In what is being called a landmark decision by both proponents and opponents, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that a group of sanitation workers in Central California, who were deciding whether to unionize, can negotiate directly with the sanitation company for which they work, and not just the temp agency that hires and supervises them.
Business groups say the board's decision is wide-reaching and could threaten how business is done in a modern economy increasingly reliant on temporary and contract workers. They say it could also eventually impact franchise businesses, such as fast food restaurants.
Proponents say the board is simply catching up with the times, making sure that the growing ranks of contract workers have the ability to unionize.
"The work arrangements in the country are changing. And employer definitions are changing. The NLRB has to change along with it," says Thomas Kochan, co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research.
Daniel Johns, a labor law attorney at the Philadelphia firm Ballard Spahr LLP, says the decision could have far-reaching impact on companies that have come to rely on subcontractors.
"Often times you use these arrangements so that you can have some distance with respect to the employment of these individuals," Johns says.