Union Constituency Authority

This case study examines the constituency authority that a union negotiator must observe in labour negotiations, and what are the consequences of exceeding this authority.

Union negotiators may find that the authority limits they are authorized to use in a labour negotiation by their members can be both to their advantage as well as their disadvantage. One tactical advantage in using their constituency authority can include the ability to manipulate public visibility to what is transpiring behind closed doors to gain sympathy. By bringing out the issues into the public forum, they may be able to manipulate public support for their plight.

Another advantage might be gained in the limiting of concessions by conducting the negotiation in front of their members or constituency. By doing, the negotiator show that their authority has limitations, and that they have only so much latitude. A union negotiator might illustrate their solidarity with the union constituency by displaying a certain degree of militancy in union demands and expectations.The disadvantage can occur when the labour representative exceeds their authority. They might find they are caught in a squeeze by agreeing to a tentative proposal behind closed doors. Afterwards, when the union member constituency votes against to ratify the proposed agreement, the union negotiator suddenly finds their credibility with their constituency to be under-minded by result. The rejection of a proposed agreement is not that dissimilar to a non-confidence vote. Union negotiators must sometimes walk a fine line and be careful not to exceed their authority.Sometimes, the militancy employed by the union negotiators takes on an extreme that causes harm not only to themselves but also to their constituency.

In 1981, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) went on strike against the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the United States. Effectively, every aircraft controller governed by the federal agency had walked off the job. Previously, the union leader representative, Roberts Poli had spent several months attempting to negotiate a new package with the FAA. A tentative agreement was reached that was then presented to the union members to vote on ratifying the proposal. The tentative contract was rejected by an overwhelming 90% percent of its members.Poli returned to the negotiating table to get a better package from the FAA. Relations had soured significantly between the two parties. The FAA now dug in its own heels and refused to offer any more concessions or up the offer any further. After an additional two fruitless weeks of further talks between the two parties, Poli instructed PATCO to take strike action of its members against the FAA. Going on strike is normally fine in most circumstances, but here is where Poli exceeded his authority. The contract that had been signed previously with the FAA strictly prohibited a strike action, and deemed any such strike action as illegal. So, what happened?The FAA and the administration under President Ronald Regan implemented the following steps against Poli, and PATCO’s members;

1) All striking controllers were fired from their jobs.
2) A federal injunction was obtained and both the union and its leaders were fined several millions of dollars a day.
3) Poli and some of the other union executive leaders were thrown in prison.
4) The union’s strike fund was impounded.
5) All striking controllers were banned from any further employment with the U.S. government in any capacity whatsoever.It was not until 1993 that President Clinton pardoned the controllers and declared that they could now be re-hired. This was 12 years after the fact!  

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Very useful & important - 2016 Jul 16
Commentator: Momen Yehia (United Arab Emirates)

"I learned a lot from this site and appreciate them for every thing."

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