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The following program is made possible through a grant from nation's business. This is a business roundtable a program of current comment from leading members of America's business community. Today Jack Steber director of the school of labor and industrial relations at Michigan State University. And Charles Killingsworth University professor of labor and industrial relations at MSU. We'll explore the topic of government employees and the right to strike with series host Alfred L. C. Lee Dean of the Graduate School of Business Administration at Michigan State University. Earlier in this series of programs on the Business Roundtable we discussed the subject of unionism among government employees. And some of the aspects of that
problem. We thought it was appropriate that we again look at this subject. Because of recent developments that have taken place. We have had the sanitation strike in New York City. Which is focus national attention. On this type of problem in a great city. Recently again we have had a statewide strike. Or perhaps why I should say a resignation of teachers in the public school system in Florida. The rising militancy of various groups. Of municipal employees. Brings to bear today the question of what do we do about some of these kind of problems. How do we had the mom before we get to the strike phase. And on this session of the Business Roundtable we have two distinguished labor economists who have worked in this field for many many years to
look at some of these problems in relation to how do we head off. The real impasse. Before we have a strike and some of our vital services Dr. Cummings worth. Seems to me for example that in recent years particularly very recently we've had an increase in the number of these types of disputes. Of government employees reaching the strike stage is this correct and if it is why is this happening. I as I think face to test and show quite clearly that there's been a sharp increase I would judge in the last couple of years we've had more total strikes by government employees than we've had say in the preceding 25 years. The issues of course vary is one particularly unjustifiable kind of strike or senseless kind of strike a strike for recognition simply the establishment of a bargaining relationship I say that senseless not because employees should not have that right but because
it is so easy to provide machinery for handling that kind of dispute. We did it. More than 30 years ago in private industry. The public sector is lagging very far behind the private sector in that regard. With regard to more basic issues issues that are much more difficult to handle. Of course most of the militancy and most of the strikes have been among the teachers. My own judgment is that you have a combination of factors there. One is that teachers pay has lagged for a great many years. Second we have come into a period when there's a very acute shortage of teachers. When you have a sense of grievance and a shortage situation that increases bargaining power. You have a surefire formula for militants and yet hadn't general thought the streaker teachers being a professional
group would not be the type that would be striking this is really pretty drastic changes in their attitudes. It is a drastic change and it. It was really I suppose requires the talents of a psychoanalyst rather than an economist. I have had union attorney tell me of going to a small town in Michigan and seeing some tactics by a school board which as he put it turned a little old ladies in tennis shoes to the most militant strikers he'd ever seen in his entire experience. A dark steamer What do you think about this question. Well I think that the last point that Professor Killingsworth made is irrelevant as a relevant one and a and I would turn it around somewhat. The fact of the matter is that negotiations collective bargaining and public and
employment is new. And the standards by which we are judging. Collective bargaining and public employment. Are standards which we have come to accept over a period of some 30 years in private employment. In other words. Negotiators in private employment. Have developed skills and expertise in this field. Which. Are not comparable. With the situation that existed 30 years ago. And as Professor Killingsworth says the kind of tactics that this union attorney spoke of. Surprised him because he probably was finding that in private employment he was coming up less and less against managements who behave this way and conversely I am sure that if we talk to management representatives they would they would say that union negotiators were behaving differently and I suppose they might say much more
rationally in terms of understanding their problems and vice versa than the situation years ago. So what we have here is a. A new development. The parties were not ready for it. They are learning on both sides on both sides Moran I would say on both sides but I think in this area the employers are probably more neophytes than the union people because they are generally small. You know municipalities are school boards whereas the unions have to have staff people at to fall back on and they have national offices so that back even in the best of the faith and sometimes there's not always the best of faith on both sides but even if there were they they would be likely to reach an impasse where several years from now I think they'll do a lot better. We're not going to or who who are the people that actually negotiate for the government on these types of disputes with
public employees. In other words for example is there a group set up taking Dr. Stevens point here that it isn't done very well. Do you concur that it isn't basically done very well in many cases in many cases that's true. How is this actually handled. Let's assume for example there is a dispute in the municipality. Well let's say the garbage collectors were handles that for the city. In most cases I think most of the larger cities now have a labor relations bureau. And the man who actually speaks for the city or who shall we say who appears to speak for the city is the director of the labor relations bureau. We have a very real difficulty however in a great many situations and that at best this man can speak only for the mayor. Sometimes he can't even do that.
