Tuesday, February 08, 2011

In Pipefitters Local 342 Employers' "Right to Reject...for just cause"

Surfing Cornell's Library of Contracts on the internet, we were pleased to discover the following provision in the contract between Pipefitters Local 342 and its employing contractors in California: "The Individual Employer shall have the right to reject any applicant for employment referred by the Union for just cause..." What catches the eye are those three little words, FOR JUST CAUSE.

Unlike the Local 342 agreement, other construction contracts generally give employers the right to reject applicants for work, even those referred out of the union hall, for any reason whatsoever. No need to cite a "just cause" or any cause; the right to reject in those contracts is unilateral, arbitrary, not subject to appeal by the union or by the individual. (Of course, by law employer rights are limited. For example, they may not discriminate by reason of sex or race or even union membership. But only idiots would openly violate the law when they need state no reason at all for rejecting an applicant. Any contractor so stupid would not have what it takes to survive in the cutthroat world of construction.)

In construction, jobs are time-limited. When one project ends, workers must go back to the hall for referral or solicit work on their own. Armed with the unilateral, uncontestable right to reject, a right enshrined in their union contract, employers can easily blacklist union activists, the ones who insist that contractors comply with union standards for safety, wage rates, payment into benefit funds. And so, when union loyalists can easily be cut out by unscrupulous employers, the locals become weaker, the best unionists are intimidated.

"Right to reject" has been a hotly contested issue in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, where local leaders have been trying in vain to pressure their international leaders to curb the employers' unilateral right. At two IBEW international conventions, over a period of more than ten years, convention delegates have passed resolutions directing their leaders to make that right subject to "just cause." But in vain. The international ignores the convention decisions. Local are still required to include that unqualified right to reject in their contracts.

That's why that qualifying clause “for just cause" in Pipefitters Local 342 contract could be so important. Electricians have no recourse if they are dispatched from the hall but are rejected by the employer. Local 342 Pipefitters, in contrast, have recourse to the contractual grievance procedure. If they feel they are unjustly rejected, they have the right to appeal to the Joint Referral Appeals Committee consisting of four employers and four union representatives. (In the event of a deadlock, the provision allows for arbitration.)

The Local 342 contractual provision limiting the "right to reject” by a requirement for "just cause" and subject to the grievance procedure, should be of interest in other construction unions. But how does it work out in practice and how is it actually enforced? The contract provides that this information "be posted on the bulletin board of the Union, in its office and...of the Individual Employers” and that actions taken in this connection "shall likewise be posted." It would be helpful if members and officers of Local 342 could inform other construction unionists of their experience with the relevant Article II of their contract.

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