Strikes and Alternative Forms of Coping
Are strikes the most beneficial way of resolving labour - management conflict? Or are alternative forms of coping more beneficial?. Throughout this paper I will attempt to answer these questions by, first giving a description of each of these forms of coping. Then I will examine the effects, both positive and negative, that each of these forms of coping has on the collective bargaining process as well as the labor - management relationship. Finally I will compare the effectiveness of strikes as opposed to the effectiveness of alternative forms of coping.
A strike occurs when unionized workers collectively agree to stop working in order to try and force management to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement. Under the law a strike can only occur if the existing collective bargaining agreement has expired and generally strikes do not occur unless labour and management have reached a stalemate in the contract negotiations. Negotiations often stall for a number of reasons, but the most common reasons are wage and benefit levels. Often both sides over estimate the other sides willingness to concede and when both sides have given all they are willing to give without reaching a compromise, a stalemate is reached. During a stalemate both sides try to convince the other that they are unable give any more. In order to show there determination unionized workers often decide to go strike, and will stay on strike until management is ready to give in to their demands. The workers determine whether or not they feel the need to strike, by a strike vote. If the majority of workers are in favor of going on strike then the union declares a day and time that an agreement must be reached, or there workers will walk off the job. A number of restrictions apply with respect to the actions of workers once a strike has begun. First, there are restrictions on picketing, you must have permission to picket on privately owned property. Second, you can not legally stop people or shipments from going in or out of the company, nor can you cause harm to anyone wishing to cross the picket line. If the employer sees that you are violating these laws, he or she can seek an injunction, to limit your ability to picket. The employer has certain rights during a strike. First they have the right to continue operations during the strike, be it by filling in them selves or by hiring replacement workers. Secondly, they can fire anyone who takes part in sabotage or violence during a strike. Third, they can discontinue benefits during a strike, and they do not have to follow the old agreement, they can change the terms and conditions of employment until a new agreement is reached. The benefits of striking include higher wages, more benefits, better working conditions, etc... There is also a negative side to striking. If management decides to hire replacement workers during your absence, you may not have a job to return to. Management may be prepared to leave you on strike for long periods of time, for example, Federated Co-Op allowed the workers in Nipawan to stay on strike for seven years. Also during a strike you are not receiving a paycheck, unions usually try to pay strikers, but this is usually a fraction of your old paycheck. Finally during a long strike, the company may have not been able to meet its orders and may have lost business, this could lead to layoffs when a settlement is reached. Strikes are most common among highly skilled workers, because they possess a lot of strike power. Strike power is what it would cost management if you went on strike. If you are a worker at a fast food restaurant you possess very little strike power because in the event of a strike you could easily be replaced. But if you have a highly skilled job, it will cost management to hire and train someone to replace you. Striking does not, in most cases, alter the labor - management relationship. Once a contract is reached most workplace return to business as usual. Managers as well as labor should not take what is said at the negotiation table personally, because each side is just trying to prove it is right. For example during contract negotiations of athletes, players will often try to compare themselves to another player, and state that he is better and deserves to payed so. Management will try to prove that he not as goad as that player and that he deserves less. After a contract has been reached both sides are usually content and proceed with their jobs.
Labor doesn't always have to go on strike to get managements attention. There are numerous alternatives, however I will only concentrate on two of these alternatives; slacking and sabotage. Alternative coping behaviors may or may not be used by a collective group, and contrary to striking, they can be used at any time during the collective agreement.. Many times a worker, who is unsatisfied with his or her working environment may use one of these alternative forms of coping to get managements attention. Slacking is a situation in which a worker slows his or her production to a minimum or refuses to work any overtime or above and beyond his duties. This can have a profound effect in an assembly line, because if one worker slows down the entire production line slows down. Also if an order needs to be completed by a certain date, workers will usually work overtime to complete the order in time, but during a work slow down they will refuse and the order will be late, thus causing the company money. During collective bargaining workers may decide collectively to slow down, the speed at which they work, instead of striking. By doing this, labor is able to keep their wages, but are still forcing management to agree to their demands. Slacking may also be used during the existing contract to let management know that labor is not content with certain aspects of the work environment, and if management does not fix what is wrong before the next contract negotiations, labor will be prepared to go on strike until they are fixed. There are positives and negatives to slacking. If slacking is effective management may concede to your demands in order to get production back to its old level. Also you are able to vent your frustration towards management, and still keep your paycheck. The negatives to slacking are the fact that you could be fired or you might force management to lock you out until an agreement is reached. During the lock out you will not have a paycheck.
Sabotage is another alternative to striking. It is defined as the destruction of machinery or tools, a hindering of the manufacturing process or a waste of materials by workers as a threat or act to protest against management. Sabotage can also be used by an individual or by a group of workers. Sabotage will usually have the same effect as slacking but may cost the company a little more. For example if a worker on an assembly line purposely breaks something, the line must be stopped in order to fix the problem, thus slowing production. The companies costs are, the cost to repair the problem as well as the loss in production. The risks of choosing sabotage are greater than those of slacking, because there is no concrete way of proving that you were slacking, other than the loss in production, that may not be noticed by management. But when you participate in sabotage, management is sure to notice, and it would be hard to claim that it was accident if the sabotage is occurring often. The risks involved with sabotage are also greater for an individual than they are for a group. If an individual is caught he or she is likely to be fired or to have their wages reduced to pay for the repair or replacement of the damaged article(s). If a group is seen to be purposely sabotaging stuff, management is more likely to force the entire shift to pay to replace or repair the damages, then they are to fire an entire shift. As was the case with striking and slacking, the effects of sabotage can both be positive and negative. The positive effects of sabotage are that management sees the need to improve the workplace and does. Also during contract negotiations, management may be forced to concede on certain issues in order to stop the sabotage. The negative aspects of sabotage include the possibility of being fired, or the loss of pay that could result from the replacement cost. Also during contract negotiations management may see the costs of sabotage as being to great and decide to lock its workers out until a new contract is reached. Slacking and sabotage are most likely to be used by the worker who possess' very little strike power, meaning if labor were to go strike management would have problem replacing them with scabs. By public sector employee's, who are forced to under go compulsory arbitration in the event that they cannot reach a settlement on their own and by workers designated as providing "essential" services, such as firefighters or police officers.
In conclusion to compare strikes to alternative forms of coping, would be like comparing apples to oranges. A workers best option is determined by the level of strike power he or she possess. If the worker is highly skilled he possess a lot of strike power, and therefore the cost for management to replace him or her would be considerable. Even the threat of strike by highly skilled workers could be enough to force management to concede to labors demands. Management will try to do all they possibly can to keep highly skilled labor from going on strike, if they see the loss' at the bargaining table as being less than the loss' if a strike were to occur. If the worker is low skilled, he or she does not possess a lot of strike power. In the event of a strike replacement workers could take over with a minimum amount of training. The best option for a low skilled worker is then to use alternative forms of coping, and to use them effectively. If slacking or sabotage, for example, are used incorrectly they may cause management to lock out the workers and this leaves them no bargaining power because of the ease with witch they can be replaced.