The Joy of Unions

by Evil HR Lady on January 27, 2010

My brother-in-law works for a unionized company and has for 2 years now. He has all the qualifications needed for his job and is going to night school to get even more qualifications that are recommended for his job but not required. Another co-worker in another sector of the company is being laid off and was told by HR that if he gets a certain class of driver’s license by the end of the week he can have my brother-in-law’s job instead and they will lay my brother in law off instead. Is this even legal?

Yep! It’s called bumping and it happens all the time in a unionized workforce. How the process works is spelled out in the union contract. Your brother-in-law may be able to bump someone further down the line. He should check into it.

This is one of the many reasons I don’t care for unions. It makes no business sense to choose your terminations not based on the individual, but on some hierarchy hashed out by lawyers who have never met the people who will be effected by this.

But, that is neither here nor there. Hope the guy doesn’t get a driver’s license in time or ask the union rep if there is someone below him that he can bump. Which, of course, is unfair to that person. But, that person may be able to bump someone else, and so on and so forth. Sometimes, you can work it so that no one ends up getting terminated and the position that gets eliminated is a vacant one. My guess is, though, in this market, there are few vacant positions. Sorry.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Shoshie January 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Geez, that's terrible. I've only seen the positive side of unions in my job, so I've been really surprised to hear about all the negatives associated with them. At my graduate school, PhD students unionized to petition for benefits (which we weren't getting at all), reasonable hours, and mandated vacation time. We still don't work reasonable hours, but that's just grad school.

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Erica January 27, 2010 at 3:33 pm

How is this a problem with unions? I think it's great that a guy can get a new class of driver license and keep his job. It's too bad that the person who wrote to you doesn't have as much seniority, but there are less fair ways to determine who gets laid off.

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Natalie K January 27, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Yikes…this is pretty depressing, but unfortunately I have heard way too many stories like this lately. I am sorry.

On a bright note, I was inspired by a documentary I found on hulu.com called "Lemonade". It was really encouraging, it documents Ad salesmen and woman who have lost their jobs and what they do in their journey of unemployment.

Have a great day :)

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Anonymous January 27, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Shoshie,

Sorry in advance for this rant…

If you really want to see the bad side of unions, look up the Employee Free Choice Act or “Teamster Organizing Tactics”. After a little research, I challenge you to conclude that most unions are anything short of a profit seeking businesses. Years ago, unions did a lot for working people, but in my opinion, have morphed into something entirely different. Some unions, particularly skilled trade unions (electricians, plumbers, etc.), still have some relevance. However, it seems to me that most unions have become superfluous. In the U.S. we have laws to protect workers. Why should employees have to pay some outside, self enriching organization to represent their interests?

The OP seems to believe that somehow the company is at fault for their brother-in-law’s circumstance. That’s not the case at all. Yes he’s getting screwed. After having the forethought to increase his knowledge and skill, some other guy who lacks forethought gets to pull the rug from under him at the last minute. That’s not the company’s fault; it’s the union’s. Seniority should mean something, but shouldn’t have the power to reward ineptitude. American’s used to think that the only way to get ahead was hard work and perseverance. To me, unionism has created another mentality whereby he who hangs around the longest deserves the most. How does that help us advance? It doesn’t, and that’s really quite disturbing.

To digress from the topic of the OP…I concede that you might need health insurance and that your school should find a way to provide it to you as you have no other option (and don’t take this personally), but since when do “students”, grad or otherwise, need vacation or pay for that matter? Aren’t most graduate and PhD level students receiving their education for free? I believe that people get what they ask for and that to a large degree those who choose to continue their education accept a set of circumstances that are not unknown. You do research, possibly teach classes, and generally work your rear end off. What you get in return is a Masters or PhD. Was this a mystery before you signed up? I would argue that you’re getting exactly what you asked for. A union would have you believe that you deserve more. Why?

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Anonymous January 27, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Erica says "There are less fair ways to be laid off". Yes, but the ones I can think of are illegal in my country (gender, age, race, religion, political affilliation). What 'less fair' (but legal) ways were you thinking of?

I would also point out that 'bumping', as described, appears to be passive discrimination, because it disadvantages members of the workforce with less service. These people tend to be young, female or both. This is why enlightened countries have outlawed both active and passive discrimintation on the basis of gender, age, race and other factors which are not relevant to the ability of a person to do the job.

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Jane January 27, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Anonymous 8:12–no, most grad students aren't receiving their education for free. Those that have assistantships may, if they're eligible, be remunerated via tuition remission as well as pay for their work. And since students are cheaper than professors and professional staff, universities have increasingly, over the last ten years, begun to rely on grad students to provide key labor for universities in order to save the university money–by paying the students considerably less than the people they're replacing. Some do get pretty decent deals, but a lot of them don't.

I don't know if unionization is the answer or not, but I can certainly understand why that's the step they took.

