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Union — Employer Scandals Hurt Many Modern Workplaces

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In many American workplaces, the union that represents the employees has been ensconced for decades. So long, in fact, that it’s quite possible that none of the current employees ever voted for the union that represents them. Even so, the odds of these employees turning against that union or seeking to decertify it are very low. For this reason, employers generally benefit from a good working relationship with these unions. Employees, in turn, benefit from a feeling of security, and are more willing to believe that those charged with looking out for their welfare — their employer and their union — really do have their best interests in mind.

Developing a relationship of trust with a union can be challenging when the union acts unethically or unlawfully. The recent scandal involving the United Auto Workers and Fiat Chrysler’s leadership is one instance where both the union and certain company executives reportedly engaged in illegal conduct. The American Airlines work slowdown is another instance where the union undermined its relationship with the company’s management. Both union and company personnel are going to jail in the UAW-Fiat scandal, and, in the American Airlines situation, a federal judge enjoined the union and employees from continuing an illegal work slowdown.

Demanding that unions comply with a code of professional ethics — the same expectations as those set for managers and employees — is thus necessary in the modern workplace. Unions should no longer be allowed to think that leadership scandals and failure to comply with the law are unrelated to the trust that either the employees or the employer will give the union. When bargaining with unions, companies should take steps to test whether the union is acting in the best interest of the employees. For example, the company should demand that the union state whether their proposals will improve the workplace and the company’s competitive position. By contrast, the hard-lined rhetoric used in the past is likely to continue to lead to the same old scandals, and the same breaches of trust. Ultimately, it is incumbent on both unions and employers to recognize that the company’s performance is related to the terms and conditions of the employees’ employment and the success of the modern workplace.

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This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.