Origins, Historical Developments, and Assessments

The Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978 was a section added to S. 2570, the “Comprehensive Employment and Training Act,” which became Pub. L. 95-524. Congress paid little attention to this section when the bill was considered and passed.

Remarks by U.S. Senator Jacob Javits on January 31, 1977 regarding S. 533, the precursor to the “Labor Management Cooperation Act” that was added to S. 2570:

[A] working committee relationship between representatives of labor and representatives of management does not necessarily mean that the union’s role will be supplanted or that the collective bargaining process will be vitiated … [S]o long as the collective bargaining contract remains sacrosanct and the committees restrict their deliberations to non-contract matters, such as efficient machine usage, attracting new industry, work assignments, day to day shop matters, and so forth, the union’s role in the bargaining process can only be strengthened by participation in labor-management committees…[c]onsistent with the National Labor Relations Act, the contract between the employees and their employer is sacrosanct. Matters set forth in the collective bargaining contract, such as wages, hours, vacations, overtime, and other benefits and duties, cannot be placed on the agenda of labor-management committee meetings.

Remarks by U.S. Senator Jacob Javits on August 22, 1978, regarding the portion of S. 2570 that was later codified at 29 U.S.C. 175a:

…innovative means to enlarge the commonality of interests which are outside of collective bargaining between labor and management…The collective bargaining process is, of course, our principal means for joint determination of the terms and conditions of employment. But there is a need for a new, supplemental dimension in labor management relations in our country, to wit; a forum in which an ongoing dialog could be established, to discuss and involve workers in matters not addressed normally in the framework of collective bargaining. I refer to problems in the workplace – alcoholism, drug abuse, work hazards, continuing education, culture and the arts, recreation, group activity, participation in plant decisionmaking and working life values. With the proper safeguards to protect the collective bargaining process, joint labor-management cooperative committees can do much to harmonize the relationship between labor and management in the workplace – and stabilize the labor relations climate – in a particular area and bring out new values. This in tum can help to improve employee morale, reduce tensions in the workplace and foster local and regional economic development.

Remarks by U.S. Senator Jacob Javits on October 13, 1978:

Such joint [labor management] committees can do much to enlarge the community of interests between workers and management and assist both in recognizing mutually beneficial solutions to common problems. They can constitute an enormously useful form for addressing problems such as alcoholism and drug abuse, work hazards, obsolescent job skills, and production bottlenecks, and can help to improve communications by establishing a dialog between labor and management…”section 8(a)(2) of the National Labor Relations Act must be borne in mind and care must be taken to be sure that no labor-management committee activity will provide any efforts of employers intended to bring about actual domination or control of any labor organization or interfere with any rights protected by the NLRA.

From “The Origins and Operations of Area Labor-Management Committees” in “Research Summaries” of Monthly Labor Review, May 1983, pp. 37-41

Labor-management cooperation is not a new development. Throughout the twentieth century, and especially during wartime or when specific industries experienced crisis, labor and management have, on occasion, set up joint committees to address issues not readily resolved through traditional collective bargaining mechanisms. Never viewed as substitutes for the bargaining process, but rather as complementary to it, these committees attempted to resolve problems confronting particular plants or industries in a nonadversarial manner. Area labor-management committees, most of which emerged in the 1970’s, have a somewhat different focus. They bring together the chief spokespersons of local labor unions and business organizations in an effort to resolve problems affecting the economic well-being of an entire community, rather than a particular worksite or industry. Their focus is usually on job retention and creation.

Most of the area labor-management committees established to date are found in the Northeast and Midwest. Although the communities in which they have developed vary in size, political structure, and industrial mix, they are all places in which unemployment is high, companies and unions are perceived as having poor labor-management relations, the population and the labor force are declining, there is a high degree of unionization, and the local economic base is deteriorating. Obviously these interrelated problems do not arise overnight, but rather grow out of corporate and union decisions rooted in the past. Nevertheless, it is usually an immediate crisis, such as a plant closing or a prolonged labor dispute, which finally impels local leaders to take action…

…Prior to the 1970’s, when most of the current areawide committees were established, many U.S. communities had experimented, at one time or another, with labor-management cooperation on an areawide level, largely in an attempt to minimize strikes. But these efforts usually failed because they were dominated by either labor or management, and because the communities lacked funding to hire a staff and maintain programs. These two hazards continue to pose a threat to the existence of area committees, even today…

…The bulk of funds for area committees have come from three Federal agencies: the Economic Development Administration, the Appalachian Regional Commission,and the Department of Labor, under provisions of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. Promoting labor-management cooperation was not part of the explicit mission of any of these three agencies, but their award of funds to area committees was justified on the grounds that the committees would increase productivity, promote job retention and creation, and be active in manpower training – all of which were high priorities of the agencies. The three agencies, however, gradually withdrew their support. Today, the only source of Federal funding is the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, acting pursuant to the Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978.

