Collective Bargaining and the “Right to Work” Law

Scope of Bargaining

Labor unions are important pillars of any democratic society. They play a leading role in collective bargaining to promote the economic welfare of employees and resolve conflicts that may arise between employees and their employers. In democratic societies, all employees have a right to bargain collectively (through a union). However, this right has a defined scope as defined by different legislations and state statutes.

In particular, the labor law defines the scope of collective bargaining. It states that employees “written collective bargaining agreements shall cover all employment relations” (Davidov, 2002, p. 358). Employers and employee representatives can bargain for work hours, wages and terms of employment. Wages encompass salaries, retirement benefits, mileage, and overtime compensation while work hours cover daily work hours and duration of lunch breaks among others. Terms of employment cover extra-curricular activities, promotions, leaves, transfers, and workload among others. Both parties are expected to bargain in good faith and all agreements should be acceptable to both parties. The labor law further states that collective bargaining for public education employees shall cover employer decisions that affect employees. The same statute prohibits collective bargaining on hiring, promotion or dismissal of employees and staff recruitment practices.

Topics of Bargaining

The labor act classifies the subjects of bargaining into three types; mandatory, permissive and prohibited/illegal subjects. Mandatory subjects refer to topics that the employer must first discuss with employees or their representatives in collective bargaining before making any decision touching on these topics (Galloway, 2005). Topics are accepted as mandatory based on facts that are specific to a given situation. Thus, mandatory subjects including wages, work hours and work conditions rarely vary from state to state.

Permissive topics refer to other subjects that the employer may or may not agree to discuss with employees. The labor board allows for bargaining on permissive topics where the employer has the liberty to consult with the employees or make unilateral decisions about these topics provided that the decisions do not affect the mandatory topics. However, when employer decisions touch on mandatory subjects, the employees through their union can seek compensation. Permissive Topics include criteria for employee evaluation, arbitration procedures and rules for negotiations among others.

Various legislations and the labor act specify the subjects that the employer is not permitted to discuss with the employer. These are called prohibited subjects. The employees or their associations are not allowed to engage in collective bargaining over these subjects. They include employee hiring, dismissal, and policies that affect the work environment. Kirkpatrick’s model states that although policies like video conferencing may be adopted in the workplace, for the technology to work, the management should first seek the user’s approval (Galloway, 2005). Galloway (2005) further suggests that Kirkpatrick’s first level, a survey to gather employees’ opinions regarding the program will enable the employer to “determine whether the participants find the program valuable or not” (p. 22). Based on the survey findings, managers can evaluate an organization’s training policies. Though training policies are classified as prohibitive subjects, managers must involve employees to effectively evaluate new programs.

Impasse Resolution

Employee representatives and employers are required to adopt the impasse resolution procedure. If an impasse arises in the course of a negotiation i.e. if both parties fail to agree on a mediator, either the employee representative or the employer can request the local labor board to appoint a new mediator. The mediator shall help in resolving the dispute as negotiations proceed. However, if the mediation lasts for thirty days and the dispute remains unresolved, either the employee representative or the employer can petition the federal mediation and conciliation service for an arbitrator. Both parties will choose one arbitrator by striking out the names from a list of seven arbitrators presented to them (Galloway, 2005). The arbitrator selected by both parties will make the final decision regarding the dispute.

Within thirty days after the arbitrator has been selected, he or she will make a final decision. The arbitrator usually employs a role-reversal technique to allow either party to react to the issue. The arbitrator helps the parties define their position about the impasse issue and suggests solutions to the problem. Also, the arbitrator’s decision must be based on one of the last offers of either party. The arbitrator’s decision is subject to review based on the provisions of the Uniform Arbitration Act. If the impasse continues after the mediation period, the law provides that the existing contract will continue to be in force.

The Impact of Right to Work Law

The “right to work” (RTW) law protects employees from paying dues or joining a trade union, as part of employment terms and conditions. Its proponents argue that RTW laws attract investments, create employment opportunities and lead to higher employee wages. However, critics argue that RTW laws hurt trade unions and affect collective bargaining leading to low wages and poor standards of living.

A study by Baird (1998) found out that RTW laws affect “unionization of employees resulting in a decline in the percentage of employees willing to join unions by up to eight percent” (p. 473). The main problem with RTW laws is that most people will benefit from the services of unions without paying dues. Most unions prefer to bargain only for its members. However, members-only trade unions only weakens the collective bargaining power of unions as it locks out eligible employees from joining the unions.

References

Baird, C. W. (1998). Right to Work Before and After 14 (B). Journal of Labor Research, 19(3): 471-494.

Davidov, G. (2002). The Three Axes of Employment Relationships: A characterization of Workers in Need of Protection. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 52(9): 357-359.

Galloway, D. (2005).Evaluating Distance Delivery and E-learning: Is Kirkpatrick’s Model Relevant? Performance Improvement, 44(4), 21-27.