More on Management Rights

Collective Agreements are contracts between the unions that represent employees and the companies that employ those people. Management essentially starts with the right to manage unilaterally without input from employees.With the exception of the various laws that govern employment, negotiation of the collective agreement provisions become the only restrictions on management in a union management.

In bargaining, management must negotiate certain provisions in order to act in good faith. Of course these include negotiating wages and other pay provisions. Management can resist bargaining away the essential rights they have to run the business. Arguably, doing so is to everyone’s advantage, as any restrictions to the basic obligation to run a business successfully will impact everyone, including the employees.

That aside, we should look at the very basic rights that management commonly retains after collective bargaining. As always, the caveat being that one should always check the relevant collective agreement to be certain about what rights management has protected for itself in an organization (by not adding restrictive clauses into the collective agreement).

Logically, there is an inherent right of management to run the business. This means , it is up to management to determine what business the company is in, what products it will produce and what markets it will operate in. Extending this thought it is up to management to determine how much to invest in the business and to determine what is an acceptable level of profit for the business.

In the absence of any agreed upon restrictions, management can determine what work is performed, when it is performed and to a great extent who performs the work. When it comes to managing performance it is managements’ prerogative to establish the standards of performance it expects from the workforce. It also has wide latitude in determining what work rules will be established and enforced.

While management can enter into agreements to share some of these rights with the union, prudent companies work hard to retain them. Thus the only restrictions are that standards and rules have to be created out of a business need, they must be reasonable (thus they should be attainable) and they must not conflict with the collective agreement. They also must be communicated to employees, applied uniformly and the consequences of not meeting the established standards or failing to abide by a rule must be known.

All of this seems reasonable. The difficulty in a union environment is that the union often works to limit management’s authority to establish and enforce work standards or work rules. Herein lies the dilemma. While management should resist agreeing to prescriptive language that might limit its rights to determine what is good performance or acceptable behaviour, on the other hand, a good management practice in a union environment is to take advantage of having a union employee representative of the  collective voice to consult with on such matters. It is absolutely a good practice and an act of good faith to consult with the union on important matters impacting on the workplace. This does not mean that all consultations have to reach a consensus or that they require the signing of an agreement  to institutionalize a standard or rule.

Generally management you can:

  • Establishing and enforce rules;
  • Determine work standards;
  • Assign work; and
  • Assess performance

Moreover, individual managers can:

  • Hire and fire employees;
  • Coach employees;
  • Discipline employees for misconduct;
  • Recognized good performance; and
  • Promote.

In exercising these rights management must be mindful of union rights to represent the employees. This means finding ways to consult and work with the elected employee representatives and the union in order to shape the culture the company wants and also  in order to fully engage the workforce. While this may be easier said than done, it is one of the things that changes when a union is in place and represents your employees. It therefore makes sense for management to find ways to work with the union and at the same time preserve its rights to manage the business.

Understanding management rights, impact of bargaining and what could restrict these basic rights is an area that makes managing in a union environment more demanding than a non-union environment,