Union-side attorneys' involvement in the practice of law is founded on a commitment to the labor movement and a determination for the furtherance and advancement of working conditions for employed people. Amongst their extensive labor law practice, they negotiate collective bargaining and provide general advice on contract interpretation and administration; grievance and interest arbitrations; representation and unfair labor practice proceedings before federal and state agencies.
Susan is a partner in a small (twenty attorneys) firm in the Northeast. After graduation from law school six years ago, she spent three years as an attorney with the National Labor Relations Board before joining her current firm. She now specializes in labor law, although only she and one other attorney, Gerald, have such a specialty at the firm. The other attorneys have a general civil practice with an emphasis on personal injury, pension work for a local hospital, some general unemployment claims, and some tax and trust work.
One of the unions which Susan represents is the collective bargaining representative for the employees of a large local manufacturer. Tonight she will meet with the officers of the union to discuss strategies and the progress of the negotiations on the contract, which will terminate in sixty days. Susan participated in the drafting and negotiations of the contract when it was first entered into by the company and her union three years before.
Susan is hopeful that there will not be a need to contact the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the law mandates that the service must be notified thirty days before the contract ends if an impasse has been reached and to request mediation. Three years ago, the mediator had to come in to help them reach agreement.
Their clients include the above mentioned manufacturing union, as well as a local branch of a teacher's union and the employees of a local town. Susan and Gerald collaborate on much of the practice, although each is responsible for his or her own clients.
To prepare for this evening's meeting, Susan will spend most of the day reviewing the contract, annotating changes which the management attorney has told her will be asked for in the bargaining session. The issues revolve around benefits and wages. The company management wishes to change the sick day benefits from the fifteen days per year that the employees currently receive to ten days, with one day per year of employment to be kept in a benefits bank to be used only in a medical emergency, as determined by a doctor.
The company also wants to limit vacation benefits to five days per employee per year, increasing to ten days after ten years of employment with the company, most of the employees now receive seven days and the majority have been with the company five years or less. Susan knows that these changes will not be acceptable to her union representative because both changes would, in effect, lower the number of paid days for the average employee and reward only those who stay at the company for an extended period.
As far as wage and salary adjustments, the company is offering a three percent increase each year for the three years of the life of the contract. This is far from the 10 percent requested by the union. Susan knows that she can expect a long angry meeting both with the union officials when they hear the company's offer and with the company at the negotiation session when she presents the union's counterproposal.
This is only one of the cases she is currently handling. A look at her calendar for the next month reflects an interesting variety of labor relations practice issues:
Monday, August 3:
Susan appears at a hearing at the National Labor Relations Board NLRB representing a union that is contesting the loss of a recent election held to certify the union as the collective bargaining agent for the company employees. She presents her case after interviewing witnesses and filing a petition. The union feels that management used unfair tactics, such as campaigning on company time within 24 hours before the vote, as well as trying to compromise the election results by promising to raise workers' pay if they would vote against the union. The union, which needed a vote of 51 percent, received only 48 percent. If the election is not overturned, the union will not be able to request another vote on the issue for another year.
Tuesday, August 4-Friday, August 7:
During this time, Susan is scheduled to be at the negotiating table with the manufacturer's representative who is dealing with the contract. The sessions begin at about 10 a.m. and usually do not end until after 10 p.m. Strategy sessions with union officials take place after each meeting.
Saturday, August 8-Monday, August 10:
This time is used to prepare documents for a grievance hearing before an arbitrator. Susan is representing a nurse from a local hospital, who was disciplined by having her hours reduced as a result of her violation of one of her supervisor's rules. This disciplinary action is not, in Susan's opinion, in compliance with the procedure for discipline documented in the union contract. The hospital feels that the disciplinary measures do comply with an interpretation of the contract. The arbitration is scheduled for Tuesday, August 18.
Tuesday, August 11-Wednesday, August 12:
Susan meets Gerald both days to assist him in the preparation of an appeal which they will make before the U.S. Court of Appeals. A brief has to be written presenting a case Gerald has been working on. One of his clients, a union, was approached by workers at a local electronics firm who asked the union to organize the company. Shortly after this, company management announced it was considering shutting down its operations, so the union filed an unfair labor practices charge with the NLRB, stating that the company threatened to close if a union were established.
The NLRB ruled in favor of management, accepting its statement that the closing decision was based on a production analysis and a market trends study conducted long before the employees spoke to them about a union. The union, on the advice of Susan and Gerald, decided to take the case to the federal Court of Appeals.
Monday, August 24:
Susan meets with Gerald and a member of the teachers' union which Gerald is currently representing. The union is filing a petition for an injunction with the NLRB. Some of the teachers' union representatives had come to him with a letter from the school board, indicating that the board intends to close the school in which these particular teachers work, within the next three weeks, just before February vacation. Some of the untenured teachers will be let go and others with tenure will be transferred to other schools. This procedure is in direct violation of the labor contract, which stipulates that the union must be notified 90 days before any schools are closed and teachers transferred. Teachers to be terminated were working under a one-year contract, which was to be in effect until April 15 of the school year, at which time they would be notified as to whether the contract would be renewed for another year.
Gerald spends the morning on the telephone with union representatives, angry teachers and the town counsel who represents the local school committee. The town claims that it does not have the funds to keep the school open and to pay all the teachers without a tax increase and incumbent referendum. Susan has agreed to help prepare the documents for the hearing.
Thursday, August 13-August 31:
The rest of the month Susan will spend on the contract negotiations, which are not going well. She must constantly communicate with the union leadership to be able to adjust to new proposals by management. Her time is spent conferring with the management negotiators, meeting with the union hierarchy and preparing and reviewing language acceptable to both sides on resolved issues. Unless there are some surprises during the next few weeks, Susan's client is headed for mediation.
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