit to do to help in any way, can now be designated as what's called a charge nurse and rendered ineligible for unionization.
BRANCACCIO: And those charge nurses that are in your union right now, if this thing is upheld, what, would have to leave your union?
DEMORO: The charge nurses are in the union. It's our position that those charge nurses will remain in the union because we have a contract with these employers. What we anticipate will happen is the employers now will try to redesign work to give more and more independent— independent discretion, authority to the nurses.
And our— even in our bargaining unit. So when our contracts open up for negotiations, they would try to claim that many of the nurses are ineligible for collective bargaining. But it's more sweeping, frankly, for all of the unorganized nurses in the country, because what this decision says is that by virtue of the fact that you're a professional, that you experience— that— that you use independent judgment, that you help with the flow of work in any unit, which is almost all nurses, that you would be ineligible for collective bargaining.
The dissent opinion in the ruling— dissent is the— the— there is a panel in the National Labor Relations board. The majority makes a ruling. The dissent wrote that this is one of the most sweeping decisions out there in labor law because it could all— virtually affect million— tens of millions of workers.
BRANCACCIO: Across the country?
DEMORO: Across the country.
BRANCACCIO: How many in your union?
DIMORROW: It— ultimately in— initially 30 percent. At the end of the day, probably all of them. Because every— every professional uses independent judgment. Every professional has some of authority in terms of line control.
It's what it means to be a professional. This takes two— this— the issue here is should a professional have a union. And— and what— and why would— now wait. Wait. You have to step back and you say— how— why— we knew it would be bad.
It's because the Bush administration was putting it forward with the objectives of the hospitals. If a registered nurse has a union, that registered nurse has political power to be able to take a stand for her patients. To be able to take a stand for her patients, to be able to stand up against bad decision making for her patients, and to stand up for herself.
The hospital corporations in America and the large HMOs don't like the fact that a registered nurse, who's the last line of defense for patients, can ultimately be in the way of economic decision making at the— the at peril of the patient. The registered nurse every hour, every shift in every hospital in America makes decisions for that patient completely independent of the economic interest of that employer. They don't see patients as commodities. They see patients as human beings in the bed who need help.
And a registered nurse will fight for that patient. What this does is it says, "You fight for that patient. You exercise independent judgment, you put yourself in a position of not having a union." That's how sweeping this decision is.
And it's very scary for nurses. So, either they end up being silenced by their employers if they don't stand up for their patients. Or they end up without a voice for themselves through a union.
And nurses more and more have— our— our membership has increased across this nation. It's tripled in the last ten years. Nurses are organizing with us en masse. And they're organizing because they want to have someone behind them when they take a stand for patients. It's really not about money. And it's not about benefits even though it should be in many ways. It's about the fact that— and that— it's why there's a nursing shortage.
Because nurses go home at night. They know that everything that should have been done for their patient wasn't done. They have to look in the eyes of the family member and say, "Sorry," when they know what this does it just further exacerbates the nursing shortages. Nurses will leave. They're not going to work as charge nurses in this country if they don't have the right to a union. They'll step down. There will be no charge nurses.
BRANCACCIO: But it sounds like if you're right, this is about a lot more than nurses. I mean, most people should look at that ruling and ask themselves do they— are they a member of a union? Do they make independent decisions in the workplace? Maybe I may not be able to remain as part of my union.
DEMORO: Absolutely, it puts every union member in peril. Because as a matter of fact what it means to be a worker is to use judgment. That's what we want from America's workforce. We want an educated workforce that uses high— high level skills, high level judgment, is able to abstract all of the things of what it means to be a worker in America. What this says essentially unless you're following protocol, unless you're doing ro— routinized work, unless you're not using any ounce of your brain, that would be the only way that you would be eligible for a union.
BRANCACCIO: You'd end up with a union with— probably very good people but people really at the lowest level of your profession.
DEMORO: In all honesty, the only worker that I could think that would fall under the criteria would be a robot. Because every worker uses independent judgment. If you're working on a line, you see a hole in a car. You know that that's going to be safety hazard. You say to someone else, "You need to shore that up." Are you a supervisor? Under this decision that act would be an act of supervision.
So, basically it silences America's workforce in a way that if you take any type of initiative, if you take authority— I mean, the criteria under this decision were the use of independent judgment, be enabled to— direct in any way the flow of work during— during your shift. For a registered nurses that means a nurse who works one shift a month as a charge nurse where she essentially is control of the flow of worker for patients in the unit. It's not hiring and firing. It's just for the patient care. They would be ineligible for unionization.
For other workers, for anyone who uses judgment in the workforce, who basically doesn't use just absolute, you know, absolutely routinized, lowest common denominator, they would be put in peril. And that is all professions, teachers in schools, anyone who's in one of the professions where you have any relationship with another worker— a lawyer with a secretary, anyone who has a relationship where you're in any way directing work even though you're not hiring the secretary or firing the secretary. Their— their right to a union could be lost under this decision.
The— the Bush Administration has been horrendous with worker's rights. And really the— initiatives that have been taken to bust unions— have been pretty severe. This is the most sweeping in the nation.
BRANCACCIO: Now, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the National Labor Relations Board decision. They say that it provides, quote, "A good, clear standard for deciding who could be in and who's out of a union." Isn't there some logic in management understanding like who's with 'em and who's not with 'em?
