Protecting Jobs, Union Wages and Benefits
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Employers are always trying to increase profits. The easiest way to do this is to cut workers’ pay and benefits, or make workers work more hours per week. Now, the latest management fad to increase profits is outsourcing / subcontracting / privatization. Whatever you want to call it, we are faced with it and have to find ways to deal with it.
Subcontracting of in-house security jobs have been around for years and the biggest question we always face when this happens is what can be done about subcontracting?
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT SUBCONTRACTING?
There is no easy answer. Unless the contract specifically prohibits subcontracting, arbitrators have increasingly found for the employer. Labor law at best provides that the company must give notice and if requested, provide information and bargain. Thus our main muscle is the ability to put up a tough shop floor struggle to deter employers from initiating and carrying out subcontracting decisions.
If a Local faces this problem, here are some guidelines to think about. Like all tough problems we face the steward system is key to educating, mobilizing and organizing the membership.
• BE PRO-ACTIVE … NOT REACTIVE
Don’t wait until the boss tells you your security department is being farmed out to take action. When rumors start surfacing about subcontracting check them out, BUT don’t let the boss create an atmosphere of panic. Often employers use rumors to “soften up” the union for the kill. Contact the LEOSU as soon as you hear something before subcontracting starts so we can put a plan into action.
• DEMAND INFORMATION
If the employer says that work is going out the door, the union has a right to demand information on why the work is going, how much the work will cost at the subcontractor, where the work is going, etc. The employer may resist giving all the information we request–get the members involved in making the employer miserable until we get the information we need. The Labor Board still supports a union’s right to “reasonable” information BUT it keeps getting worse on even this basic issue.
• DOES THE EMPLOYER HAVE TO BARGAIN WITH THE UNION OVER THE MOVING OF WORK?
This is a matter of contract interpretation and labor law. If your contract clearly gives the employer the right to subcontract, then the union may only get to bargain over the effects of the subcontracting (layoffs, transfers, etc.) not over the decision to subcontract. However, do not assume that the employer has the right to subcontract without bargaining just because they say so. Check with your local president or the LEOSU International or National Unions. Another point to remember, the union does not give up all its rights just because the employer subcontracted work sometime in the past and the union did not stop it. The NLRB says a union loses its rights only if it clearly agrees to give them up. The employer can try to claim past practice but it takes two parties to make a past practice.
• IF THE CONTRACT IS SILENT …
If the contract is silent, the presumption is that the employer must give notice about any decision to move work out of the bargaining unit and bargain on request, especially if the employer claims a financial reason for subcontracting.
• EDUCATE THE MEMBERS
Make sure the members understand the problem, even if it is not their area that is being affected. Make sure they understand that this is a hard battle to win, but it is the union’s obligation to try.
• MAKE A PLAN
Contact LEOSU so we can plan for some “Strategic Planning.” Sometimes many battles have to be fought before the war can be won. This is what making a strategic plan is all about. Size up the employer’s strengths and weaknesses. Know the union’s strengths and weaknesses. Often, we must wait until the employer really needs our cooperation, then we bargain hard over the current problem and over the bigger issues, like subcontracting. We shouldn’t wait until contract negotiations to deal with issues like this.
• THINK ABOUT AND PREPARE TO MAKE CHANGES TO THE CONTRACT
Figure out what language should be added or taken out of the contract to give us more power on this issue. It’s all right to shoot for “pie in the sky” language as long as the members understand that sometimes changes can only be made slowly, bit by bit. Every little roadblock created against subcontracting is a victory.
• ORGANIZE THE UNORGANIZED
Subcontracting and privatization are successful because there are too many unorganized workplaces. If your employer subcontracts work, find out where, and under what conditions. If there are unorganized workplaces in your area, even if they don’t do subcontracting for your employer, try to organize them. Only by raising wages and benefits of ALL security officers can we protect our standard of living.