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Collective Bargaining Agreements and Work Sharing

At a recent interim committee meeting regarding creating a work sharing program in West Virginia, concerns were raised over potential conflicts between work sharing and collective bargaining agreements. Fortunately, these concerns are easily addressed, and do not pose a hurdle for the creation of a work sharing program in West Virginia.

Work sharing allows employers, in lieu of layoffs, to temporarily reduce their employees hours, with unemployment insurance replacing some of the employees’ lost wages due to the reduction in hours. Work sharing allows employers to keep their skilled workers during downturns, and avoid the costs of rehiring and retraining, while employees get to stay on the job, earn their pay, and avoid long spells of unemployment.

Concerns have been raised that work sharing may be incompatible with workers covered by collective bargaining agreements, or that the use of work sharing may even break a collective bargaining agreement. However, in the thirty-year history of work sharing in various states across the country, and in other countries, there have been no major clashes between unions and employers over work sharing. In fact, unions are often among the big supporters of work sharing, in part because it allows them to keep members.

Work sharing has avoided conflicts with collective bargaining agreements for two main reasons. First, work sharing is voluntary. If a potential conflict would be created between work sharing and a collective bargaining agreement, the employer could simply not pursue work sharing, avoiding any potential conflict. Many states simply require union consent to work sharing plans if the employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. This creates an additional safeguard against potential conflict, but is not required under federal guidelines.

While requiring union consent defuses any potential conflicts between work sharing and collective bargaining agreements, the requirement isn’t necessarily needed. This is because most collective bargaining agreements already require employers to consult with unions regarding work hours, making a requirement for work sharing redundant. This is what policymakers in Ohio discovered when the Ohio House passed their SharedWork bill with broad bipartisan support, as well as with backing from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, nonpartisan policy analysts, the National Federation of Independent Business/Ohio, and the Ohio Manufacturers Association.

Instead of creating conflict, a work sharing program in West Virginia would allow employers and their employees to work together to save jobs and help the economy.

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