NLRB Says J-1 Workers Can Join Union

October 10, 2001( --The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has decided in favor of foreign electricians brought to the US under a company-run cultural exchange program, ruling that the workers have a right to join a union.

The electricians, brought to the US by USA-IT can now vote on whether they want to be represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Taking Names

Under NLRB’s order, USA-IT must provide the union with a list of all its employees in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia. A date will then be set for an election.

The ruling coincides with an investigation into USA-IT by the State Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Justice Department, which was launched after questions about the legality of the firm’s exchange program were raised by the union.

The union charged that the program violated the J-1 visa regulations and claimed that the foreign workers were hired in place of American workers, who would command double the wages paid to the foreigners.

USA-IT, after obtaining the J-1 visas through nonprofit agencies, brought about 700 electricians to the US from Bulgaria, Romania and other Eastern European countries.


During hearings on the union petition, USA-IT argued that since the firm did not actually employ the electricians — they were assigned to electrical contracting firms –the election should not be held.

In addition the firm argued that the workers did not fall under the National Labor Relations Act, since they were temporary and could only remain in the US for 18 months.

However, the NLRB concluded that USA-IT did meet the legal definitions of an employer because the firm “sufficiently controls the employer-employee relationship to enable effective and meaningful bargaining to take place,” citing the testimony of a company official who acknowledged that USA-IT could raise the $10-an-hour wage if the company cut its $5-an-hour administrative fee.

The temporary-assignment argument was also rejected, as the departure of the workers was not “imminent”.

– Camilla Klein