Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Oh. That's a UNION issue ..."

Excuse me for being repetitive, but a corporate talking point that came up last week (and has ticked me off for years) is this one:

"Oh, we would looove to give you more vacation ... sick days ... holidays off ... (choose one) but that's a UNION issue. You have to take that up with your UNION ..."

In other words, what's preventing the company from giving union employees the same number of sick days or vacation or holidays as employees on the corporate side is that pesky union contract. Like, ten business days of time off in a year is the best they can do because "that's what the contract says ..."

I pull this subject out of my bag of gripes because it's patent horse shit. A company can choose to bestow any number of benefits not in a union contract because it's done all the time.

* Companies give union employees stock options.

* Companies give union employees bonuses.

* Companies give union employees extra time off at Christmas

* Companies give union employees free amusement park tickets.

And on and on. The reality is, animation studios, meat-packing plants or whomever can choose to bestow -- or not bestow -- a wide range of extra-contractual goodies. It's not union contracts that prevent this from happening, because union contracts are silent on the subject. (And in the few cases where they're not silent, they are -- usually -- laying out minimums.)

What stops it is company policy, but companies often find it useful to lay that bad news at the feet of the stupid old union because it, you know, makes the union the object of hate rather than the corporate decision-makers.

But there's another wrinkle to all this. In certain cases where benefits are given to one group and not another, a company could be breaking the law. In AMF Bowling Co, Inc. vs. the National Labor Relations Board in the mid-nineties*, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals found that excluding union-represented employees from the company's severance pay plan was "inherently destructive."

Illegal or not, my main point here is that it's within the company's discretion to grant or take away benefits not in a Collective Bargaining Agreement. And it would be nice if more companies had the stones to admit this.

* AMF Bowling Co., Inc. v. NLRB, 977 F.2d 141, 145 (4th Cir. 1992)


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