Pending NLRB Decision Could Be a Boost for Unemployed Americans

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

August 20, 2015

Within a few weeks, the National Labor Relations Board will rule on who can be defined as an “employer.” At issue is whether temporary or contract workers provided by placement agencies should be considered employees of the organization they are assigned to, be allowed to collectively bargain with their employers, and be able to hold employers liable for labor violations committed against them.

Specifically, the case before the NLRB involves Houston-based Browning-Ferris Industries, a waste disposal company, and Phoenix staffing specialist Leadpoint Businesses Services.

The Democratic-controlled NLRB has a history of siding with labor, and a decision in workers’ favor in the Browning-Ferris case could, as Rob Greene of the National Council of Chain Restaurants said, “… change the entire way businesses operate in this country.”

Conterfeit Legal Resident Cards
Counterfeit Green Cards used by some Wal-Mart employees.

Not only would restaurants be affected, but other businesses like retailers, hospitals, construction and the financial services industry would experience a dramatic shift in how they hire. In today’s economy where employers prefer part-time or temporary employees to full-time, permanent workers, the NLRB’s decision looms large.

Although immigration is not part of the Browning-Ferris case, a pro-worker ruling could be a huge victory for enforcement advocates and unemployed Americans. Employers often accept illegal aliens sent to them by agencies. Then, in the event of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid, employers claim they’re unaware that their employees are illegal immigrants, and direct ICE officers back to the agency.

A prime example is Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. which, in the late 1990s and early 2000, relied on hundreds of illegal aliens to do janitorial work in thousands of its stores. But after a worksite enforcement investigation, Wal-Mart claimed it had no knowledge of the contract workers’ immigration status. In the end, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security concluded (incredulously) that Wal-Mart executives didn’t know that their contract employees were unlawfully in the United States, and chose not to prosecute.

However, in a quasi-acknowledgement of guilt, Wal-Mart settled out of court, and paid the government a record $11 million fine. The 12 independent contractors, who originally hired the aliens, pled guilty to the criminal charge of employing illegal immigrants, and paid a $4 million fine. ICE deported many of the aliens.

If the NLRB decides in labor’s favor, the “Don’t look at me” excuse that employers like Wal-Mart fall back on to defend their dependence on less costly illegal immigrant employees won’t hold up. Unemployed Americans will have more opportunities if, as it should, the NLRB holds corporations ultimately responsible for knowing its employees’ backgrounds, including their immigration status.

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