Supervisors Performing the Work of Members of the Bargaining Unit

Background

The Antarctic Air-Conditioning Company produces window air-conditioning units at a relatively modern plant in Tennessee. There are several assembly lines along which the air conditioners are built by incorporating sub assemblies produced in other shops within the plant into the metal frames that house the completed units. Industrial engineering studies were performed to balance the various jobs along the line. On each of the three shifts, a supervisor is assigned to an assembly line. Further, the production department has established schedules for output on each of the lines.

On May 23, 1993, a supervisor, Larry, was observed working on the assembly line for an extended period of time. ON this day, there were a number of regular employees absent, and a number of new replacement workers were present in the area. The grievant, Sally, is the most experienced worker on the line. She asked the supervisor to explain why he was working on the job adjacent to hers on the line She was told to get back to work because “there was too much work to do and not enough workers to do it!” At that point, Sally contacted her union steward, and the union for taking work away from members of the bargaining unit.
The Existing Collective Bargaining Agreement

The relevant provisions in the collective bargaining contract between Antarctic Air-Conditioning Brotherhood of America, Local 69, are shown in Exhibit 12-5.

The Union’s Position

The union admitted that absenteeism was a problem on the assembly line in question. However, the union has contended for some time that absenteeism is the result of the arduous assembly line jobs that cause a number of workers to suffer injuries from the repetitive and strenuous nature of the work. Further, the union stated that the company had increased the speed of the line in order to meet the anticipated demand for air conditioners in the upcoming summer months and that the production schedule was the real reason for the supervisor’s presence on the line.

The union suggested that the company could have recalled a number of former workers who were laid off during the winter months when the third shift was shut down. Although there had been no past precedents of settlements of grievances involving Article VII, the union demanded that the most senior worker be paid for half a day’s work at double the normal hourly rate.

The Company’s Position

First, the company produced records that showed that 8 of the normal crew of 37 assemblers were absent on May 23. The company argued that it is absolutely necessary on days when there is high absenteeism for supervisors to be able to work on the assembly line. Absenteeism is always a problem during the spring of the year because production schedule must meet the increased demand for air conditioners and because a great many of the employees “take time off” to tend to their commercial nurseries, which flourish in this particular area of the country. Because it is often necessary to use replacement workers for the absent workers, supervisors must be able to demonstrate the operations to the replacements.

On the day in question, Larry was trying to teach replacements workers taken from other departments in the plant ot do the assembly jobs. Although most learned the jobs, a few just were not picking up the work and, consequently, Larry seemed to be spending a lot of time doing the assembly work. IN the company’s view, this not a desirable situation given the fact that supervisors were forced to neglect their own responsibilities (e.g., seeing to it that maintenance on the equipment is performed and examining the output for a variety of defects). However, when a great many workers are absent, the line must be kept moving.

With regard to the unions request for a monetary award, the company, through its industrial relations manager, Arlene, said that the union had not demonstrated how Sally had been harmed by the fact that Larry was working on the line on May 25.

Questions
1. Acting as a union representative, prepare a statement of the grievance, pointing to contract language that was violated and the details of the incident that lead you to believe that it represented a contract violation.

2. Now put yourself in the position of neutral third party such as an arbitrator. Render a decision as to which party would be likely to prevail. Justify your decision.

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