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Summary of Labor Relations Principles

Updated on May 26, 2017
  • What is the role of management and unions in society today? How has this changed in the last 100 years?
  • How does the history of unions and the collective bargaining process impact negotiations today? What are some of the current trends or problems in labor relation practices?
  • Would this negotiation process differ if it involved a public compared to a private-sector union? Please explain.
  • How has this exercise increased your understanding of the collective bargaining process? What is your assessment of the value of mediation and arbitration in this process?
  • Explain the value of the various organizational leadership competencies (communication, problem solving, teamwork, analytical skills, legal and ethical practices, strategic approach, and research) that are important to be successful in this type of negotiating process.

The Role of Management and Unions in Society

The need for unions is different in present day than it was 100 years ago. In the early 1900s labor unions protected workers and saved the lives of both adult and child workers. Unions in present day are still needed to protect the rights of employees, but not to the same extent as they had to in the past. There was a strong necessity for unions during the early 1900’s; the videos from the history.com website showcased the extreme need for unions. The workers were often mistreated by factory foremen and they had no recourse when fired. The foremen in the 1900’s were allowed to fire their workers for any reason. In addition to the bad working conditions the workers were paid low wages and, due to the ability to fire workers for no reason, dissent could lead to starvation. The creation of unions allowed workers a way to get better working conditions and pay. The unions were eventually able to get legislation passed to protect workers at their work places. According to the Fight to End Child Labor video, the unions were essential to eventually ending child labor as well. The early 1900s was a time that was often dangerous to children as they were frequently put to work in factories where they faced the same workplace dangers as adults while earning half the pay. Without the unions child labor in the early 1900s might not have been outlawed which would have led to a mass of uneducated children.

The existence of laws that protect employee rights has caused a decline in union membership to the point of making them almost irrelevant in most workplaces (State of the Unions: What It Means for Workers and Everyone Else, 2012). The laws, in addition to employers understanding the need for good working conditions and compensations systems, have affected the role of unions in society.

Historic Precedents and Current Trends

History of Unions and the Collective Bargaining Process

A collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is an “agreement in writing or writings between an employer and a trade union setting forth the terms and conditions of employment or containing provisions in regard to rates of pay, hours of work or other working conditions of employees"( Duhaime's Law Dictionary, n.d.) . Collective Bargaining Agreements have a long history in the United States that began in 1806 case Commonwealth v. Pullis, Philadelphia Mayor’s Court. The case ruled that “collective action was an unnatural means of fixing their salary, compared with the “natural” means of supply and demand” (Compa, 2014). The idea that collective bargaining was considered a criminal conspiracy did not stop workers from trying to form unions in order to bargain collectively with their employers. In 1842 the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in the Commonwealth v. Hunt case that collective actions were legal as long as they remained peaceful. Even though the Supreme Court ruled peaceful unions and bargaining legal, many employers and courts retained a hostile attitude towards them. This hostility often effected negotiations making them irrationally hostile and causing employers to be resistant towards entering negotiations with unions.

Hostility towards unions still exists today. The “NLRB Judge Rules That Walmart Illegally Punished California Workers for Participating in Protests” article showcases the hostilities still present towards unions today. In this case Wal-Mart and management employees showed their hostility towards unions when one manager told a protesting worker “if it were up to me, I’d shoot the union”, a different manager told an Our Walmart supporter who had a rope tied around his waist, “if it was up to me, I would put that rope around your neck” (Kieler, 2014). In 2009 it was ruled that Starbucks “interfered with, restrained, and coerced employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act” (Judge Says Starbucks Violated Workers' Rights at NYC Stores, 2009). These two cases serve to highlight the hostility that employers have felt towards collective bargaining and unions since the 1806 case Commonwealth v. Pullis case.

In 1935 the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was created. This act became the foundation for the creation of unions as it laid out the process to union creation (Compa, 2014). In order to form a union employees must follow these steps insequence: build an organizing committee, adopt an issues program, sign-up majority on union cards, fill an election petition, set election date, have an NLRB election, prepare for negotiations, negotiate, ratify the negotiations, and finally join the union. This act has served as a guide to the formation of unions by employees since it was created in 1935 and is still influencing the formation of unions and, thus, the negotiations that the unions engage in.

Current Trends or Problems in Labor Relation Practices

The National Labor Relations Board develops new trends and problems as time progresses. In 2012 some of the current labor relation practice trends developed; for instance the trend of using smaller bargaining units, off-site elections, faster elections, an expansion of what is considered protected activity, and fewer National Labor Relations Board decisions being enforced (Shaw, 2012). The National Labor Relations Board faces the problem of less and less of their decisions being enforced every year; many employers that lose before the National Labor Relations Board appeal successfully to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The existence of laws that protect employee rights has caused union membership to dwindle to the point of irrelevance in most workplaces (State of the Unions: What It Means for Workers and Everyone Else, 2012). The decline of unions in modern society could potentially cause problems for the National Labor Relations Board. The National Labor Relations Board may have to face problems related to the decline of unions.

