A National Labor Relations Board decision in late August makes it somewhat easier for the nation's 3.1 million temporary employees to join the unions of their permanent co-workers. But don't expect to see masses of temps rushing to the picket lines.
The decision allows temporary employees to join combined bargaining units with the permanent employees at their workplace without the consent of either the temporary staffing firm or the employer. However, unions must still prove that the temporary employees share a "substantial community of interest" with the permanent workers, including that they are on the job long enough to benefit from union activity, and that the placement agency and its client are "joint employers," meaning that they co-determine employment terms.
According to Edward Lenz, general counsel for the American Staffing Association, "There is less to the ruling than meets the eye," because temporary workers and contractors make up a small fraction (about 1.5 percent) of the total workforce. Only about 25 percent of these workers stay on the job for more than a year. However, some see the ruling as one of the first victories in a larger movement to improve working conditions for long- term temporary workers, says Barrie Peterson, associate director of the Institute on Work at Seton Hall University. The decision should be a "wake-up call" for employers to evaluate their use of temporary workers, he says.