A move to allow nonunion businesses to set up teams of
employees to address working conditions won by a narrow vote in
Congress last week, but it may be a short-lived victory.
Opponents, including organized labor and President Bill
Clinton's administration, are dimming the chances for the
legislation, which they say is a thinly disguised attempt to permit
the resurgence of "company unions" that would thwart attempts to
The measure would amend federal labor laws banning nonunion
employers from hand-picking groups of workers to determine such
things as wages and benefits. The House approved the bill Wednesday
by a vote of 221-202; a similar version is pending in a Senate
In recent years, many companies have taken a team approach to
management, giving employees more say in how the companies are run
on issues such as safety and productivity. But some of the team
plans have run afoul of the National Labor Relations Board, which
has said the teams crossed the line and got into areas barred by
Supporters of the bill argued it was needed to give companies
more leeway in improving cooperation between workers and bosses.
"These are a very flexible, diverse kind of way to get
employees involved in making decisions which otherwise would have
to be made entirely by management," said Rep. James M. Talent,
R-Chesterfield, one of the bill's leading backers.
He said the bill would not end the ban on "company unions" and
that employers would still be barred from interfering with workers'
attempts to organize.
Leading the opposition on the House floor was Rep. William L.
Clay, D-St. Louis.
He said the bill "undermines workplace democracy and threatens
the very foundation of collective bargaining." He said the bill
wasn't needed, as evidenced by the many such plans now in effect
One such plan struck down by the NLRB was set up by EFCO Corp.,
a company that makes windows in the southwest Missouri town of
Monett. In March, an administrative law judge ordered the company
to disband its four "employee involvement committees" because they
were management-dominated labor organizations barred by the
National Labor Relations Act.
Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., cited the order in a letter May 10
to Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Ashcroft said the case was one of
16 suits filed by the board since 1993 that have had "a chilling
effect on the implementation of such programs by companies. In
order for businesses to succeed in today's economy, labor laws must
be updated to allow workers to have input on all levels of the
decision making process without causing the company to be hauled
into court. …