To end the employers' arbitrary "right to reject"
Electricians press IBEW to defend union hiring halls
By a decided
majority, local leaders of the International Brotherhood of Electrical
Workers want to defend the integrity of their union hiring halls from
employer sabotage. But their aim seems to meet resistance from a strange
source: their own international union office.
At issue is the provision in IBEW construction contracts
which gives employers the right to reject any electrician applying for
work, even those dispatched under contract from the union's own hiring
hall. This right to reject is incontestable by the union; it is unqualified,
unlimited. The employer is not required to justify the action or even
to explain it. No reason need be cited. In simple and deadly language
the provision reads:
"The employer shall have full freedom in selecting
employees, and shall have the right to reject any job applicant made
available by the union."
With the unilateral right to reject, employers can
deny work to the most dedicated union members, the kind who watch over
compliance with the contract, who resist unsafe working conditions, who
insist on fair and respectful treatment on the job, who build the union.
Some employer groups compile blacklists of workers who are not to be hired
and circulate the names among themselves. IBEW local business managers
and other local leaders who want a good strong union want to end that
arbitrary right because they see how it undermines their union by victimizing
their best union members.
The trouble is that the right to reject provision
remains in all the construction contracts because the IBEW international
office insists that it be there. The international had informed locals
that it will not approve any contract unless it gives employers that unqualified
right to reject.
But IBEW local leaders want a change. At the international
convention in 2001, several locals introduced resolutions directing the
international to change course. They proposed that contracts permit employers
to reject workers sent out from the union hall only for good cause. That
change, simple and fair, would make any rejection subject to the grievance
procedure. By providing a measure of due process for the individual unionists,
it would strengthen the union by protecting its most loyal members.
The international administration opposed any change;
it urged the delegates to reject the proposal; but, in a rare act of defiance,
the delegates, held fast; and by a clear majority directed the international
to work toward ending the right to reject.
The IBEW convention, like all union conventions, is
the highest, most authoritative body in the union's power structure. It's
word is law, or is supposed to be. Reality shows that this concept is
a constitutional fiction. Five years passed ----five years! There is no
public record of even a single step taken by the international to comply
with the presumably all-powerful convention.
If anything, in those five years, the situation got
worse. Reports continued to come to AUD from construction workers victimized
by the right to reject. Some IBEW members tell of a new aspect of the
problem, exacerbated, ironically, by IBEW's successes in enrolling the
workers of small electrical contractors. These new workers, without union
experience, our informants tell us, are not familiar with their rights
under union conditions. Accustomed to a non-union environment, they tend
to be more compliant, less demanding, and even more timid than the seasoned
union worker. Under "normal" conditions, no problem; they would
learn the facts of life from the old timers. But the right to reject is
an abnormality. With a new pool available of more malleable applicants,
and the right to reject union-wise, union-building electricians, employers
have a new weapon for undermining the union.
The issue arose once again at the IBEW convention
in 2006, where the delegates voted once again "to continue"
efforts to eliminate the unqualified right to reject and insist upon good
cause. But since nothing of importance happened in the five years between
conventions, it seems obvious that a repeated convention directive is
not likely to change anything. Here are proposals for action that some
IBEW members feel might shake the international out of its torpor:
1. Circulate a mass membership petition throughout
the IBEW directed to the international office asking it to:
all members and locals of the two convention decisions on right to
reject and informing them that the international intends to comply
with those decisions.
Remove from the list of mandated contractual provisions the section
granting employers the unrestricted right to reject
periodically to the membership on what steps it has taken to carry
out the convention mandate.
construction locals that the international stands ready to provide
advice and assistance to locals which want to negotiate and end to
the offending provision.
2. Request all regional vice
presidents to support the petition and raise the issue at the international
3. At local meetings, propose
a motion to endorse and circulate the petition.
4. If your local is strong
enough, as part of a campaign to eliminate the provision, ask for the
backing of the international when your contract comes up for renewal.
If you or your local takes any kind of action to press
for the change, inform Union Democracy Review or www.uniondemocracy.org
so that we can pass on the encouraging news to others.
the following credit line on the materials you use: "From the
website of the Association for Union Democracy. www.uniondemocracy.org. Email:
firstname.lastname@example.org. 104 Montgomery Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11225; USA;