DEMORO: The truth of the matter is what an intelligent employer should want is a workforce that actually can make independent judgments without fear of— of any type of retribution. So, you want— I mean, ultimately this goes pretty deep now that you mention it, David. (LAUGHTER) Because you want a workforce that's actually making smart decisions even on behalf of the corporation.
You don't want to have people who are just walking lockstep. That's totalitarianism. That isn't democracy in terms of a work force. You want people to actually use their creative judgment. You want people to use their knowledge. You want people to use independent judgment. That's what you want, a skilled workforce in America.
But there's been a systematic dumbing down in America, divestment in education— real agenda against unionization. So, the American worker is losing pretty much. This decision, I believe, will make every nurses in this country part of a movement to fight back. I think it was a very bad misstep on the part of the Bush Administration. We'll be organizing multiple rallies across this country continuously. Any employer who attempts to take—
BRANCACCIO: Well, I want to ask you about this. Let's say after we're done talking you get a formidable looking manila envelope in the mail from a messenger that says that some big hospital company X has read this new decision and feels that— oh a couple hundred of these nurses should no longer be in your union. What would you do about it?
DEMORO: Oh, we would absolutely strike that employer. We would strike that employer until—
BRANCACCIO: You would go on strike?
DEMORO: Absolutely, we would go on strike. Because we would have no choice. Because basically what that decision would say then is you either quit being a patient advocate and lose your voice for that patient and become purely subjected to whatever whim of that employer, no job security, no right to bargain collectively, no right to stuff and up or you— we don't have a choice. I mean, it puts the profession of nursing completely at risk. And all of the nurses get this. And all of the nurses understand it.
What will happen now is a much more insidious process. The employer will start reassigning work in terms of tasks trying to— following the Chamber of Commerce and the American Hospital Association trying to perfect their case in terms of the fact that professionals shouldn't have unions. And it's going to happen in all professions. Because they'll documenting it.
And then they'll challenge individuals. And they'll challenge large groups in the hospitals and in other work places for a right to have a union. When you come up to renegotiate your contract is where I suspect you'll see it more. They'll have isolated workers picked out and say, "These folks are no longer eligible for a union." It would probably start with a smaller group and then increase as time goes on. Because ultimately they want a deunionized workforce.
Employers in this country spend millions and millions and millions of dollars against workers attempting to unionize. The conditions when employees try to unionize, it's interrogation. It's intimidation. It's really horrible. You wouldn't think— I mean, you'd think it was Guantanamo Bay rather than— America in terms of what happens. It's really— it— it— union busting has become so severe and psychological they color code people in terms of who they are and what their affinities are toward a union.
So, this is just a series in what we've seen in a decline of standards of workers that want to unionize. The reason that there's a decline in the labor movement is because the barriers to unionization are enormous. When workers are asked across the country if they would have a union free of any type of coercion, I think it's something like 95 percent say, "Yes of course, I would want a union. Who wouldn't."
But boy I'll tell you the— the concentration of corporations and the power that's invested in these corporations through our government has really silenced many workers from even attempting to have a union. This decision will— this decision, I believe though honestly, will boomerang. Because registered nurses are not going to sit back and not be able to take care of their patients and not be able to fight for their patients and not be able to fight for themselves.
They're educated. They're smart. They use independent judgment. And they'll use all those skills for themselves and their patients against those ruthless practices that try to take them out of a bargain union, that try to take them away from their patients and try to silence their voice of advocacy. That won't happen. And we will be involved in leading that movement.
BRANCACCIO: Now NLRB, the National Labor Relations Board is not the final word on this, other legal avenues—
DEMORO: Unfortunately, there—
DEMORO: --are no legal avenues with the Oakwood decision. That— that's the final word on that decision. There will be other decisions that come up that ultimately will end up in front of the Supreme Court which we have no faith in obviously.
Well why obviously?
DEMORO: Because the Supreme Court seems pretty much stacked against workers' rights. All of the decisions that have been made have been very anti-union and then remanded back to the Bush Administration, NLRB, National Labor— I'm sorry, and then remanded back to the National Labor Relations Board and we'll be in a circle. But remember that workers really do have power in this country. I mean, they really do.
They have— they have the power of connecting with their communities, of connecting with each other. They have the power of collectively acting. And they're going to be forced to collectively act.
Right now we have this isolated culture where you're supposed to just care about yourself. I mean, it ultimately starts with my space. It's my space not our space. And it's— it's anti-collective. People are going to have to start behaving in a far more collective manner or their right here to a union will be completely taken away from them. I think you'll see a far more militant response on the part of the labor movement. I think it's going to invigorate the labor movement. That's the positive.
The downside is that these boards are stacked. Congress has pretty much in the— in the corporations. And unless that all changes we're all in pretty much trouble. Remember it's the labor movement.
It— last year, if it weren't for the labor movement, the Bush Administration would have won the battle on Social Security. A lot of the rights that we have, middle class standard of living, a lot of health care, retirement, standard of living, all of those are because of the labor movement, eight hour day. If there were no labor movement, those rights go away. And that's why the labor movement comes under attack. Nurses in particular, have been a problem. They've been very activist across the country. They speak out for their patients. They're licensed to advocate for their patients. And they do. It's in their licensure. And they'll act in accordance with that. So, this is— you know, this is a— the Bush Administration has won the battle. We believe that they'll lose the war.
All right, one important perspective on the National Labor Relations Board's key decision, defining who is a supervisor in the workplace and can they join a union. Roseanne Dimorrow, California Nurses' Association, thank you very much.
DEMORO: Thank you, David.