Tag Archives: Unions

Labor Unions vs Management – Economic Weapons

Throughout this essay, I will describe the economic weapons available to employers and unions during negotiations. For each, I will explain how the weapon is designed to exert pressure on the other party and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Bear in mind, I will be concentrating on private sector employees covered by the NLRA. I will try to make distinctions that would apply to public sector and non-NLRA covered workers as I go along.

Employers’ economic weapons consist of lockout; plant closings, and other forms of economic pressure.

Although lockout is a primary economic weapon utilized by employers; it is rarely used. According to a class handout, an employer may lock out its employees in order to bring economic pressure on a union. For example, an employer may lockout offensively, i.e., to put economic pressure on the union to accede to its bargaining demands. In other words, a theater could lockout unionized workers in a preemptive maneuver during a slow season to outmaneuver the possibility of the union striking during its busiest season to exert its pressure on the theater. Thus, the theater hopes to resolve the labor issue, to their advantage, before the busy season (e.g. Christmas season).

Lockout is consisted of other components, besides the generalized aspect described in the preceding paragraph, such as: replacements; pre-impasse lockouts, and partial lockouts. An employer can hire temporary replacements during a lockout but it is not allowed to hire permanent replacements. Pre-impasse lockouts are lockouts implemented before an impasse (a deadlock in negotiations).

On the other hand,

partial lockouts arise from the act of an employer which, although allowing employees to work normal hours of work, withdraws the provision of other contractual obligations such as the opportunity to work overtime or the payment of penal rates.are lockouts rendered in a partial manner (www2.stats.govt.nz).

Both pre-impasse lockouts and partial lockouts are legal as long as they are not

in support of a bad faith bargaining position; to discourage union activity; to aid ULPs, and etc. If not, they would be unlawful and would be disadvantageous to the employer.

Like lockouts, an employer may use a plant closing as an economic tool to exert pressure on a union. A plant closing can be divided into three major parts: a complete closing; a partial closing, and a runaway shop. The advantage of a complete closing is that an employer may completely cease its operations, even if it is motivated exclusively and admittedly by anti-union animus. However, the employer may be obligated to bargain over the effects of the closure.

A partial closing (as the name implies) is legal unless it can be proven that the employer intended to “chill” unionization. If not, remedies would be applied to reopen the plant or other remedies may be provided.

As for a runaway shop, it is defined as when the employer transfers the work from one plant to another existing plant or opens a new plant to replace the closed one. It also applies within a plant, where work is transferred from one department or group of workers to another. The same is true if the work is subcontracted out to an “alter ego” employer. The advantage and the disadvantage of a runaway shop is that although the NLRB considered the transfer of work to be inherently destructive (disadvantage) of employee rights, that theory was later rejected (advantage) in the absence of a specific contractual prohibition. In other words, an employer can claim that economic necessity dictated that he/she applies the runaway shop to avoid an unduly burdensome economic situation.

Other forms of economic pressure include corporate campaign; publicity, and political pressure. These forms of economic pressure are advantageous as long as they toe the line of the law. For example, an employer shouldn’t undermine the NLRA during its corporate campaign and publicity, and it shouldn’t break the law when applying political pressure (stay away from bribing officials).

To counter employers’ inherent (as owner/management) upper hand in negotiations and his/her economic weapons, unions employ economic weapons such as strikes and picket lines. Strikes can be divided into economic strikes; ULP strikes; secondary strikes, and unprotected strikes.

First, economic strikes are a strike usually used to coerce an employer to agree to a raise, for example. The disadvantage of an economic raise is that striking workers can be permanently replaced after 12 months on strike. For the preceding reason, ULP strikes are used, for the most part, since the employer cannot legally replace strikers with permanent replacements after a year of striking. Regardless, ULP strikers have to avoid to striking against a third party to influence their negotiations because a secondary strike is illegal – an unprotected strike.

Other unprotected strikes that a ULP striker has to avoid are failure to provide 8(d), (g) notice; disloyalty or violence; striking for an illegal object; partial or intermittent strikes; slowdowns, and sit ins. Let’s begin with the 8(d), (g) notice; it’s a notice that has to be provided during a certain time frame to avoid a strike or picketing from gaining an unprotected status. Likewise, a striker defaming an employer without a logical connection to the strike or perpetrating violence are unprotected. For example, a striker cannot say an employer’s product is of a low quality without implying its low quality is caused by inexperienced/untrained temporary replacements thus jeopardizing safety.

Similarly, strikers cannot strike to compel an employer to agree to an illegal or permissive subject of bargaining otherwise known as striking for an illegal object. Unlike partial lockouts, partial or intermittent strikes are not protected. In the same vein, slowdowns and sit ins are not protected, too. The employer reserved the right to discharge unprotected strikers.

Besides strikes, unions use picketing as a tactic, also. For example, a union may picket an employer to gain recognition. However, a union has to be careful not to create the intent or effect of preventing individuals employed by other entities from ceasing to provide services to the picketed employer. For example, they will be considered unprotected if they preclude the making or picking up of deliveries by third parties. Thus, the employer can have the picketing union removed, or severely restricted, or sanctioned in other ways. However, if the delivery employees (not employed by the employer) refuse to cross the picket line (hence ‘crossing picket lines at other employers’) in support of the picketers is a different story. The NLRB and the Courts would weigh the relative interests of the employer in replacing the employee and the interest of the employee in honoring a picket line.

As I mentioned in the introductory paragraph, there are exceptions to the rule in regard to the employment of economic weapons by both employers and unions. For example, there are different rules for unions representing public employees (e.g., NYPD unions cannot legally strike) and private employees (e.g., nurses and doctors are legally hindered from striking, too), respectively. In addition, secondary boycotts are legal and protected for agricultural workers as per the Act regulating agricultural unions while secondary boycotts like secondary strikes by NLRA covered workers are unprotected.

In conclusion, I described the economic weapons available to employers and unions during negotiations. For each, I explained how the weapon is designed to exert pressure on the other party and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Although I concentrated on private sector employees covered by the NLRA, I endeavored to make distinctions that would apply to public sector and non-NLRA covered workers throughout the essay.

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Source by Karl Mitchell