How do you account for the fact that every year in the United States managements win approximately 70 percent of all arbitrations where there can be said to be a clear winner and a clear loser? Does this one-sidedness reflect poorly on unions or not?
Chapter 5 – At the Bargaining Table
The labor contract negotiation process has been depicted as (1) a poker game; (2) an exercise in power politics; (3) a debating society; and (4) a rational process. It is likely that all of these traits have marked most negotiations over time. At present, however, bargaining is most commonly an orderly process in which problems are discussed relatively rationally and settled more or less on the basis of facts.
By far the major prerequisite for bargaining is preparation for the negotiations. In recent years the time allotted for such planning by both sides has steadily lengthened, basically because the issues dealt with have become more and more complex. Thorough planning is needed. Each party may find it advisable to use not only general data (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics wage information, for example), but information that is more specifically tailored to its own needs. Thus, most larger unions and employers now have their own research staffs and they may also use the services of outsiders on an ad hoc basis. Increasingly, too, the top echelons of both parties have appreciated the need to carefully consult with lower level members of their respective organizations before framing specific bargaining table approaches. (The union has the further job of screening the many demands that emanate from the rank and file. They must be considered, but they are frequently inconsistent and unrealistic.) Legal and, often, public relations expertise is also needed by both sides in the preparation for the negotiations.
Negotiations often begin with the union presenting extreme demands. Usually, these are meant only as ploys in a logical bargaining strategy and are not to be taken literally. Indeed, some managements have increasingly come to appreciate the strategic value of the large demand themselves and nowadays similarly engage in such “blue-skying.” Because of this kind of strategy, however, a large gap normally separates the parties at the opening sessions.
In the later stages of bargaining, experienced negotiators (having a fairly good idea of what the other side wants) seldom take a rigid position and employ a variety of techniques, including trading points and counter proposals. Yet frequently the last stages of scheduled negotiations are reached with the complete contract far from being resolved.
It is the strike deadline that is the great motivator of labor relations agreement. The strike threat and its attendant uncertainties generate a willingness to bridge differences that has not been in evidence before.
Strikes do, however, occur—because of inexperienced bargainers, because constituent sentiments have been misjudged, and for other reasons. And crisis situations with or without strikes are frequently seen in the bargaining. Bypassing the difficult issues until the easy ones are settled, depersonalization by negotiators, being prepared in advance with alternative proposals, and the use of joint study groups during the contractual period can all minimize the chances of negotiation breakdowns. Mediation is also a potentially valuable appendage to the bargaining in crisis situations.
Other topics dealt with in this chapter are: Costing the labor contract, the vital need for testing and proofreading of the contract before signatures are affixed to it; coordinated bargaining, the name given to the increasing tendency on the part of unions to band together for contract negotiation purposes, and the growing threat to labor of multinationals and the prospects of “one big global union.” General Electric’s imaginative approach to bargaining from the 1940s until the 1970s — Boulwarism — is also analyzed. An inspection of the many interdependent variables (from the current health of the economy to the role of personalities) that individually might be of major importance in a given bargaining situation, or of no significance at all, concludes the chapter.
Chapter 6 – Grievances and Arbitration
With the establishment of a collective bargaining agreement, the broad guidelines of labor/management relations are set down. What follows is the often more involved task of applying and interpreting these general principles. It is important to keep in mind that labor relations is a day-to-day issue. Two mechanisms for resolving issues in a peaceful and orderly manner are the grievance procedure and arbitration. They are decidedly more attractive ways to resolve conflict than the chaotic and disruptive alternatives of strikes and lockouts.
The grievance procedure allows management and labor to interpret and apply the contract within a system of specific stages and time limits. It is a personalized process in which the participants in an enterprise decide its labor relations issues. Often these individuals help to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement and are better able to react to particular circumstances and to judge the impact of a decision upon industrial relations. The grievance procedure often produces compromise and is a most useful and efficient means of contract enforcement.
This bilateral arrangement helps prevent small issues from becoming major areas of contention. A better climate for both management and labor can be attained. A tribute to its efficacy, and the sincerity of the participants, is the fact that the vast majority of application and interpretation problems are solved at the grievance procedure level.
In the best of situations, there will always be conflicts that the bilateral grievance procedure cannot resolve. Some 99 percent of all collective bargaining agreements provide for arbitration, another peaceful and orderly solution to the questions of application and interpretation. At this stage, an impartial outsider is selected to decide the issue, and his or her conclusions are invariably stipulated in the contract to be final and binding upon both parties.
The American system of arbitration is private and voluntary. Arbitration is not required to be a contract provision, nor is it an area of government control or participation. The United States Supreme Court in the Trilogy cases has given its full support to this process, and has greatly strengthened the integrity and authority of the arbitrator’s decision. Recent Supreme Court decisions, though qualifying the finality of the arbitrator’s decision in the areas of civil rights, union representation of the employee in arbitration proceedings, and Fair Labor Standards Act rights, do not overturn the traditions of the arbitration procedure.
The key person in arbitration is the arbitrator. Those who exercise this role must adhere to a strict code of ethics, be free of any bias, and be very knowledgeable about industrial relations in general. They are normally bound by the provisions of the contract, but may rely on past practice in the absence of clear cut guidelines. It is their responsibility to keep the process, which is less formal than a court proceeding and more formal than the grievance procedure, moving smoothly and efficiently. The main responsibility of labor and management is to make sure the arbitrator is presented with all the relevant facts and evidence bearing upon the case. The method of selecting the arbitrator is specified in the contract. In most instances, the choice is made on an ad hoc basis from names supplied by both governmental and private agencies. Some collective bargaining agreements opt for the appointment of permanent arbitrators. Both the ad hoc and permanent methods of selection have advantages and disadvantages.
Although arbitration is an efficient and fair procedure, it does have some problems. The costs are high, and the time delays often produced cannot be justified. Several solutions are being offered today to meet these criticisms. One relatively new procedure is mini, or expedited, arbitration. With this approach, a hearing is scheduled very soon after an appeal, and a decision rendered sometimes as quickly as 48 hours after the hearing. Only the more routine or simple cases can be handled in this manner, but it has proven successful in the steel industry and elsewhere. Another alternative described in the chapter is that of grievance mediation.