Job Combinations

Job Combinations

Here are two situations that have occurred at UE workplaces.

At Torchem Co., business is booming and plenty of overtime is being worked. Employment levels are at an all-time high. The employer approaches the union and says "We feel there are too many job classifications. It's time we entered the 21st Century. We want to talk to the union about making changes in order to keep this business running." The union asks. "So how many job classifications do you think we need? Right now we have 30 different jobs, and it's been that way for many years." The boss replies, "Well, we need one for skilled trades, one for shipping and receiving, and two for everybody else. What do you think?"

At Downsizem Co., business is steady, but the company now has 200 workers instead of the 1,000 it had just after World War II. The company approaches the union and says, "Listen, everyday we have to temporarily transfer people because there isn’t enough work on their job to keep them busy all day long. We’re tired of going through the hassle. We need new job classifications. You know this isn’t the same plant it was 50 years ago, but we still have 60 different jobs listed. Some of them haven’t been filled in years. What do you think?"

In UE there are hundreds of workplaces under union contract. Each one has a contract designed to address specific problems. There is also much they have in common. The need for health insurance, vacation time, holidays, a grievance procedure, bereavement pay and time off etc. In order to stop discriminatory behavior on the part of management, seniority systems were developed. Most UE contracts strive to make pay raises automatic, limiting managment's ability to play favorites or punish workers by withholding pay raises.

It is in the area of exactly how seniority systems work; how they affect workers rights to bid on jobs, how they affect layoffs and recalls from layoffs, that there is the greatest difference. While they may differ, all these seniority systems are trying to establish a system that is known to all and eliminates management's ability to play favorites.

With that in mind, this UE Steward will discuss the problems laid out above.


Job Classification: This is the title of the job that each worker holds. It describes the actual job they perform. Examples: Turret Lathe Operator, File Clerk, Assembler Class 1, Custodian, Children’s Librarian.

Labor Grade: In most union contracts the pay scale is divided into labor grades, progressing from the lowest pay grade (least skilled job) to the highest (most skilled job). Each labor grade will have a starting pay and steps leading up to the top pay for that labor grade. Jobs Classifications are assigned to a Labor Grade, with similar jobs being in the same labor grade.

How are jobs assigned to a labor grade?

Similar jobs should be grouped together in the same labor grade. This similarity should be based on the skills required to learn and perform the job, the working conditions, education required, etc. There are elaborate systems that have been developed to try to rate each job, but the best system is common sense. One job may require more knowledge than another but that might be balanced out by the bad working conditions that the other job has.

Why are there job classifications?

In most cases the union inherited job classifications because they were instituted by management.

Why did management institute job classifications? Because they wanted to be able to hire workers who possessed specific skills to do specific a job and when they no longer needed those workers, to get rid of specific workers.

Although favoritism is practiced in most non-union workplaces, management realizes that this shouldn’t be publicly bragged about. They try to make it seem as if everything is run fairly. By having job classifications they can lay off specific workers when they need to. "Work is slow in the fabrication department, so we are laying off 10 fabricators, except for Ralph who is needed because of his special skills."

Why do some employers now want to limit the number of job classifications?

1. The jobs really aren’t that different anymore. In these rare cases, the majority of jobs have become very similar and the learning time is not that long. In this case it would be easy to combine the job classifications. Or,

2. They are looking to get flexibility, that is, have workers that can be moved from job to job depending on the work flow. They hope to be able to get by with fewer workers doing the same amount of work. Most of the time this looks better on paper than it actually works out. Or,

3. They are caught-up in the latest management fad to have very few job classifications. This is probably the case at Torchem Co.

In one UE shop, management was insistent on creating one large manufacturing job classification, even though there were several different kinds of machines involved, all with long learning curves. The union agreed to this one classification. When work got slow and a layoff was necessary, the company realized that the least senior employees, who had to be laid off, all ran the machines that were needed! Under their new job classification they could not lay off workers in the area that was actually slow, and to no one's surprise they had never cross-trained any workers. Or,

4. In the case of Downsizem Co. it may be the fact that the way the factory now runs is different than it was 40 years ago and the contract has not kept up-to-date with the reality of the situation. In that case, the union may want to look at what job classifications are actually needed and are used. Keeping in mind the principles that we discuss below, the union could work out a simpler job classification system that would still protect all the workers.

What protections do we need when combining jobs?

If the union is faced with the question of combining job classifications here are some points that need to be addressed:

• Fairness is maintained in layoffs, recalls, and job bidding by a seniority system.

In most UE contracts changing job classifications will have an effect on people’s seniority rights. This must be looked at carefully. If the new classifications combine several jobs then workers cannot be punished for not knowing all the jobs. Some workers might not be able to learn the new jobs; they should not be penalized for this.

• Equal access to training and training by seniority.

Many times employers will promise that they will cross-train everybody. Experience shows that employers rarely follow through on this promise. Training always takes a back seat to getting the work done. When work is slow and training would be easier to accommodate, the employer usually wants to save money by laying off workers. If there is training to be offered then it should go by seniority, so no favoritism is allowed.

• Proper compensation for learning more skills.

Learning more jobs usually entails learning more skills, which should mean higher wage rates.

• A proper workpace is maintained.

In some situations because of changes in the products or machinery or just the nature of the job, there may not be enough work on a job for it to be a full-time job. In these situations several jobs maybe combined to create an 8 hour job. What must be guarded against is the employer thinking they can sneak in extra work. Studies show that injuries are more common when people work on unfamiliar jobs and are rushing from one worksite to another.

• Older workers are protected.

In some cases workers have been on the same job for many years and are not ready to learn something entirely new. They should not be punished or have their seniority diminished because of this.

• Job combinations should not be used to cause layoffs.

Changes in how work is done have been going on forever. New machinery, computers in offices, all have contributed to smaller workforces producing more. If an employer wants to make changes then the union should insist that any reduction in the workforce comes through attrition, that is, through quits and retirements rather than layoffs.

The Role of the Steward

In a situation concerning the combination of jobs the stewards are key. The union needs concise and accurate information on each of the jobs that is being discussed. The steward who works in that area is best equipped to know this or to get the information.

How much work is done on each job, what are the skills involved, what are the safety problems, what is lacking in the job description that makes the job really more difficult than it appears to be. Without accurate information the union committee will have a tough time protecting the members. It is up to the steward to provide this information.

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