Bargaining rights given to workers handling confidential data

The US Supreme Court has handed a victory to organized labor. It has ruled that workers who have access to confidential company information now can be covered by federal labor laws. That gives them a number of new legal rights - most important, the right to unionize.

In its ruling Dec. 2, the high court extends the umbrella of the National Labor Relations Act to ''confidential'' employees, including secretaries and white-collar workers. Only those who have contact with private information regarding labor relations can be excluded from the statute's reach, said Justice William J. Brennan Jr. in the majority opinion.

Labor unions have argued strenuously for such a ruling. In a legal brief, the United Auto Workers held that under the ''confidential employee'' exception, whole classes of workers might be excluded from collective bargaining solely because they know company secrets.

While the court ruled unanimously that confidential employees should have full labor rights, four justices would have excluded confidential secretaries. Such workers would have a double loyalty to labor and management, reasoned Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.

In a second decision, the court opened the door for sterner treatment of youthful offenders who have been imprisoned. By a 6-3 vote, the justices ruled that a judge may revoke rehabilitation programs and send the offender to an adult facility.

Speaking for the majority, Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote that ''we are convinced that Congress did not intend that a person who commits serious crimes while serving a YCA sentence should automatically receive treatment that has proven futile.''

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