You are here

Cases and Problems

30 October, 2015 - 15:52

Chapter Summary

  • Union membership in the United States has been slowly declining. Today, union membership consists of about 11.9 percent of the workforce, while in 1983 it consisted of 20 percent of the workforce.
  • The reasons for decline are varied, depending on who you ask. Some say the moving of jobs overseas is the reason for the decline, while others say unions’ hard-line tactics put them out of favor.
  • The United States began its first labor movement in the 1800s. This was a result of low wages, no vacation time, safety issues, and other issues.
  • Many labor organizations have disappeared, but the American Federation of Labor (AFL) still exists today, although it merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and is now known as the AFL-CIO. It is the largest labor union and represents local labor unions in a variety of industries.
  • The United States has a low number of union members compared with other countries. Much of Europe, for example, has over 30 percent of their workforce in labor unions, while in some countries as much as 50 percent of the workforce are members of a labor union.
  • Legislation has been created over time to support both labor unions and the companies who have labor unions. The Wagner Act was created to protect employees from retaliation should they join a union. The Taft-Hartley Actwas developed to protect companies from unfair labor practices by unions.
  • The National Labor Relations Board is the overseeing body for labor unions, and it handles disputes between companies as well as facilitates the process of certifying new labor unions. Its job is to enforce the Wagner and Taft-Hartley acts.
  • The Landrum Griffin Act was created in 1959 to combat corruption in labor unions during this time period.
  • To form a union, the organizer must have signatures from 30 percent of the employees. If this occurs, the National Labor Relations Board will facilitate a card check to determine whether more than 50 percent of the workforce at that company is in agreement with union representation. If the company does not accept this, then the NLRB holds secret elections to determine if the employees will be unionized.
  • A union has two goals: to add new members and to collect dues. The checkoff provision of a contract compels the organization to take union dues out of the paycheck of union members.
  • In a union shop, people must join the union within a specified time period of joining the organization. This is illegal in right-to-work states.
  • Made illegal by the Taft-Hartley Act, a closed shop allows only union members to apply and be hired for a job.
  • Collective bargaining is the process of negotiating the contact with union representatives. Collective bargaining, to be legal, must always be done in good faith.
  • There are three categories of collective bargaining issues. Mandatory issuesmight include pay and benefits. Permissive bargaining items may include things such as drug testing or the required equipment the organization must supply to employees. Illegal issues are those things that cannot be discussed, which can include issues that could be considered discriminatory.
  • The collective bargaining process can take time. Both parties prepare for the process by gathering information and reviewing the old contract. They then set time lines for the bargaining and reveal their wants and negotiate those wants. A bargaining impasse occurs when members cannot come to an agreement.
  • When a bargaining impasse occurs, a strike or lockout of workers can occur. These are both strategies that can be used to encourage the other side to agree to collective bargaining terms.
  • Some tips for working with unions include knowing and following the contract, involving unions in company decisions, and communicating with transparency.
  • The grievance process is a formal process that addresses any complaints about contract violations.
  • The grievance process varies from contract to contract. It is an important part of the contract that ensures a fair process for both unions members and management.
  • HRM is normally involved in the grievance process, since it has intimate knowledge of the contract and laws guiding the contract.
  • The grievance process can consist of any number of steps. First, the complaint is discussed with the manager, employee, and union representative. If no solution occurs, the grievance is put into writing by the union. Then HR, management, and the union discuss the process, sometimes in the form of a hearing in which both sides are able to express their opinion.
  • Management then expresses its decision in writing to the union.
  • If the union decides to escalate the grievance, the grievance may be brought to the national union for a decision. At this point, an arbitrator may be brought in, suitable to both parties, to make the final binding decision.
  • There are four main types of grievances. First, the individual grievance is filed when one member of the union feels mistreated. A group grievance occurs when several members of the union feel they have been mistreated and file a grievance as a group. A principle grievance may be filed on behalf of the union and is usually based on a larger issue, such as a policy or contract issue. A union or policy grievance may be filed if the employee does not wish to file the grievance individually.
  • Grievances should not be taken personally and should be considered a fair way in which to solve problems that can come up between the union and management.

Chapter Case

But I Didn’t Know

After a meeting with the operations manager of your organization, you close the door to your office so you can think of strategies to resolve an issue that has come up. The operations manager casually mentioned he had just finished a performance review of one of his employees and offered the employee a large raise because of all the hours the employee was putting in. The raise was equal to 11 percent of the employee’s salary. The operations manager, being new both to the company and to a union shop, wasn’t aware of the contract agreement surrounding pay increases. An employee must receive a minimum of a 2 percent pay increase per year and a maximum of 6 percent per year based on the contract. You worry that if the union gets wind of this, everyone at that employee’s pay level may file a grievance asking for the same pay raise. Of course, the challenge is that the manager already told this person he would be receiving the 11 percent raise. You know you need to act fast to remedy this situation.

  1. As an HR professional, what should you have done initially to prevent this issue from happening?
  2. Outline a specific strategy to implement stating how you will prevent this from happening in the future.
  3. What would you do about the 11 percent pay raise that was already promised to the employee?
  4. If the union files a grievance, what type of grievance do you think it would be? Provide reasoning for your answer.
  5. If the union does file a grievance, draft a response to the grievance to share with your upper-level managers as a starting point for discussion on how to remedy the situation.


  1. Break into teams of four or five. Please choose the following roles for each of your team members:
    • Mediator
    • Manager
    • HR professional
    • Employee
Once roles are chosen, please determine a solution or make a recommendation for the following situation (remember, this is a role play; you may make reasonable assumptions): The employee believes the performance evaluation the manager gave was unfair and has filed a grievance about it. The employee shows proof of a good attendance record and three letters from colleagues stating the high quality of her work. The manager contends the employee does not use time wisely at work, hence the 3 out of 5 rating. The manager is able to show several examples of poor time usage.