But even at best he speaks only for the mayor and not the city council. Oftentimes the city council really holds the purse strings. Sometimes of course it even goes beyond that sometimes. Demands are being made and teachers strike for example. That involve amounts of money that have to be provided by the taxpayers through a vote on a. Some milage question or perhaps a bond issue. This makes bargaining even more complicated than it is in the private sector because a person who presumably sits and speaks for the employer at the bargaining table often is not able to make binding commitments whereas in the private business you don't find this situation very rarely indeed there are doctrines under federal law of the effect that if the employer send someone to the bargaining table who's not fully authorized to commit him he's guilty of an unfair labor
practice. In other words then there's this growing up process is going to take quite a period of time before we find a mature relations between unions and government that you find now between unions and. Private business in terms of bargaining and handling disputes or grievances. So you know it's not only a matter of growing up maturing getting experience it's a matter of rather major or major structural redesign of the system. I have just been recently serving as a fact finder. In a dispute involving a large municipality and its police to back mint and the. The difficulties that arise out of the rigidities that are built into the budget making process are just as things now stand are just very nearly irreconcilable with the
requirements of collective bargaining. It is neither would you mean for example the Merrow are the city council couldn't make a commitment I take it to raise the wages of policemen because there just isn't the money in the budget. Now you have such situation as the labor relations director saying he's unable to discuss wages with the policeman or whatever group it may be until the mayor's budget is presented. He doesn't know how much money is going to be available after the mayor's budget is presented to the labor relations directors often in the position of saying well I really can't bag and there's no money in the budget provided in the budget for any more wage and I've heard some union leaders among government employees say well this is really a smokescreen. Government is always going to say well there isn't any money and therefore we are we just can't talk about this.
They say this is just a stalking horse really that this isn't the fact that they can find the money whether we're talking about money for teachers or firemen or policemen or so for what do you think about that. I think there are situations in which they are undoubtedly correct and they sometimes test this and cite chapter and verse of cases where one day the employer representative namely the head of the department or the personnel director will sit down in negotiations and say this issue that you raised is completely out of the question if it's a money issue. We couldn't possibly afford to pay that even a part of it if it's another kind of issue. This is an issue which the city could not conceivably negotiate over. And then this is union representative speaking and discussing this will say well we just told him what the alternative was Namely that. All right if you're not prepared to discuss this we'll go back to our people and we're confident that they're going to tell us that to call a strike.
And at that point the government representatives will say Now wait just a minute perhaps. We ought to recess this and let's come back tomorrow and talk about a little more and the next day they'll come back and say well we find now that whereas we thought our budget was in such a position we find that perhaps we can stretch things a little and make a small concession. Now this kind of thing is not unusual and you find it in private industry. But I think this may lead a union negotiator to generalize from the specific to the general and say you see this happens time and time again. Therefore it must always be true. And I think sometimes it is true but I think in other cases there is a problem here which does not exist in private employment. Namely that the taxpayers. Are really the ones. Whom the union is bargaining with but they are not at the table. And very often and this is true in a
school situation where the school board has has authority to go to the voters for Milledge. And this is where a good part of their funds is coming from. And in this kind of a situation I believe that if you took the parties privately aside they would each tell you yes we do agree and we could agree on such and such a figure. But the fact of the matter is that our voters just do not seem to understand the problem and we've gone to them with a request for an increase in milage and they have turned us down and therefore by negotiating in this way we may be able to bring home to the public how urgent the situation is and thereby perhaps get a milage increase which they would not otherwise be prepared to make so that you have a third party here which is not even present who is not even present at the bargaining table. And yet this may be the crucial. Party in the negotiations.
