The work site known today as the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) began in the early 1950s and was, at that time, the home of the nation’s nuclear electrical generating laboratory.
The first agreement, the “Site Construction Jurisdictional Procedural Agreement,” began in late 1978, after a number of years of unstable labor/management relations which resulted in some 40,000 lost man-hours the previous year due to strikes over work jurisdiction, where various unions were arguing over which union would perform a given work task. The issue that finally pushed the need for an agreement was an argument over the installation of plastic wrap being used on a recently installed underground pipeline.
As a result of that encounter, the parties, labor and management, with the urging of the Department of Energy’s Idaho Office, entered negotiations to find a way to work out the problems of jurisdiction without one or more unions walking off the project. After a couple of months of extensive negotiations an agreement was reached.
The agreement, the “Site Construction Jurisdictional Procedural Agreement,” concentrated on the method used by the employer in making work assignments. The agreement required the contractor to follow the procedures published by the Joint Board, a procedure developed by various international unions and national construction contractors.
The agreement requires every contractor working on construction projects at the D.O.E. Idaho site to sign and agree to use the joint board procedure when making work assignments. In requiring the contractors to use the procedure and the unions agreeing to use the agreement instead of striking, the parties negotiated some unique characteristics not found in other project agreements.
First, the agreement provides for a neutral person to administer the agreement known as the “Site Labor Coordinator” who, along with administering the agreement, also chairs the Grievance Board, and in the second step of the grievance procedure works with both sides to try and settle the dispute in an informal mediation atmosphere.
The agreement also provides for an Executive Board consisting of five members from labor and five members from the contracting community. The local unions determine who their members are; and the contracting community, including the Maintenance & Operation (M&O) contractor as well as local contractors, determines who will make up the contractor side of the agreement.
The Agreement also has a third step in the grievance procedure which is a Grievance Board made up of five union members, five contractor members and the (non-voting) Coordinator who sit and determine if the contractor involved in the dispute followed the prescribed procedures. In the event that the board determines a failure of the contractor to follow the required procedures there is the possibility of a back pay award.
For example, if a contractor assigns installing rebar in a concrete pad to the Carpenters instead of the Ironworkers, then it is likely that the Grievance Board will award some back pay to the Ironworkers.
As a result of the Agreement and the alternative to striking, the number of strikes involving jurisdictional disputes fell to near zero the first year of the agreement and has gone to zero for the last thirty years. It is important to note that the work assignment itself is not subject to a grievance but the procedure used by the contractor to make the assignment.
After the jurisdiction problems were resolved, the labor/management community created a second, more comprehensive agreement known as the “Site Stabilization Agreement.” This agreement includes all the other elements encompassed by traditional labor agreements with the exception of the health and welfare elements of the local union agreements and the hiring hall procedures of the local agreements. These two elements were not included because each one of them is unique to the individual local union and it was felt by the parties to be impossible to meld all of them into one common policy or procedure.
In this latest agreement signed in 1984, the unique characteristics of the earlier agreement were used including the Coordinator, the grievance procedure and the Executive Board. In addition, it needs to be noted that throughout both agreements’ history neither agreement has ever been reopened or renegotiated.
Unlike most other agreements, when a problem is recognized in either agreement the parties call an Executive Board meeting and deal with the problem. The best part of this procedure is that a problem is resolved at the time of the problem while it is fresh in everyone’s mind. Since the agreement was created there have been some forty “interpretations,” and the only issue that comes up at the anniversary date of the agreement is the issue of wages which is usually resolved in just a couple of two-hour meetings.
The bottom line of course is that it has worked. In the last thirty years there have been 800 grievances processed, 600 of which have been mediated at step two, and of the rest that moved on to step three, a grievance board, only eleven have been left without resolution by a vote that was not a majority. In the event of one of these deadlocked decisions, the moving party is allowed, in most cases, to move on to arbitration but this has never happened. In addition, the entire process of the grievance procedure from beginning to end takes no longer than thirty days, and in most cases the process is concluded within a few days.
Finally, at the present time there are some 800 signatory contractors and about 30 of those are on the site most often. There have been several M&O contractors over the years that generally stay on the site for five years and then are replaced. Together with the contractors, all the local and international unions are signatory to the Stabilization Agreement as is the National Building and Trades. All the local unions are signatory to the original Jurisdictional Agreement.
In addition to the agreements, the construction community at the site was awarded a labor/management grant from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in 1987, and as a result was highlighted in the FMCS annual report to the President. One of the most important lessons learned from the grant was the necessity of a monthly meeting between the parties to discuss current events. What we were told by FMCS, and turned out to be true, was that the meetings have to be held every month whether there is anything to talk about or not.
Following the grant we also held a Partners In Change (PIC) program with FMCS where the service brought in twelve mediators and Department of Labor facilitators to work with us in our efforts to continue the cooperative relationship concept encouraged by the service, which has, over the years, been very effective.