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Prescription coverage is one of the most difficult features of medical coverage to find in the private market, and is also one of the most expensive. The deductible and percentage coverage of the new medical plan described in the case study is certainly reasonable for the employees, and the savings to the company will allow their continued operation. If the company fails, the employees will not be receiving any medical coverage through the company; not only does management have the right to make this change, but it is one of the most cost effective and reasonable steps they can take to ensure the continued employment -- and medical coverage -- of their labor force. Ultimately, the issues comes down to one of contractual obligations, and given the vagueness in the contract concerning medical coverage there is nothing to prevent management form making this change.
Another major component of the current labor relations system is the time period it can take to resolve certain disputes, and the uncertainties involved in many cases. This is especially true with the rules and even laws regarding an employee's or union's ability to go on strike while retaining a promise of employment. Ultimately, work is the only thing that labor can withhold from management as a bargaining chip. Whether via slowdowns or full-out strikes, withholding work is the only real power that labor has, which is why union contracts and federal laws protect such withholding as a way of protecting labor's interests. There are also rules and laws protecting management from unfair strikes and demands, as well as provisions for the continued operation of their business during a strike. Though protection in strike situations is absolutely necessary for both management and labor, it also creates many further inefficiencies in the current labor relations system, as case study 9.3 clearly shows.
The first and most obvious issue in the case study is whether the two building porters, who were striking for unfair labor practices unspecified in the case study, were legally protected from termination during their strike. Because the details of their strike are not included in the case study, it is impossible to provide a personal opinion regarding the validity of the employees' strike under unfair labor practice provisions. However, given that the NLRB eventually ruled in favor of the two employees and determined that their strike was indeed justifiable and therefore included protection from termination, it must be concluded that their strike did indeed take place due to unfair labor practices. As the final arbiter in such matters, the NLRB's decision makes the strike by definition a legal and protected act of the employees.
The issue of back pay for the two employees, though more complex on the surface, is in reality just as simple, and deciding along the exact same lines. The fact that the strike was deemed legal means that the discharge of the employees was illegal (as stated explicitly in the case study). The offer of reinstatement claims that "management had no choice but to replace" the two strikers, and informed them that "management would be agreeable to reinstating you if you agreed to return to work immediately." Both of these statements suggest that management believed it was not engaging in unfair labor practices, and that the porters therefore had no legal reason to strike -- the offer of reinstatement was implicitly contingent upon the employees' acceptance of pre-strike conditions, effectively eliminating any power that the strike might have had. The NLRB's ruling that the strike was legal means that unfair labor practices were being engaged in (namely that management was refusing to bargain in good faith), and that therefore the reinstatement of the employees under management's proposal (i.e. that management would make no changes to its policies) would simply have perpetuated the unfair practices. That is, the offer of reinstatement was not even vaguely conciliatory or compromising, and therefore cannot even be considered a step in negotiations to end the strike. The employees, according to the NLRB's ruling, are due to the full amount of back pay from the time of their discharge to the date two years later that the ruling was made.
The current labor relations system has many inefficiencies, but ultimately it allows unions and labor in general a reliable -- if time consuming -- method of addressing concerns and grievances.[continue]
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