I'd like to extend that a bit. In the case of municipalities. And employees other than teachers or Municipal Employees garbage collectors policemen and so on in the larger municipalities I think it is pretty generally true across the nation. That they are severely restricted by state law as to what they can do even if the taxpayers are willing to pay higher taxes for a more adequate services. State law limits the municipality in levying its taxes. And if course in that kind of situation the collective bargaining or an effort to bargain collectively can be highly frustrating. If the taxing capacity of the mini's of the municipality. Is merely limited. You mentioned a moment ago it in connection with your comments about negotiations that sometimes the union leaders would go back to their members and say well I recommend we ought to strike. I thought strikes of public
employees were illegal. And yet. We read the paper every day about some of these strikes different places whether they're teachers whether they're garbage collectors or in rare instances a police strike. Again they don't call it a strike as I understand they all come down sick or in some cases the teachers don't call it a strike either they all resign but it's a mass resignation which obviously has the same effect. Well I think that this is an additional cause quite apart from the strike and work stoppage being a problem as it is in private industry. I think the point you make is an additional reason for considerable concern because what you have here is not only a withholding of concerted withholding of labor which may inconvenience and in many cases threaten the health safety welfare of the community but you have an act by otherwise law abiding
citizens. Which is in direct conflict with the law. And this does threaten a breakdown you might say in law and order. Can we tolerate. Strikes. By people who under other circumstances would be among the most law abiding citizens. Teachers government employees civil servants etc. and yet who feel that this law who must feel. That this law or this ruling is so unjust that they will not accept it. And I think this this warrants a serious examination. Or one might say a re-examination of this concept and this prohibition. If I recall correctly on. An earlier program on a business roundtable on this subject. You mentioned. We found today.
Some of these strikes where they were illegal. Occurring as you've mentioned. And that there wasn't really much that society could do about it. In the sense we after this happens. What should we do. How are we going to handle a said seems to me for example that many people in our society today just think that a police strike is unbelievable. You just can't have the police strike you can't have the garbage collectors striking is they. They did New York. New York City recently because of a health problem and as you mentioned the public welfare. What are we going to do about. Well let me before passing this this difficult question on to my colleague Besser Killingsworth here. Let me just say this. There is no ultimate solution. And when we speak about. Strikes. Whether it is in private employment or in public employment.
You very often hear the question posed as you did. What is the answer. What is the solution. And. I think that as long as we think that there is an answer or a solution. Which will really. Put us in the clear. And take us out from under this threat of strikes in a democratic society in a free economy then I think we are barking up the wrong tree and were going to be disappointed and were going to be frustrated because there is no solution. However. The question is a reasonable question if one reinterprets it and says What can we do. To reduce such events to the to the minimum and to avoid them and to make them unnecessary. And I here I think here there there is a great deal that we can do and some states have done more than others. I think those states that have passed laws providing for recognition collective bargaining negotiations the signing of
agreements by government representatives and employee representatives the provision of mediation in fact findings of fact finding. I think these states have done a great deal. They have not answered the question. They still come back to the question all right all is good but what we do when there is a strike as we has a legitimate question is one is it basically true that most people both in labor and in management side of these issues think the laws in New York State and Michigan are. Reasonably good models of laws and in this area. I think you find very sharp differences of opinion. I happened to serve recently as a member of the governor's Advisory Commission on Public employee relations. This is in the state of mission the state of Michigan. We made something of a study of experience under other state laws and under our own state law. It is quite typical to find very sharp divisions of opinion at least for the purpose of taking a public stand. I
think privately there is perhaps somewhat less sharp disagreement. But the whole matter of the legality of strikes. Very sensitive issue with the labor people. And in an exactly opposite way it's quite sensitive with employer Representatives. Also. I'd like to come back to this business of. The impasse procedures. That's a subject that our commission devoted a great deal of time and attention to. We came up with a proposal that. I perhaps understandably think has some merit and I would like to see it tried. This recommendation of ours was that fact finding should be regularized in the usual public employee dispute regularize by providing for a timetable. Related to
budget deadlines. And providing for a panel of distinguished people from whom the members of the fact finding group could be chosen. All of which is not particularly original but then we proposed that there should be a step beyond the filing of recommendations by the fact finding group. That step beyond would be a show cause hearing in which after the recommendations had been served upon the parties after they had an opportunity to formulate their respective positions. If there was no settlement then the fact finding group would summon both parties back before it and ask each party to justify its position to show cause why it was taking the position that it was with regard to the recommendations and the fact finding panel then would have the ultimate authority to issue a final report assessing blame against one