“Research has shown a connection between union decline and the widening income gap. According to a study published last year by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Washington, the decline in private sector union membership between 1973 and 2007 accounted for between one fifth and one third of the growth in income inequality among male workers in the U.S. during that period” (State of the Unions: What It Means for Workers and Everyone Else, 2012).

Labor Relations as a System

The negotiation process is different for private unions and public unions. Private-sector unions provide workers with a counterweight to management power in bargaining over compensation which in turn has the potential to lead to reduced investment (What's the difference exactly, 2011). In private sector unions the union leaders bargain for more benefits while recognizing that excesses will force the company to lay off employees or go bankrupt (State Budget Solution, 2011). A public sector union is one which represents the interests of employees within the public sector and in governmental organizations. Public unions do not have to bargain with the taxpayers who pay the bills. When public sector employees go on strike, they often have no penalty for their absence. For instance, teachers on strike face no penalty for when their absence forces schools to close. In addition, the fact that a public sector union has a natural monopoly over government services gives government union leaders extraordinary power over elected officials. The key distinction between the unions in the public and private sector is the fact that private sector unions must respect their employer's bottom line, whereas government unions do not have that same obligation (State Budget Solution, 2011). The fact that the different unions have different goals, purposes, and abilities means that the negation process will be different. For instance a public union would not have to negotiate with the tax payers nor would they have to worry about their member livelihoods if they went on strike. A private sector union has to negotiate with tax payers and their union members face penalties for strikes.

Collective Bargaining

The Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations have assisted in furthering my knowledge of the collective bargaining process. Prior to the negations I only understood the creating and negations of the Collective Bargaining Agreement from what I had read about them. After acting as the labor and management representative I was able to truly understand the difficulties that came with having to negotiate with another party to reach an agreement that was satisfactory for both sides. I personally found the mediation and arbitration process to be invaluable tools for any negotiator. There comes a time in negotiations where both parties are stuck on a point of friction and neither are willing to give in. At this point the mediation or arbitration by an unbiased third part can help to resolve the point of friction and allow the negotiations to come to a fair conclusion for both parties.

The Collective Bargaining Agreements

Collective Bargaining Agreement-Employee Safety

SECTION 25.05: PROTECTIVE CLOTHING, EQUIPMENT, AND TOOLS

The Employer agrees to provide employees any required tools and safety or protective equipment, reasonably fitted safety clothing, and devices necessary to provide protection of employees from hazardous conditions to include inclement weather encountered during the performance of official duties, without cost to the employee. Such equipment will be provided as authorized by applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. The Union agrees to assist the Employer in aggressively publicizing the benefits of the use of protective devices and equipment by employees, and their adhering to good safety practices, policies, and procedures.

MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING

It is further understood and agreed that reasonably fitted safety clothing is the property of the employer and will be used by the employee only for the intended purpose of the employer and may not leave designated work areas. For employees classified in roles in which outdoor activity is part of the job function, employer provided safety clothing will include:

  1. Protective Clothing for Weather Conditions:
    1. Rain Gear (on hand inventory totaling one set per employee)
    2. Cold Weather Jacket (on hand inventory totaling two sets per employee)
    3. Winter Weather Hat (on hand inventory totaling two sets per employee)
    4. Winter Weather Gloves (on hand inventory totaling two sets per employee)
  2. Protective Equipment:
    1. Puncture Resistant Gloves (on hand inventory totaling two sets per employee)
    2. Goggles (on hand inventory totaling one per employee)
    3. Sunglasses (on hand inventory totaling one per employee)
  3. Footgear:
    1. Lined Winter Boots (two sets per employee per year)
    2. Unlined Light Work Boots (two sets per employee per year)

It is further understood and agreed that footgear purchases will be facilitated by the employer by providing access to a full line of options from at least three vendors or suppliers. Footgear style and choice will be at the discretion of the employee within the parameters set by OSHA and the full line of options available through the select vendors or suppliers. Any employee choosing a pair of footgear exceeding $225.00 per pair will be responsible for the amount exceeding that limit. All other reasonably fitted safety clothing will be purchased and provided at the discretion of the employer at or above the minimum levels.

It is further understood and agreed that the Employer will aggressively publicize the importance of the proper care of protective clothing, equipment, and tools and providing proper training in said care. Employees will apply proper care to any protective clothing, equipment, and tools uniquely assigned to an individual. All foot gear is will be uniquely assigned. Unless negligence can be proven by an unbiased third party, all lost, damaged, and worn safety clothing, will be replaced by the Employer, at no cost to the employee. If an employee is found negligent in the care of protective clothing, equipment, or tool leading to the loss, damage, or obsolescence through wear, said employee will be fully liable for the cost of the replacement.

