New Conflicts Over Featherbedding
A bitter struggle over union work rules has been a prime factor in making the current steel strike the longest in 40 years. Steel management and steel labor have locked horns over authority to alter working conditions which vary from plant to plant across the country. Another fight about work rules is apt to be the central issue in negotiations between the railroads and railroad operating employees on labor agreements to replace contracts which expired Oct. 31. The same question has been involved this year in labor disputes on the nation's waterfronts, in the packing industry, and in other sectors.
Industry's stated objective in each case has been to remove supposed bars to increased productivity. Labor's stand has been based on fear that, without protective rules, employers will seek to increase productivity by speeding up operations or by extending mechanization or automation without providing adequately for workers whose jobs are taken away in the process. In sum, management wants the unilateral right to eliminate what it views as loafing or featherbedding, while organized labor is bent on preserving rules which it considers necessary to protect the worker, his job, or both.
General Nature of Union Make-Work Rules
The term “featherbedding” cannot be precisely denned; in general, it is taken to mean use of more manpower than is necessary to do a given job. Chief among union work rules, written or unwritten, which are often accused of responsibility for feather bed ding are rules that limit the operating speed of machines; limit the amount of work that may be performed over a specified span of time; require adherence to established work practices; impede introduction of new machinery; regulate the size of work crews; or require performance of duplicative work or the independent performance of work that could be done in the course of other operations.