side or the other if it felt that there was still intransigence and an unreasonable position either a guessing attempt then at that point to bring public opinion to bear as it is. This is an attempt to bring the ultimate weight of public opinion to bear. By charging this neutral impartial body with the responsibility for telling the public in general just who is at fault in this situation. What backstabber do you think that there is any role in the procedure that Dr Killingsworth has just outlined here that let's assume again there there's an impasse here at the end. What about bar binding arbitration with somebody from the union somebody from the government and then perhaps the so-called impartial person. Well. I would say that if the parties themselves. Could could agree. That in the event they were not able to agree on certain issues. That they would
be prepared to submit these issues to final and binding arbitration I think this would be. Certainly well worth trying and a very. Very worthwhile and excellent procedure. I would have some reservations. Upon imposing. What we call compulsory arbitration on the parties by law by law even before they go into negotiations for the obvious risk reason that experts in this field have recognized for many years and that is that when you know what is at the end of the road and that there will be compulsory arbitration in the event that you do not agree this tends to inhibit. Real good faith collective bargaining. Having said that. I would still go on to say that in some situations policemen firemen and I hold no brief for the limitation or expansion of these activities some people would say in view of the New York City experience sanitation
men but in activities that are deemed. Essential. To the community. That it might be advisable to at least experiment. With a law. Which would. Provide after all other efforts have failed for compulsory arbitration because I feel that there are certain activities that the community cannot be left without. I didn't for one hour you understand from your remarks that there are no such laws at the present time there are no state laws or federal providing for compulsory arbitration of these kind of Dispy Well if you had asked me this question yesterday I would have said to the best of my knowledge that is true. However in preparation for this discussion I browse through some of my material and I did find that the state of rock Rhode Island. Has a law which is called a public employee Arbitration Act and it applies to municipalities. But it does not apply to policemen firemen and
certified public school teachers. And this law does provide that in the event that there is no agreement and all other efforts have failed that upon the request of either party. There would be an arbitrator or an arbitration board appointed. And the decision of this board would be final and binding. However and this is a very important however if one keeps reading in this statute as I did one finds. That the decision will be finding final and binding except that where the decision involves the expenditure of public funds. Then. This will not be a final and binding decision but must be acceptable to the public authority that has responsibility for the expenditure of these funds so that you find that. There is no to my knowledge now. There is no arbitration which would be. Really.
A clear mandate to decide the issues which are in most cases important and involve expanding the list goes back to Dr. Cohen giving a very clear is there is a statute in Pennsylvania which was adopted I believe in a procedure of initiative. The words adopted by him directly by the voters which provides for arbitration and compulsory arbitration of certain cycling safety employees right now and I should add that I do know of other states that do provide for arbitration with respect to certain categories of employees I do remember at least one state having firefighters disputes to be submitted to arbitration I think police disputes perhaps utilities. But there is no law which would cover the waterfront of all public employees and say that in the event there is no. Resolution then all issues shall be submitted to arbitration and the arbitration decision shall be final and binding. Period.
In other words I target the both of you are in general agreement that if we had this is an experimental basis someplace at this point to be restricted to just a small number of groups you would not think of this as an across the board solution. Oh that's right Ed. All After all we have public employees in some states who are employed in state liquor stores and while there are some people who would say why this is the most essential activity perhaps on this program we would agree that a work stoppage might not inconvenience the overwhelming majority of the dipoles state a large proportion right in the right job who have come to the end of our time in the Business Roundtable thank you and Dr. Cummings work for an instant discussion. Participating in today's business roundtable where Jack state director of the school of labor and industrial relations at Michigan State University and Charles Killingsworth University professor of labor and industrial relations at MSU post but the program was Alfred L. S. dean
of the Graduate School of Business Administration at Michigan State University. The topic for next week's Business Roundtable is advertising and the consumer's guests on the program will be Norman cash president of the television Bureau of advertising. And Thomas a stout chairman of the Department of Marketing and Transportation Administration at Michigan State University. This program was produced by the Graduate School of Business Administration and the Broadcasting Services of Michigan State University under a grant from the nation's business a publication of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. Business Roundtable is distributed through the facilities of national educational radio. This is an E.R. the national educational radio network.
Business roundtable
Episode Number
22 Of 26
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Michigan State University
WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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. This prog.: Government Employees and the Right to Strike. Guests: Jack Steiber and Charles Killingsworth, Michigan State U.
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A program of current comment from leading members of America's business community.
Public Affairs
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Host: Seelye, Alfred L.
Producing Organization: Michigan State University
Producing Organization: WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland
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