Magazine article Personnel Journal

Striking a Balance: Temps and Union Workers

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Striking a Balance: Temps and Union Workers

Article excerpt

In today's complicated world, ethical decisions aren't always black or white; options often fall into gray areas. Readers responded to this situation posed by PERSONNEL JOURNAL.

The Dilemma:

* During contract negotiations a year ago, you asked union leaders to be flexible on the issue of temporary workers in a new plant your company opened in a growing but volatile market. They agreed. But they recently realized that, though some union personnel have been added, the percentage of temporary workers is significantly higher than allowed by the standard contract. Can you keep the temps, citing industry volatility? Or, should you reduce the percentage of temporary workers at the plant?

Readers Respond:

* First, review the purpose of temporary vs. full-time employees and the business-related benefits the temps provide. If the temporary workers have a direct and positive impact on the ability to remain in this volatile market, then reiterate this market position with union leaders and request continued understanding and support as you learn more about your place in this new market.

Second, encourage discussion between union and management leaders on the issue in an attempt to develop alternative solutions to this problem. Do not rule out any solutions, but be sure to look objectively at cost-benefit analysis for each proposed solution.

Third, your continued monitoring of this new market should allow you to feed more information into the problem-solving process. It should be an understood goal of this process to find a solution that will reduce the percentage of temporary workers necessary and still allow the company to remain in the market.

After all, diversification into new markets goes a long way in maintaining any company's long-range financial health as well as the employment opportunities a healthy organization might provide.

Jeffrey L. Slatcoff VP of Operations Basic Engineers Inc. Johnstown, Pennsylvania

If the union contractually agreed to grant you the flexibility to hire a higher percentage of temporary workers at the new facility during the term of the agreement, you retain that flexibility until you agree during the collective bargaining process to change this provision. Since it is extremely important for the union to increase membership and dues revenue, you could probably use this provision as a very effective bargaining chip, even if you were planning to abide by the standard contract provision at some point in the future.

If the agreement was verbal, based on the understanding that a new facility in a volatile industry required this additional flexibility, you do not have the contractual right to utilize this higher percentage of temporary workers indefinitely. If there were no time parameters in the agreement, the union can probably force you to abide by the contractual provisions governing temporary employees, since most contracts specifically state that the labor contract represents the full and complete understanding of the parties-relative to the issues contained therein. Obviously, the standard contract contains provisions restricting your use of temporary workers, therefore the contract would probably prevail in any dispute over a verbal agreement.

Your best alternative would probably be to reach an agreement with the union to begin a gradual transition from a primarily temporary work force to a primarily permanent work force. …

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