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Anonymous January 28, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I of course don't know what the CBA of OP's brother-in-law states, but yes, it would seem that this is probably something his union negotiated for him.

I think it is important to point out that unions are businesses. It has been my experience that most of the union "officials" that I have worked with make significant salaries in comparison to the members they supposedly represent. It has also been my direct experience that unions represent their members only when it is of benefit to the union, even though they are legally obligated to represent the members. A more senior person is most likely making more money and in turn probably paying more in dues to the union, hence the seniority bump. Why keep around a member that isn't brining in as much money for the union? Sorry, that sounded a bit snarky…on second thought, no, I'm not sorry.

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Anonymous January 28, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Sorry Union Supporters. Unions did great things during the time they were created. They have grown out of control and it scares me to think of the control they have through strong connections with our curren President.

Our founding fathers stated that Americans have a right to Life, Liberty and the persuit of Happiness (the concept of Property was originally proposed instead of Happiness, but that was removed after further thought).

No one has a RIGHT to a job. They must earn it. And there's a hell of a lot of people out there trying to do just that. How unfortunate for the man who was an innocent bystander who now has to re-enter the battle to find gainful employment.

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Jedi4Pets January 28, 2010 at 7:33 pm

I bumped and have been bumped several times in my airline (now long over) career. It's a negotiable part of a union contract.

Usually, it is set up so that the bumping person must to be in the same or higher "classification" or "sector" as the person he/she is bumping. He needs to read his contract and talk to his Union steward right away. (I was a Union steward, too.)

Unfair? Not really. Union members get the chance to vote on contract proposals. If he voted for the contract, he approved the whole package. If not, he was outvoted by his peers. It's one of the few benefits of seniority left in companies. It's earned, just like other benefits.

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Anonymous January 29, 2010 at 8:02 pm

If we had stronger unions our jobs would not be overseas.

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Lulu January 30, 2010 at 6:33 am

At our workplace, only some job titles are part of unions, others are not. Nonetheless, all are subject to this kind of bumping/layoffs. A friend of mine was going to be laid off in a couple of months (project was ending) and she was informed that she could bump the last hired person in the same job title (within our dept, not the whole organization) – she asked me what I thought she should do: accept the arrangement or decline (and thus lose her seniority and have to find another job).

I'll be honest – I told her to accept it, but with the idea of looking for a job in the meantime (since she wanted something closer to home). It would suck to be the last hired (and thus bumped) person but for my friend, if she declined – that was it. There was no grace period, once the few months came up, you were out of a job – and you couldn't change your mind then.

The person who would be her supervisor was furious when he learned of this bumping procedure. He tried to pressure her to quit, etc – and it didn't help that "everyone" liked the new girl more than they liked my friend. My friend did find a job (in like 2 weeks) so the other girl was not laid off.

Anyway, I'm on the fence about the policy. On the one hand, it would be good to have some sort of security in case I am laid off, given that I have worked in our dept for 7 years plus a few more as a temp worker, and I know the ins and outs of everything. Compared to the others who are fairly new… but on the other hand, what if I was the person to be bumped? And it also protects workers who have worked there for ages, but are terrible workers and can't be fired because they have not done anything illegal…

Lastly, I've come to terms that all of this is not personal, it's just business. If my supervisor decides to leave (retire, get a job elsewhere), I am essentially out of a job (well, I could bump someone technically, but would I want to?). My supervisor is not going to base his life around me and making sure I still have a job, nor do I expect him to.

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Lisa January 31, 2010 at 1:22 am

I am a teacher and a member of a strong union. Without our union, our wages and benefits would be the first thing cut every time there is a budget crisis and in this state, that is every six months. Without our union, my responsibilities would have increased again and again as the district would attempt to save money by cutting other positions (other teachers, lunch room supervisors, etc.) expecting us to take up the slack. Without our union, my health care insurance would have been shredded to worthless nothing.

I am grateful for my union even though I have been bumped twice.

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Led January 31, 2010 at 5:22 am

OT > OK. I'm an HR major studying in the Philippines. I was just wondering what are the possible qualifications or extra courses I need to take for me to be competent overseas?

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Anonymous January 31, 2010 at 9:47 pm

As Lulu says- it's nothing personal.

The contract is applied to everyone equally. If not, see your shop steward and launch a grievance.

Try working at a place where it is personal.

Would your brother-in-law rather work somewhere where he could be dropped for the boss's new son-in-law? Or due to slander from back-stabbing colleagues?

Losing your job sucks. Losing it unfairly sucks even more.

Lois Gory

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Anonymous February 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Maybe some of the law professors on this blog (and others) still believe that they are useful in negotiating contracts. For the most part, the union negotiating team is made of workers from the location and a staff person from the international union. The company is represented by managers and HR folks, and sometimes a lawyer who comes in to bully the union negotiators. Seniority is the mainstay of unionism, and we in the labor movement will fight tooth and nail to keep in the collective agreements.

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