Labor Law Reform-To Do or Not to Do

By Smith, Mark F. | Academe, November/December 1998 | Go to article overview

Labor Law Reform-To Do or Not to Do


Smith, Mark F., Academe


ONCE AGAIN, THE AAUP has breathed a sigh of relief that the most recent Congress passed no significant labor legislation. While the Association strongly supports reform of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in order to overcome the effects of the 1980 Supreme Court decision in National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University, none of the bills before this past Congress held out any hope for that.

The Yeshiva decision has effectively denied faculty in private institutions the right to protect their interests through collective bargaining. The Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, held that because faculty members at Yeshiva University participated in cooperative relationships with the administration through the mechanisms of shared governance, they were managerial employees and therefore excluded from certain protections of the NLRA.

Throughout the 1980s, the AAUP unsuccessfully encouraged legislative efforts to extend NLRA protections to all faculty. In the 1990s, the Association broadened its proposals to support legislation covering other types of professional employees similarly excluded from NLRA protection by subsequent court decisions.

In 1994, the Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations (the Dunlop Commission) drew on AAUP recommendations to Congress that "professionals and other workers who wish to participate in decision making not [be] stripped of their right to do so through collective bargaining if they so choose." The commission's recommendations were, however, lost amid the political changes generated by that year's congressional elections.

The AAUP's position on labor law reform calls for a legislative correction of the Yeshiva decision and supports the "rights of faculty to organize, to determine democratically how they participate in governance, and to exercise their freedom of association." Unfortunately, the AAUP has had to spend much of the past four years opposing legislation that threatened those rights, instead of pursuing the more rewarding course of promoting legislation fulfilling its principles. In the most recent Congress, the Association focused on three bills.

The Teamwork for Employees and Managers Act (TEAM Act) would have removed prohibitions against "company unions" in an effort to promote workplace teams. The AAUP believes that the legislation would have undermined independent representation by allowing the creation of employer-dominated organizations in both union and nonunion workplaces. …

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