The Issue Under Dispute
The parties stipulated the issue in this case as follows:
Has the company violated the collective bargaining agreement by following a practice of not using bargaining unit employees to repair personal computers?
The Facts of the Case
This grievance was brought by the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers International Union, Local 6–75 on behalf of the grievant, Terry Begley, and members of the bargaining unit. The grievant is a systems control technician employed by the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. (3M), and the union is his sole representative.
The union and the company are parties to a collective bargaining agreement. Article 2.01 in the agreement recognizes the union as the exclusive bargaining agent for all hourly paid employees designated in the bargaining unit. The unit includes all production and maintenance employees, including service control technicians. Furthermore, Article 8.17(c) provides that “Supervisory and other salaried employees will not perform the work of hourly production employees except in cases of emergency.” The union argues that the company has violated the contract by giving to salaried employees bargaining unit work that should have been performed by service control technicians.
Two years ago the company purchased 4,000 desktop personal computers. Salaried repair technicians, who are not members of the bargaining unit, were given the responsibility for repairing those personal computers. The company claims that this assignment is a logical extension of its longstanding practice of having salaried repair technicians repair all of the company’s office equipment.
The union disagrees and notes that systems control technicians, who are members of the bargaining unit, have historically repaired and maintained equipment associated with the operation, maintenance, and process control of the manufacturing processes. Because this has included working regularly with computers, the introduction of personal computers simply expanded the work that should have been made available to members of the bargaining unit. Furthermore, the union argues that denying service control technicians this work threatens their job security, for as computerization becomes more prevalent, bargaining unit members will be denied the opportunity to keep pace with changing technology. Therefore, the union submits that the company should be directed to assign the work of repairing and maintaining personal computers and ancillary equipment to the systems control technicians.
The Union’s Argument
The evidence that members of the bargaining unit are qualified to perform the work in question is compelling. The union presented evidence that service control technicians have extensive training, both to obtain their positions and under a continuing on-the-job training program. Part of that continued training includes work with computers.
Personal computers are electronic devices that serve a purpose similar to the equipment for which service control technicians have always been responsible. Furthermore, bargaining unit members are qualified to service personal computers.
The union rejects the company’s argument that the contested work is not bargaining unit work because it involves office rather than production equipment. The evidence shows that bargaining unit members already work extensively in offices, where they perform a variety of tasks in nonproduction areas. For example, service control technicians are responsible for lighting, for the entire heating and cooling system, and for the physical furniture.
The company claims that bargaining unit members cannot work on personal computers because they might gain access to confidential information. Service control technicians, however, are already entering the premises for other reasons; there is no reason to suspect their work with personal computers.
Finally, the union submits that service control technicians must be given the opportunity to grow with their craft. Assigning the repair and maintenance of personal computers and ancillary equipment to service control technicians would be a logical extension of work that they are presently performing and for which they are well qualified. Denying them that right threatens to render them obsolete in the future operations of 3M.
The Company’s Argument
The company submits that by this grievance the union seeks to gain for bargaining unit members work that is not rightfully theirs. First, the company argues that the contract does not prohibit the assignment of this work to non-bargaining unit members; rather, it expressly provides this right to the company in Article 4, the Management Rights clause. Thus, the contract clearly supports management’s actions in this case.
Second, the company submits that the contested work is properly assigned to non-bargaining unit, salaried employees. The company has never asked or directed office equipment repair workers to perform bargaining unit work, and service control technicians have never been responsible for repairing desktop personal computers. The salaried persons who presently perform this work are highly skilled in a number of areas for which bargaining unit members are limited by experience and training. They are cross-trained with respect to both types of equipment and product lines. Service control technicians are not expected to have that expertise. Furthermore, the nature of the contested work makes it ill-suited for assignment to bargaining unit members. The union should not be in a position to gain access to information that relates directly to the management of the company.
Finally, the company is puzzled that the union is alarmed at the possibility that technology may someday eliminate the position of service control technician, when it is technology that created that position in the first place. The company notes that no service control technician has been laid off or had hours reduced as the result of the introduction of personal computers at 3M. In fact, the position of service control technician is one of the more secure jobs at the company.
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