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Friday, April 22, 2011

Why Not Just Replace the Tellers? Here is Why.

A common theme you hear from all corners is why Jeff Gural doesn't just stop dealing with the tellers and when the contract expires on February 1, replace them.

Oh, if it was just that easy.  Actually, it is far from easy and full of pitfalls.

Let's get through with the legalities now.  I am not a lawyer, nor do I provide any legal advice. You should always consult a licensed attorney if you want completely accurate information or are in a situation where you have any issue with labor relations.  Taking legal advice from this blogger is foolish.  

Now, with those legalities taken care of, let me give you a layman's explanation of why "just replace the tellers" is not an easy thing to do.  Being I have had only one semester of Business Law at college, and the last I looked, there have been no television dramas with labor layers involved to learn from, I am far from an authority and am sure some of what I am about to say is incorrect.  There are those far more eminently qualified to discuss this subject, but being I lack the financial resources to consult such an authority, for purposes of our discussion what I am about to say should suffice.

My (very) limited understanding of labor law tells me if Jeff Gural decided he was not going to deal with this union and just replace the tellers, it is not that simple.  There is a contract with Local 137 which is still in effect.  As such, being a labor union is in place, he can not just ignore the union, but would have to continue to negotiate in good faith.  Were management to decide to terminate or modify the current collective bargaining agreement, they would need to notify the union and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) 60 days ahead of time and either side may request a mediator.

If no contract is agreed to by February 1, management could declare an impasse and impose the last best offer and let the employees work under that contract which likely would result in a strike. The other option management has is with no contract in place, it could lock the tellers out until a contract is worked out. If there were a strike, he could allow workers to cross the picket line and train/hire replacements for the others and after a period of time he can tell the tellers if they don’t come back by a certain date they will have lost their jobs for good.

Also remember in any labor dispute, the possibility of sabotage, rule book slowdown, or criminal mischief is a possibility but not a certainty.  So things could get messy.

In the meanwhile, expect the union to go to the National Labor and Relations Board (NLRB) accusing management of not negotiating in good faith and if an impasse is declared, the previously mentioned mediator comes into play as does the threat of lawsuits, petitions to the NJRC to not allow the Meadowlands to race until the teller situation is settled, etc. All of which management may very well prevail in, but once a third party is involved, you can never be certain as to how the cookie crumbles, known as the legal principle of cookie crumbulus (Okay, I made that one up).

But then the question comes do other unions honor the inevitable picket lines? I am not even talking about the Meadowlands' unions, which I assume would not, but groups like Teamsters (the ones that drive the trucks which deliver supplies to the track), Autotote workers who maintain the tote machines (assuming they are unionized), and whoever else may do business with the Meadowlands.

There is another option where union workers could vote to de-certify themselves or join another union if they felt their leadership was not working in their best interests.  But good luck with that and it too will be delayed by petitions to the NLRB from within the union itself.  All of this would have to be done without interference from management or they get into trouble.

Jeff Gural may ultimately prevail, but at what cost and aggravation? Now you know why he has been seeking contract extensions, so he doesn't need to deal with this mess once he takes over operations of the Meadowlands and until recently, he said without contract extensions, he would walk away.

If you want to get an explanation at the 10,000 foot level, you may read the following from the NLRB and you can peruse the FMCS website as well..

Remember, when all we talked about was racing?  I long for those days and hope it won't be much longer until we can..


Adlai said...

A labor union refuses to agree to a deal to save your business, therefore your business must shut down. The law should provide protection for companies against labor unions in cases such as these. This isn't at all the original objective of unions, yet this is the reality we now face. I continue to make the argument that given today's labor laws, the market is perfectly capable of negotiating wages/benefits without the assistance of unions. Union members themselves would be better off, not having to pay dues and eliminating the need to report to 2 different "bosses."
It's not a popular take on the issue, but it's my opinion nonetheless.

Jim Hutchins said...

First, let me say that you are doing excellent work.

You have been able to synthesize divergent information regarding a moving target/topic and present it in a very understandable format.

Thank you.

I have some questions that, from what I have read, seem to be unanswered (and I apologize in advance if the answers have been written elsewhere but I just haven’t found them):

1. Do the Pari-mutuel Clerk members of Local 137 enjoy status/seniority at any of the other venues?

2. Have you heard of any reaction from the other unions that would be impacted by the Local 137 recalcitrance?

3. Closure of the Meadowlands would have a deleterious effect on the local economy (e.g. loss of jobs, loss of the economic boost provided by construction of the upgraded venue, etc.) to the extent that I wonder, “Does the possibility exist of a governmental intervention exist?” (I’m thinking here of the Reagan v. Air Traffic Controllers…not completely analogous but close enough, I think).

4. With the cry and hue regarding the rate of pay, it strikes me that Pari-mutuel Clerk working hours may loom as just as large an issue. It now appears that with technological advances and the like that what was once a full time profession may be relegated to part time status. Have you read/heard anything coherent that delineates the actual issues in rank order? And are you aware of any solutions offered by Local 137?

Again, thanks for your efforts. While I might not agree completely with every syllable you compose, I am completely sure that the opinions you offer are reasoned and educated.

Pacingguy said...

A company has the option of filing Chapter 11 and reject the contract, thus getting away from the union contract (though they usually negotiate before cancelling it).

The problem here is the NJSEA filed bankruptcy, all the bonds become due and the state government is on the hook.

Pacingguy said...

Jim,let me try to answer your questions.

1) I believe their senority is limited to the Meadowlands.

2)There has been no public reaction from other unions regarding this. But then unions are seldom to criticize another.

3)The air traffic controllers are essential workers and fall under different statutes. The tellers are not essential with respect to national security. The only thing which could be done is if the Meadowlands filed Chapter 9 so it could reject the contract but it would require action by the state legislature to declare bankruptcy; something I am not sure the state would do. For one thing, all NJSEA bonds would become immediately callable and the state would be on the hook as a guarantor of the bonds.

4 One of the problems with automation and volume of business is that it is hard to give the tellers all the shifts they are entitled to work; as a result some of them become part time. Then you have the tellers who are 'on call'; when needed on busy nights. You used to see them show up to see if they were needed on a weekend night, but now they don't come in unless specifically called in and even then most floaters may work only on Hambo day and special events like that. Hence, for all practical purposes they are not working.

The union claims the new contract eliminates senority, some personal holidays and eliminates some holidays. Probably the most important to the union is restoring senority rights.

Jim said...

Thanks for the answers.

Fact is, enjoying some seniority status elsewhere would go a long way in explaining the Parimutuel Clerks' recalcitrance. I heard that they do but my source's credibility is highly suspect.

Adlai said...

I just hate the idea that the only option for a firm is to file Chapter 11.
In the case of the NJSEA, if they've filed bankruptcy, why is it not possible to for Gural to work his way out of dealing with the union? I know you're no legal expert Pacingguy, but you seem to have a pretty good grasp of what's happening with Local 137.

Anonymous said...

To be honest with you, as a patron, I'd rather see all new tellers [I'm sure the union will not have it]. Most of the tellers need an attitude adjustment or are preoccupied with making their own wagers. New help at less of a cost to keep it open is a great idea. Besides, they can have half the tellers since most use The Sam Machines anyway.