In an age of weakened unions, increased foreign competition and a continuing shift from manufacturing to service jobs, it has become crucial for labor and management to solve differences amicably, the chair of the National Labor Relations Board said yesterday.
"It's important for both sides, not just one side, to approach the bargaining table with a genuine interest to negotiate," said William B. Gould IV, a Democrat appointed to the board by President Clinton in 1994. "Where it has appeared that doesn't happen, they can be ensnared in the law."
No longer should workers rely upon their right to strike, said Gould, who spoke to attorneys in Baltimore at a conference on labor and management sponsored in part by the NLRB regional office for Maryland.
"A strike weapon, in today's environment, is generally not effective," Gould said after an address focusing on his attempts to restore balance between labor and management to the board.
He pointed out that strikes have brought about vastly different results in two high-profile cases -- the Detroit newspaper strike and that by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters against United Parcel Service Inc.
Little has been resolved in Detroit, where 2,500 employees of the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News walked off the job more than two years ago. In February, six unions representing pressmen, truck drivers, reporters and editors offered an unconditional return to work. But management has been reluctant to displace replacement workers who have allowed the papers to publish every day since the strike began.
In June, an administrative law judge found that unfair labor practices prompted the strike and ordered the papers -- jointly published by Detroit Newspapers -- to give back jobs to striking workers. The newspapers have appealed that decision, with the appeal now under review by the NLRB -- which Gould expects could take months.
In a highly unusual public statement in July, Gould explained why the U.S. District Court should issue a preliminary injunction forcing the papers to reinstate more than 1,000 strikers in the interim. Nearly a month ago, a federal judge in Detroit denied the request. The NLRB has appealed.
"We found reasonable cause to believe that unfair labor practices were committed which may have caused or prolonged the strike," Gould said. "We found the remedy is reinstating the strikers where they're willing to return to work. If we don't obtain that injunction, the strikers might not be reinstated for three or four years from now."
Already, many of the striking workers have left the area or found other jobs.
Contrary to what the public perception might be, "We are not taking sides," said Gould, who has in the past served as assistant general counsel of the United Auto Workers and represented management in labor law at Battle, Fowler, Stokes, & Kheel in New York. "Disputes between parties must be resolved by voluntary collective bargaining. We care about making sure that both sides follow certain procedures. That's our role."
The board has found reasonable cause to believe negotiations broke down in the Detroit strike because the employer had not bargained in good faith with the union, Gould said.
But proper procedures were followed in the UPS strike, which turned out differently, he noted. By continuing to negotiate, by turning to outside mediators, and most importantly, by not hiring replacement workers, the strike was settled in a relatively short period, Gould said.
"I hope other companies will follow the UPS lead," he said. "The use of permanent replacements frequently erodes collective bargaining."
Unions, however, should be cautious about using the strike remedy, he warned.
"That also has devastating consequences for the workers," he said. "Unless you're dealing with a tight labor market or when skills are unique, the prospect of being replaced makes the strike weapon difficult to exercise."
During Gould's term, which runs through August 1998, the law professor on leave from Stanford Law School has taken criticism from both labor and management for his outspoken views.
About a year into his term, he offended congressional Republicans by opposing legal precedents that allow companies hire permanent replacements during strikes. Conservatives have also bristled at his proposals for workplace teams, more flexible union organizing rules and broader union representation.
Labor, on the other hand, has frequently viewed Gould's ideas as supporting broader management freedoms. Labor unions have seen a decline in membership over the past quarter century, in part because of greater foreign competition, particularly in industries where unions have been strong and because of a shift from manufacturing to service jobs, where resistance to unions has been stronger. Gould said he promotes his opinions, on the board and in law review articles and books, "not because it will make me popular or unpopular, but because those views reflect my judgment about what is good law."
Pub Date: 9/12/97