Friday, August 24, 2007

Of Whipsaws and Boulwares

It sounds kinky but these labour terms are used when negotiations go bad.

City of Vancouver / GVRD claim CUPE is seeking to discredit the GVRD Labour Relations Bureau to "whipsaw" agreements across the GVRD/ Metro Vancouver.

It's a tactic of negotiating with one employer at a time, using each negotiating gain as a lever against the next employer, or bargaining with one employee organization and then using the gains made by that group as a lever against the same employer with another employee organization

Ruled as an unfair labour practice since the 1960's by the U.S National Labour Relations Board it is named after former General Electric vice president Lemuel Boulware. CUPE claims this labour practice is being employed by City negotiators and the GVR Labour Relations Bureau.
This type of bargaining, in it's purest form, consists of a single 'first and final' or 'take it or leave it' offer after the employer has conducted extensive research and surveys concerning competitive trends, economic conditions and employee preferences and after it has heard union demands and supporting presentations.


It does appear that Vancouver is employing Boulwareism which would explain the constant negotiating impasses. What you think? Read below and let me know.

Problems of Proof of Bad Faith -- Boulwareism

1. Case XVIII-A: This case is based on the famous management bargaining tactic known as Boulwareism. Lemuel Boulware was the chief management negotiator for the General Electric Corporation from the 1940's through the 1950's and 1960's. He devised and implemented a bargaining strategy which epitomized the minimum standards of the absence of good faith in collective bargaining.

  • a. Part A of this case outlines the basic tactics of Boulwareism which became the foundation for the legal dispute over the tactic. The essential elements of Boulwareism, for legal purposes were:
    • 1) Offering to the union a packaged proposal on an "all or nothing, take it or leave it" basis.
    • 2) Exhibiting, at the table, a willingness to explain its proposal and to listen to counterproposals, but refusing pro forma to make any changes in the complete package, and
    • 3) Appealing directly to the workforce to encourage acceptance of the package, by providing detailed information on the basis for the unilaterally established package.
  • b. Boulwarism was determined by the Board and the appellate court to represent bad faith bargaining. In the court decision, the critical issue was the combination of tactics, each of which might have been legal in the abstract. By combining specific tactics which may be legal into an overall effort to circumvent the union, the company had engaged in bad faith bargaining.
2. Case XVIII-A (Part B): The strategy behind Boulwareism was actually much broader than outlined in the legal dispute. Boulware developed an overall bargaining strategy designed to force company dominated pattern bargaining on the unions while vehemently resisting union efforts to establish a coordinated bargaining strategy.

  • a. After the expulsion of the United Electrical Workers Union from the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1949, the union representation of General Electric workers became fragmented. Thirteen international unions negotiated sixty different contracts covering 150,000 represented workers. This fragmentation made the overall strategy of Boulwarism attractive to the corporation.
  • b. In addition to his "take it or leave it," hard bargaining strategy, Boulware assessed the relative strength of the various bargaining committees representing the GE workforce. Identical packages were offered to each committee, and the circumvention of the union was duplicated everywhere.
  • c. By holding firm in all negotiations, Boulware was able to break the inevitable impasse by going to what he perceived to be the weakest union committee and offering them a slightly better package than was on the table elsewhere. When that union accepted the "sweetened" package, the ability of the other unions to maintain their resistance was undermined and a predictable downward spiral of settlements occurred.
  • d. It was not until the 1970's that the unions involved were able to establish a pattern of coordinated bargaining. By that time, electrical worker wage levels were significantly less than workers in other industries who enjoyed approximately the same degree of unionization in 1946.
"XVIII. Standards Defining the Concept of Bad Faith Bargaining , Federal Labor Laws" Paul K. Rainsberger, Director University of Missouri – Labor Education Program Revised, January 2004

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