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Employee Committees Delegated Managerial Responsibilities Are Not Unlawful

  • December 8, 2001

A recent favorable decision by the National Labor Relations Board has reinforced the viability of using employee committees for management purposes. In a number of prior decisions, the NLRB has found employee committees to be unlawful employer dominated labor organizations, putting into question participative management initiatives sometimes known as employee participation committees. However, in this case, the Labor Board found a plant-wide system of production teams and second tier employee committees that were delegated the authority to operate and manage a manufacturing plant did not violate the National Labor Relations Act. According to the 4-0 decision, the employee committees did not engage in bilateral "dealing with" management but rather exercised authority over plant-wide operations. Since the committees' purpose was to perform essentially managerial functions, they did not meet the definition of an employer dominated "labor organization" in violation of the NLRA.

The committees in question were made up of four production teams and three higher level administrative committees. Every employee was a member of at least one of the production teams, and some employees were also members of the administrative committees, along with representatives of management. Above the administrative committees were, respectively, a management team and the plant manager, who had the authority to review all decisions of the three administrative committees.

Among the tasks of the production teams were to make and implement decisions regarding production, product quality, training, attendance, safety, maintenance, and certain types of discipline. For the organizational review board, the advancement certification board, and the safety committee, the tasks included administration of plant policies, recommendations regarding terms and conditions of employment, review of disciplinary recommendations, certification of skill levels, recommendations for pay increases, review of accident reports and recommendations for enhanced safety programs.

In analyzing the employee committees and their functions, the National Labor Relations Board found that "the authority being exercised is unquestionably managerial." With respect to the four production teams, the Board found they exercised authority comparable to that of a front-line supervisor. As to the administrative committees, the Board considered them also to be supervisory in nature. Moreover, the committee hierarchy with its process of forwarding recommendations on to the higher level of authority was not indicative of the kind of review process that would entail "dealing with" management. Instead, the Board characterized the exchange among the committees as the "familiar process of a managerial recommendation making its way up the chain of command." Because the purpose of the committees was to perform essentially managerial functions, the committees did not "deal with" the employer in a manner that violated the NLRA, the Board concluded. [Crown Cork & Seal Company, Inc., 334 NLRB No. 92 (July 25, 2001).].

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