Strike Bill Could Destroy Critical Workplace Balance Current Collective Bargaining Has Worked Well for over 50 Years, So Why Change a Fair System by Encouraging `Risk Free' Strikes?

By Howard Jenkins and John A. Penello. Howard Jenkins, the first black appointed to the five-member National Labor Relations Board, was appointed President John F. Kennedy reappointed three subsequent presidents. John A. Penello served two terms as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, appointed Presidents Nixon and Ford. | The Christian Science Monitor, July 11, 1994 | Go to article overview

Strike Bill Could Destroy Critical Workplace Balance Current Collective Bargaining Has Worked Well for over 50 Years, So Why Change a Fair System by Encouraging `Risk Free' Strikes?


Howard Jenkins and John A. Penello. Howard Jenkins, the first black appointed to the five-member National Labor Relations Board, was appointed President John F. Kennedy reappointed three subsequent presidents. John A. Penello served two terms as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, appointed Presidents Nixon and Ford., The Christian Science Monitor


FOR many years we served as representatives of the federal government in various capacities with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). We were appointed board members under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Together we represent more than 100 years of experience in labor-management relations.

While we did not always agree on the outcome of cases brought before the NLRB - member Jenkins's decisions were more often pro-union and member Penello's dissents were more often pro-employer - we agree that the Strike Bill would destroy the core principle of balance in collective bargaining.

The Strike Bill, which has passed the House and is expected to be voted on today by the Senate, would prohibit employers from defending their businesses by offering permanent jobs to replacement workers during a strike over economic issues such as pay raises and benefits.

Proponents of the Strike Bill claim that employers' use of permanent replacement workers during an economic strike is a recent phenomenon. This simply is not true. The National Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1935, provided a delicate balance that allows unions to strike over wage demands and allows employers to defend their businesses by hiring permanent replacement workers.

The striker-replacement legislation would destroy this core principle of United States labor law, which has been consistently supported by Democratic and Republican presidents and federal courts for over half a century.

In our experience, the balance of power inherent in these countervailing economic weapons is what has made the system work. Take away either the right to strike or the right to operate with permanent replacements, and the other party will be sure to overreach. We fear the striker replacement legislation will encourage confrontation and "risk-free" strikes, where economic strikers could make unreasonable demands and shut down employers with no risk of their own.

Some contend that the system is not balanced, that permanent replacement of economic strikers is the equivalent of being fired. Again, this isn't true. Even so-called "permanently replaced" strikers have continuing rights to reinstatement to all available future jobs. The NLRB developed adequate safeguards for economic strikes, one of which puts employers under an affirmative continuing obligation to first offer jobs to unreinstated economic strikers on a preferential basis before hiring new employees.

Furthermore, the actual number of workers replaced is minute. A Bureau of National Affairs study found nearly 40,000 economic strikers were replaced in 1991-1992, out of a US labor force of 125 million.

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Strike Bill Could Destroy Critical Workplace Balance Current Collective Bargaining Has Worked Well for over 50 Years, So Why Change a Fair System by Encouraging `Risk Free' Strikes?
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