How much, if any, action on ergonomics in the work-place should rely on the voluntary actions of employers (as favored by George W. Bush) and how much should be mandatory on the part of managements. Explain.
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Chapter 9 – Institutional Issues under Collective Bargaining
The rights and duties of the employers, employees, and unions are the institutional issues of collective bargaining. On occasion, they can be more troublesome than the economic questions involved with wages and benefits. Some of the longest and most bitter strikes have resulted from conflict over the institutional questions of labor relations.
One of the most controversial issues is union membership as a condition of employment. Labor organizations seeking greater security have negotiated a number of compulsory union membership devices, the most common being the union shop. The closed shop, maintenance-of-membership arrangement, agency shop, and the preferential shop are other security measures that appear less frequently. The growth of the union shop is best explained by the Taft-Hartley prohibition of the closed shop in firms engaged in interstate commerce. The goal of each of these measures is to establish and maintain the institutional security of the union. Such devices are present in about 82 percent of today’s collective bargaining contracts.
There are elements of morality, labor relations stability, and power in this area. Union security may provide stability in industrial relations, but is it moral to compel a worker to join a union? Are these ideological and philosophical issues a mere disguise for the real goal, increased power and influence? Some twenty-two states now have legislation that bans any form of compulsory union membership. These “right-to-work” laws are formidable obstacles in the path of union institutional security. Although Congress has preemptive power in the field of interstate commerce, this state legislation is likely to be allowed to stand.
More than 95 percent of current contracts contain a checkoff procedure by which the employer collects union dues, and often other fees, by deduction from the worker’s paycheck. The advantage to the union is a savings of time and money. The checkoff also can benefit the employer, which explains why it is not a crucial issue of negotiation. Taft-Hartley requires the written authorization of the employee for such an arrangement, which is irrevocable for one year, or the duration of the contract, whichever is shorter. Usually the individual has an annual opportunity to rescind his authorization. If he or she does not, the checkoff remains in force for another year.
The obligations of the union are typically set down in one or more provisions of the contract. The most important is a pledge by the union not to strike during the life of the contract. The surrender of this right can either be absolute and unconditional or limited to agreed upon issues.
The no-strike clause helps to ensure that the contract will be applied through the grievance procedure and arbitration. The vast majority of unions who assent fulfill their obligations. If they do not, the employer is armed with a host of remedies. In some contracts a strike automatically terminates the agreement, and the employer may discharge striking employees. Under Taft-Hartley, the employer may sue the union in federal court for violation of the contract. When a contract incorporates a no-strike agreement and an arbitration procedure, a federal court may issue an injunction to halt the strike. The union can also be held responsible for wildcat strikes although many contracts deal with this matter through non-suability clauses. Other obligations involve limits upon union activity during working hours and on the employer’s property.
Collective bargaining essentially involves the limitation of employer authority, and, as would be expected, managements favor contract provisions that secure management rights and prerogatives. About 80 percent of all agreements stipulate the types of decisions that are to be “vested exclusively in the management.” These management security clauses are typically more specific than general in describing the areas of employer autonomy. The negotiating posture assumed by the management often depends upon whether it adheres to a residual or trusteeship theory of employer rights. Regardless of the theory, there are two important thoughts to remember: The power of the rights clause is always subject to qualification by the other clauses of the agreement and consistent administration by the management must implement the rights clause if it is to stand up before an arbitrator.
Also inspected here are, in turn: Codetermination and the question of unions in the Board of Directors room, employee stock ownership plans, and quality of work life programs.
Chapter 10 – Administrative Issues under Collective Bargaining
The administrative issues of seniority, discipline, employee safety, and the various other “administrative” areas of the labor relationship, along with the institutional factors discussed in the preceding chapter, comprise the so-called non-economic subjects of collective bargaining. Yet, the economic impact of these questions is both profound and widespread. Job security and the effects of changing technology are major issues in many contract negotiations and determine the nature and even the existence of the economic factors.
The concept of increasing job security for the employee who has a greater length of service is manifest in almost every collective bargaining agreement. Seniority formulas vary, but they play a part in the determination of layoff, rehiring, and promotion procedures. There are three basic approaches to the acquisition and application of seniority credits. The employer-wide system assigns seniority based on total service with the firm. Separate seniority lists for each unit are established under the departmental or occupational method. The third approach combines the first two, with numerous variations in existence today. Many contracts have dealt with the transfer problem under a departmental arrangement by providing some retention of security when the employee makes a change.
Many labor contracts contain limitations and/or exceptions to the rule of seniority. The ability to displace junior employees in layoff situations has been restricted, as has the practice of giving preference in rehiring to those workers who were the first to be laid off. Although it is a consideration, seniority is of lesser influence in the area of promotions. Many agreements grant preferred seniority status to union officers, allow employers to retain indispensable or meritorious employees, require probationary periods for new workers, and permit layoffs on a temporary basis, all in disregard of seniority. As would be expected, almost all contracts specify circumstances in which the employee loses his/her seniority benefits.
Since the mid-1970s, seniority has been attacked by groups representing minority groups and women’s interests. Suits pitting affirmative action goals against seniority systems have proliferated, and the legal questions have not been settled definitively even now, although the trend in the courts has been to reflect the increasingly negative feelings of much of the American citizenry concerning affirmative action. In the case of another potential constraint on seniority, a clearer judicial resolution appears to have been achieved: the Supreme Court decided in 2002 that consistently applied seniority systems should (absent special circumstances) be protected from challenge in disability cases. Seniority has also been criticized as contributing to a reduction in efficiency and productivity. This effect can normally be minimized, and despite the problems and inequalities, the human benefit of seniority is undeniable.
Collective bargaining agreements invariably limit the employer’s power and authority in the area of employee discipline. The management must prove just cause in discharge cases, and in many instances comply with more specific standards. Some contracts distinguish between actions requiring immediate discharge, and offenses that require one or more warnings. There are frequent provisions that outline a distinct procedure to be applied in discharge cases. Outside agencies such as private arbitrators have acted to ensure reasonableness and fairness in the area of discipline.
Explicit provisions are made in most agreements that relate to employee health and safety. The NLRB has consistently required parties to bargain on these issues. The contract obligations may be specific or quite general, and may even assign some responsibility to the employees or the union. In 1970, the federal government assumed a significant role in this area with the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This law received strong support at first, but disillusionment soon followed. The inadequate number of enforcement personnel and the often unintelligible and expensive standards are the defects most often cited by critics. Nonetheless, OSHA has been influential in the large expenditures recently made for health and safety improvement.
Management and labor are probably farther from agreement on production standards and manning than on any other administrative issue. Unions have tried to ensure that such standards are fair and reasonable, tending to seek a right of review and not claiming a power to set such norms. Though most unions have agreed to arbitration on this subject, some, including the United Auto Workers, have steadfastly refused to relinquish their right to strike. The questions involved are controversial, especially as there is no scientific or truly objective way to set standards of production.
The problem of technological change provides something of a capstone to this discussion of administrative issues. To some extent this issue touches almost all segments of the work force, although the blue collar worker has undoubtedly suffered most from its effects. Its benefits are numerous, as are the problems, particularly in the area of worker displacement. In order to minimize the hardships faced by workers, unions have pressed for numerous devices such as advance notice of layoffs or shutdowns, adoption of the attrition principle, retraining, restrictions on subcontracting and other measures. Although this issue is receiving more attention, nothing approaching a full solution to the basic problem has been worked out. Plant closings, recently accelerated by technological change, are also dealt with, with some emphasis on the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988.
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