All damaged and worn safety clothing will be evaluated by an unbiased third party for whether the gear is in fact unsafe for continued use by the employee and if it is possible to repair the safety clothing for a price that is less than it would cost to replace the item. If the item is repairable then the employer is responsible for covering the cost of the repair. Items of safety gear that cannot be repaired in order to fulfill the function required of them on the job may be purchased by the employees from the employer at a quarter of the price they were purchased at by the employer.

Personal Account of the Negotiating Process- Employee Safety

During the negotiations for the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) there was only one main point of friction. On behalf of the management I felt that the items of safety gear that could not be repaired in order to fulfill the function required of them on the job should be available for purchase by the employees at a quarter of the price they were purchased at by the employer. The labor representative felt that no company would want to risk the liability of selling damaged and worn item to employees. I found the labor representative’s position to be rather weak on this point because in the accompanying video the employees themselves stated that they would bring home their boots and get a few extra years of use out of the boots. For this point it seemed like the labor representative was arguing against the wants of the employees and did not have any support besides the belief that it would be wrong to offer worn and damaged gear to employees for purchase. The fact that the instructor was able to act as an arbitrator was helpful because neither one of us was willing to give on this issue.

There are two main negotiation strategies that could be utilized in CBA’s: interest-based bargaining and distributive bargaining. Interest-based bargaining is when parties collaborate in order to create an agreement that is mutually beneficial and distributive bargaining is when the parties are trying to divide something. In this case the interest-based bargaining worked better because the goal of the CBA was to reach an agreement that worked well for the management and the labor.

The final CBA did not favor one side over the other. The labor side received extra sets of safety gear and a $225.00 credit towards boots while the management side got to keep the safety gear on site and was allowed to offer worn and damaged safety gear to employees at a quarter of the cost that the employer spent on the gear; this will allow the employer to recoup some of their losses on the price of the gear.

Collective Bargaining Agreement-Overtime

OVERTIME

The Employer agrees to ensure that management and supervisors shall have the opportunity to work alongside employees covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, only if there is a need for more employees, in order to minimize costs and prevent employees from being forced into taking overtime. Further the employer agrees that employee who would like overtime will be given first priority. The employer will create overtime lists for each department based on the skill required for each task. Further the employer agrees to keep an overtime roster to ensure that all employees are offered equal opportunities for overtime based in their department. Overtime will be offered by the employer based on order of seniority until all employees have been offered overtime.

MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING

  1. The Employer agrees to an equitable distribution of overtime. Management and supervisors shall have the opportunity to work alongside employees covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, only if there is a need for more employees, in order to minimize costs and prevent employees from being forced into taking overtime. Unless needed, management and supervisors will act in a supervisory role towards the employees and assist employees in finding solutions if problems arise. If the employees are not doing their job, then management must address the issue from a supervisory position before working alongside the employees.
  2. The employer will create overtime lists for each department based on the skill required for each task. Further the employer agrees to keep an overtime roster to ensure that all employees are offered equal opportunities for overtime based in their department. Employees will be offered overtime based on their skill set and department. Only qualified employees will be given overtime for the necessary task. There will be an overall shop list that marks the skill by the employee. Overtime will be offered to each employee in order of seniority until all employees have been offered overtime. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to see that all employees are offered equal overtime opportunities.
  3. The Employer agrees that unless it gives written notice neither it, nor any function, will unilaterally take or permit action that will arbitrarily extend the normal workday without paying overtime or compensatory time employees for their time.
  4. The Employer agrees to give first consideration to bargaining unit employees in the assignment of overtime before assigning such duties to non-unit employees. Such consideration will include health and safety factors, budget constraints, and employee qualifications.

Personal Account of the Negotiating Process-Overtime

During the negotiations for the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) there was only one main point of friction. On behalf of the Labor I felt that the supervisors should not be allowed to work alongside the employees as it would detract from their overtime work; however management felt that supervisor should have the opportunity to work alongside the employees to minimize costs and prevents employees being forced into overtime. The labor and management sides both utilized interest-based bargaining principles. Interest-based bargaining is a strategy designed to “efficiently foster interest-based agreements that balance concessions and gains through its integrative quality” (Hargrove, 2010). We managed to both make a concession in order to compromise; said compromise will allow the supervisors to work alongside employees only when there is a need for more employees. This compromise came into effect without either side needing to make use of their Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BANTA) plan (Kim & Fragale, 2005). For this negotiation the BANTA plan for both parties would have been the professor acting as a mediator or arbitrator depending on the situation.

