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House Votes To Allow Employee Management Teams

September 28, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House, in a blow to organized labor, voted Wednesday to allow employee-management teams in non-union workplaces to discuss wage and employment issues that have been the purview of collective bargaining.

The bill, approved 221-202, comes in reaction to National Labor Relations Board rulings against such teams when their talks have turned from discussion of product quality to employment issues.

Organized labor fought the bill, saying it would give employers the power to set up ``sham″ unions controlled by managers who could pick the employee representatives in the groups.

To prevent that, Rep. James Moran, D-Va., offered an amendment that would require employees involved in employment issues to be elected by the other workers, but it failed 228-195.

Labor Secretary Robert Reich has recommended that President Clinton veto the bill if Congress passes it. The Senate has not acted.

Supporters, led by Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., said federal law needs changing to reflect how the workplace has transformed since the 1930s when labor laws were first enacted. He said the bill contains specific guidelines to assure that employers do not use the teams to abuse employees.

``When I was growing up it was a paternalistic society,″ said Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., whose state is a major textile producer, ``People ... were treated like children. I’ve seen that industry change. People are now looking at their employees as assets and they are asking how can we make our product better.″

So-called quality teams already exist in many companies, including those with unions, to encourage communication between workers and their bosses about efficiency and product improvement.

The bill would not allow unionized companies to expand the role of such teams to usurp union responsibilities, but labor viewed it as a threat to efforts to organize in non-union businesses.

``The purpose of this bill is to prevent unions,″ said AFL-CIO spokeswoman Maria Fiordellisi.

Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, argued: ``Unions are screaming because they are afraid of losing power by allowing employees to work with their employers to solve basic problems without the heavy hand of union interference.″

The House defeated, 221-204, an amendment by Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Ohio, that would have updated current law to specify exactly how employers can participate in employee teams without turning them into forums for negotiations on wages and working conditions.

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The bill is HR743.

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