Employment and Labor Relations Term Paper

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Employment and Labor Relations

Key Legislation

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (or Wagner Act) protects the rights of most workers in the private sector of the United States to organize unions, to engage in collective bargaining over wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment, and to take part in strikes and other forms of concerted activity in support of their demands. The Act does not, on the other hand, cover those workers who are covered by the Railway Labor Act, agricultural employees, domestic employees, supervisors, independent contractors and some close relatives of individual employers.

The Wagner Act established a federal agency, the National Labor Relations Board, with the power to investigate and decide unfair labor practice charges and to conduct elections in which workers were given the opportunity to decide whether they wanted to be represented by a union. The NLRB was given more extensive powers than the much weaker organization of the same name established under the National Industrial Recovery Act, which the United States Supreme Court had declared to be unconstitutional.

In the first few years of the Wagner Act, however, many employers simply refused to recognize it as law. The United States Supreme Court had already struck down a number of other statutes passed during the New Deal on the grounds that Congress did not have the constitutional authority to enact them under its power to regulate interstate commerce. Most of the initial appellate court decisions reached the same conclusion, finding the Act unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. Many unions did not bother to use the NLRB in the first few years of its passage, choosing instead to strike for recognition, using methods, such as the sit-down strike used by the United Auto Workers in the Flint Sit-Down Strike and dozens of other labor disputes in the mid-1930s. It was not until the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute in 1937 in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation that the Wagner Act became law in practical terms as well.

The Supreme Court, for its part, generally upheld the NLRB's interpretation of the Wagner Act in those early years, but imposed two major limitations on it. The Court held in National Labor Relations Board v. Mackay Radio & Telephone Co. In 1938 that, while employers could not fire workers for going out on strike, they could permanently replace them - a seemingly semantic distinction that, in practice, sharply limited workers' right to strike.

Opponents of the Wagner Act introduced several hundred bills to amend or repeal the law in the decade after its passage. All of them failed or were vetoed, however, until the passage of the Taft-Hartley amendments in 1947. The Taft-Hartley amendments made sweeping changes in U.S. labor law: they outlawed secondary boycotts and closed shops, allowed individual states to outlaw union security clauses by passing what opponents of unions call "right-to-work" laws, required unions and employers to give sixty days notice before they may undertake strikes or other forms of economic action, gave the President authority to intervene in strikes or potential strikes that create a national emergency, excluded supervisors from coverage under the Act, required special treatment for professional employees and guards, codified the Supreme Court's earlier ruling that employers have a constitutional right to express their opposition to unions, gave employers the right to file a petition asking the Board to determine if a union represents a majority of its employees, and allowed employees to petition to oust their union or to invalidate the union security provisions of any existing collective bargaining agreement.

Congress amended the Act again in 1959, when it enacted new restrictions outlawing hot cargo agreements, which require an employer to cease doing business with other employers in some circumstances, and limiting unions' ability to use recognitional picketing to obtain union recognition without going through an NLRB-conducted election. Congress extended coverage of the Act in 1974 to apply to workers at health care institutions.

Employee Relations and Organizational Behavior

Organizational culture comprises the attitudes, values, beliefs, norms and customs of an organization. Whereas organizational structure is relatively easy to draw and describe, organizational culture is less tangible and difficult to measure. Strong culture is said to exist where staff respond to stimulus because of their alignment to organizational values. Conversely, there is weak culture where there is little alignment with organizational values and control must be exercised through extensive procedures and bureaucracy.

Where culture is strong, and people do things because they believe it is the right thing to do, there is a risk of another phenomenon, Groupthink. This is a state where people think so alike that they do not challenge organizational thinking, and there is a reduced capacity for innovative thought. This could occur, for example where there is heavy reliance on a central charismatic figure in the organization, or where there is an evangelical belief in the organization's values.

By contrast, bureaucratic organizations may miss opportunities for innovation, through reliance on established procedures. Innovative organizations need individuals who are prepared to challenge the status quo - be it groupthink or bureaucracy, and also need procedures to implement new ideas effectively.

Employee Involvement Strategies

Employee empowerment is a passe management strategy. At best, empowerment only partly addresses employees' expectations to work on more equal footing with their managers. Today's employees, especially younger workers, expect to be treated like partners. They no longer are satisfied with involvement; they want ownership. Employees want to know what is happening in the business and be involved in strategic planning. Every two or three years, front-line teams at Nokia, an international mobile communications company based in Finland, meet at company sites all over the world and ask questions such as, "What is happening strategically in your part of the business, and what do you think we need to do to respond to that?" This concept, known as "The Nokia Way," creates opportunities for an exchange of ideas level by level throughout the company "The Nokia Way" of tackling hierarchy is a model for all industries. The four most powerful words for engaging employees in the new work ethic are, "What do you think?" In fact, research shows that the primary reason employees leave jobs is that they believe their employers do not respect or listen to them.

Organizations can adopt simple methods to increase listening.

Studies of U.S. work attitudes before the mid-1970s suggest that work was regarded as a way to make a living, not a primary place for personal fulfillment, growth, or learning. In contrast, 70% of U.S. workers today regard work not only as a way to make a living, but also as their personal identity. The most frequently cited reason for turning down job offers in favor of remaining with the current employer is that people are excited and engaged by the jobs they perform. On the contrary, a lack of opportunities to learn and grow often leads workers to move on to other employment.

Another attraction is the availability of part-time work. As baby-boomer health professionals retire early, and as an increasing number of working mothers decide to leave full-time work, healthcare organizations that offer part-time career (as opposed to casual) positions become the employer of choice. When Lone Star Direct in Austin, Texas, replaced full-time positions with part-time positions, the company was overwhelmed with applications.

Out-of-the-box learning also can mean out-of -- the company learning. Employees not afforded adequate opportunities to grow and learn can be encouraged to expand their horizons elsewhere for a while, and then be invited back. TD Industries uses this strategy. Company executives keep in touch with all valued employees who leave and, since they began doing so, 35 to 40% of those employees have returned.

Although most people always have appreciated working for purposes other than a big salary, today's employees expect companies to communicate and live up to higher aspirations. One survey found that 72% of corporate and human resources executives reported that their company's values motivate them personally.

Today however, employees of all ranks want to see corporate values translated into meaningful actions.

Only recently have large numbers of employees expected to be able to fulfill their desire to serve others meaningfully at work on an ongoing basis. Companies concerned about having an engaged workforce know the importance of making connections among the company's business, its broader mission, and employee's higher goals. For example, Medtronics, Minneapolis, Minnesota, the medical-device manufacturer famed for its pacemakers, is renowned for having a loyal, engaged workforce. The company's mission is to "alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life."

Every year, the firm offers a presentation by patients and physicians, who explain how they and others have benefited from the devices the employees make. The presentation reminds employees that the work they do makes a difference in saving lives.

Positive Employee Relations

World-class companies measure customer and employee satisfaction by surveying regularly, setting quantitative goals for satisfaction and basing managers' incentive pay on survey results. Companies that…[continue]

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