Federal Ruling May Impact Temp Hiring

FRAMINGHAM (08/11/2000) - A federal labor decision due out later this month could force companies that employ temporary information technology workers to change their staffing strategies.

The U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency that administers relations between employers and unions, has been considering the question for four years without result, but it might make a decision soon to avoid confusion following turnover of some board members later this month, observers said.

If a bill introduced several weeks ago passes, employers wouldn't be allowed to deny benefits to workers simply because they are temps. Observers said the bill is unlikely to go through this year because Congress is currently in recess, and once lawmakers return to Capitol Hill, they will have only a few weeks to deal with routine matters before the presidential election in the fall.

As employers' use of temps comes under scrutiny, labor experts said employers may have less flexibility in their staffing strategies and find fewer economic benefits from hiring temporary workers.

"It's highly likely that the NLRB will overturn" the so-called Greenhoot Rule, which bars temps from joining unions without obtaining permission from the staffing agency and the company that hired them, according to John Raudabaugh, a Chicago-based labor attorney and former NLRB member. If temps join union ranks and demand higher wages, employers may turn over such workers more quickly, class others as semipermanent or use other tactics to avoid making temps permanent, he said.

According to the American Staffing Association (ASA) in Alexandria, Va., technology positions accounted for about 11% of the payroll for all temporary positions in 1998, though such workers represent little more than 2% of the workforce.

Opportunity for Unions

Marcus Courtney, co-founder of the Seattle-based Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech), said if the NLRB overturns the Greenhoot decision, temps could provide unions an "opportunity to organize in a way they never had before," particularly in cases where employers use temporary and full-time union employees to perform the same work. WashTech organized on behalf of "permatemps" at Microsoft Corp., who demanded stock options from the company.

Edward Lenz, general counsel at the ASA, said that since high-tech workers are typically better compensated than other types of temps, they have fewer incentives to join unions. But Courtney said he believes unions would be able to able to respond more effectively during high-profile labor disputes.

Nancy Andersen, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Web developer who is working on a six-month project at Countrywide Securities Corp., said she might be interested in joining a union if it addressed unemployment compensation. Temporary workers can't collect unemployment and often have no recourse if they are suddenly terminated, she said.

Raudabaugh said employers that have unionized groups need to be cautious about whether they want to expand the size of their union with temp workers doing the same work as full-time employees.

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