The management entered the negotiations with a strong position because the management’s counter offer was well supported. The management negotiated for the supervisors to be allowed to work alongside the employees in order to cut costs, prevent employees from being forced into overtime, and to make up for employee absences. The management was willing to concede to allowing supervisors to work alongside employees only when there is a need for more employees.

This negotiation session was different than the first one on employee safety. The fact that I was negotiating with a different person who was more willing to compromise and that we both had additional experiences with negotiations made the negotiations much smoother. The topic of the CBA altered the negotiations as this set of negotiations focused mainly on overtime while the last negotiations focused on safety, money, and employee work ethics. This CBA did not need to focus on as many topics which shortened the needed time for negotiations considerably. In future negotiating sessions I will need to be willing to alter my negotiating principles and tactics based on the person I am negotiating with. I also need to be aware that the topics that the negotiations focus on will likely dictate the length of the negotiations. The final outcome of the negotiations did not favor one side over the other as both sides offered equal concessions in order to reach a compromise that worked for the Labor and Management sides.

OL Competencies

There are various organizational leadership competencies, but the main ones are: communication, problem solving, teamwork, analytical skills, legal and ethical practices, strategic approach, and research. These organizational leadership competencies are vital to the success of the negotiating process.

Communication skills are made up of four skills: lines of communication are critical, be cooperative, but don't let your guard down, listen, and pare down large groups (Improving Negotiation Skills: Rules for Master Negotiators, n.d.).The lines of communication are important because it tells the negotiator to keep the lines of communication open in order to ease the stress of negotiating and to improve the chances for a success. Be cooperative, but don't let your guard down, implies that the negotiator should be cooperative, as cooperation is more effective than competition in negotiations, however, it is also important that the negotiator knows not to be too cooperative or a highly competitive negotiator. Listening is the most important part of communication because it allows the negotiator to have a better understanding of the situation and it allows the negotiator to avoid many misunderstandings. The pare down large groups part is important when dealing with a situation involving negotiation committees because a negotiator must know that “no matter how many people are involved in a negotiation, important decisions are typically made when no more than two people are in the room"(Improving Negotiation Skills: Rules for Master Negotiators, n.d.). It is vital that negotiators are aware of and understand the rules of communication when negotiating so as to succeed at their negotiations.

Problem solving, teamwork, and analytical skills competencies are often similar. The competencies involve working to solve a problem either as an individual or as a part of a group while using analytical skills. As a negotiator, a person must have strong problem solving skills; when solving a problem it is important to work towards the solution of the dilemma using analytical skills to solve it in the best way for the situation. A negotiator must be able to use their analytical skills to solve problems both as an individual and as a team member. If the problem cannot be solved during negotiations then it is important to know when it is time to bring in an arbitrator or mediator.

Legal and ethical practices, strategic approach, and research competencies are also important skills for a negotiator. Before beginning negotiations a negotiator should always have a strong understanding of all of the legal and ethical practices involved in the negotiations so that the negotiator does not get blindsided by the other party. A firm understanding of the strategic approach can aid a negotiator in their own negotiating strategy as well as help them to understand the strategy used by other parties. Research is a vital element involved in all negotiations; when done correctly it can provide negotiators with valuable insight into the topic of the negotiations.

References

Compa, L. (2014). An Overview of Collective Bargaining in the United States. Cornell

University ILR School, 1-10. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1925&context=articles

Duhaime's Law Dictionary. (n.d.). Collective Bargaining Agreement Definition:. Retrieved from

http://www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary/C/CollectiveBargainingAgreement.aspx

History.com Staff. (2009). Labor Movement. Retrieved from

http://www.history.com/topics/labor

Improving Negotiation Skills: Rules for Master Negotiators. (n.d.). Retrieved from

http://corporate.findlaw.com/litigation-disputes/improving-negotiation-skills-rules-for-master-negotiators.html#sthash.LK4Z0XIo.dpuf

Kieler, A. (2014, December 11). NLRB Judge Rules That Walmart Illegally Punished California

Workers for Participating In Protests. Retrieved from https://consumerist.com/2014/12/11/nlrb-judge-rules-that-walmart-illegally-punished-california-workers-for-participating-in-protests/

Shaw, S. (2012, June 12). 2012 Trends At The National Labor Relations Board. Retrieved from

http://www.employerlaborrelations.com/2012/06/12/trends-of-the-obama-national-labor-relations-board/

State Budget Solutions. (2011, March 23). Differences between private sector unions and

government unions. Retrieved from http://www.statebudgetsolutions.org/publications/detail/differences-between-private-sector-unions-and-government-unions

State of the Unions: What It Means for Workers and Everyone Else. (2012.). Retrieved from

http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/state-of-the-unions-what-it-means-for-workers-and-everyone-else/

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