As a result of continuing budget pressures, area labor-management committees have been compelled to devote, on average, between 30 and 40 percent of their efforts to fund-raising-a burden which is not likely to decrease in the absence of a broader government funding program. Historically, area committees have not been able to develop other major sources of income. Despite extensive efforts, they have only been able to generate about 11 percent of their total funds from nongovernmental sources, such as dues from member organizations, private grants, and fees from workshops and seminars. Funding interruptions and discontinuations tend to take a toll on any organization, and in the absence of more stable financing, the true effectiveness of an area committee cannot be fully ascertained.

…In 1976, Congressman Stanley Lundine, former mayor of Jamestown and a leading proponent of labor management cooperation, introduced the Human Resource Development Act, which contained provisions advocating Federal support for labor-management cooperation. But because much of the rest of the act was similar to the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, Lundine’s proposal was not reported out of committee. In 1977, he introduced a second version of the Human Resource Development Act, and, in 1978, the labor-management cooperation provisions of the bill were added as a rider to the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. The stated objectives of this self-contained legislation, the Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978, reflected many of the principles and practices of area committees…

From “The Impact of Union-Management Cooperation on Productivity and Employment” in Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 36, No. 3 (April 1983), pp. 415-430.

This study examines the effects of union-management cooperation programs on productivity and employment. The author collected productivity and employment data for each of nine manufacturing plants at monthly time intervals over a period of four to five years – from two years before to at least two vears after the introduction of the cooperation program. Regression analysis of these time-series data is supplemented by qualitative data from personal interviews and relevant records. The results show that after introduction of the cooperative programs, productivity increased in six of the eight firms in which it could be measured and employment remained stable in eight of the nine firms.

During the 1970s, there was an increase in cooperative union-management activities to improve productivity and the quality of work life. Although exhibiting much variation, these efforts most commonly took the form of plantwide productivity-sharing plans, labor-management committees, and work-redesign projects. The recent increase in these activities resulted from (1) the rise in foreign and domestic competition, which required firms to become more efficient to remain competitive; (2) an increased desire on the part of several employers and union leaders to encourage workers to become more involved in their jobs; and (3) the work of the now defunct National Center for Productivity and Quality of Working Life. The importance of these efforts was reflected in the enactment of the Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978…

…In contrast to most previous research on union-management cooperation, this study has shown that a scientific research design and performance measures can be utilized to assess the effectiveness of such programs. This strategy is optimized by complementing it with traditional forms of qualitative analysis.

Because of the small number of firms investigated and the relatively short periods of time analyzed, the results of this study must be considered preliminary. It is nevertheless suggestive that of the nine sites studied, four experienced statistically significant abrupt positive changes in productivity, and two others demonstrated statistically significant positive trends. Employment remained stable in eight cases and dropped significantly in only one; in most instances, employment tended to follow the industry pattern.

Not everyone in the union movement supported Labor-Management Cooperation Committees:

I first knew Charley [Richardson] and his close colleague and wife Nancy Lessin (herself a formidable labor educator) in the 1980s, when labor-management cooperation programs were the management fad. It may be hard to remember, in these times when management feels no need to pretend to be nice, that in those days a major goal was to lure union leaders and members into programs that taught “we’re all on the same side.”

Charley was just about the only labor educator (outside of Labor Notes) who made a specialty of helping workers fight these programs. His “Tricks and Traps” opened the eyes of countless union members who knew something smelled fishy about the nice phraseology of cooperation.

He would take participants in his trainings through the seemingly apple-pie aspects of a cooperation program and take apart why each was a trick and a trap: brainstorming as a problem-solving method, consensus as a decision-making method, first-name basis, “win-win” solutions, trust-building exercises (like falling backward and having the other guy catch you), no discussion of the contract, using a “parking lot” for hard issues…As management’s interest in participation programs waned, Charley took up other aspects of the workplace…

Source: Charley Richardson, 1953-2013Labor Notes – May 6, 2013

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