The author is an arbitrator and the Director of the Institute of Labor Relations at New York University. This article is based on a speech given at an arbitration seminar in June 1977 sponsored by the New Jersey Employer* Association and the American Arbitration Association.
The issue of management rights and productivity covers a substantial part of any labor agreement. The heart and soul of any negotiation deals with the union's need to protect and promote the jobs and working conditions of its members, and the management's need to run a profitable and efficient enterprise. These needs may conflict—at least in the short run—and many an agreement reflects compromises and trade-offs between these needs. This means that contract clauses that have no apparent relationship to productivity —like wage clauses—may reflect the buy-out of an inefficient practice that has plagued the management.
The arbitrator, of course, is a creature of the contract. In most cases, he must rely on contract clauses that have at least a tenuous relationship to the issue before him. Only on occasion is he given the history of the agreement so that he may interpret the meaning of a disputed clause. No wonder that all the textbooks—including those written by arbitrators—stress the importance of a clearly written agreement that includes everything that the parties consider relevant. If the parties followed this advice, the frequency and cost of arbitration might well be reduced.