Archive for March, 2010

Does management commit a ULP when it implements AWS for BUEs without a CBA?

March 26, 2010

I recently ran across the following passage in G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy,” published in 1908:

It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable. If you say “The social utility of the indeterminate sentence is recognized by all criminologists as a art of sociological evolution towards a more humane and scientific view of punishment,” you can go on talking like that of hours with hardly a movement of gray matter inside your skull. But if you begin “I wish Jones to go to gaol and Brown to say when Jones shall come out,” you will discover, with a thrill of horror, that you are obliged to think. The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the word “damn” than in the word “degeneration.”

at 131.

Thirty years later, George Orwell explained that bad writing reflects poor thinking or, worse, the fact that one’s real and declared aims are different. Bad writing is essential to lying. He also noted, however bad writing has become habitual, and that the habit can be broken:

What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning.

“Politics and the English Language,” http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

What does all this have to do with the question posed at the outset?

The problem with the question posed at the outset is that the acronyms do not convey any concrete images, to yourself or your reader. The sentence does not involve employees setting their own work hours, it does not mention employees at all; nor union contracts, nor illegal acts.

A little better would be to at least write out the words underlying the acronyms:

Does management commit an unfair labor practice when it implements alternative work schedules for bargaining unit employees without a collective bargaining agreement?

But even this would benefit from translation into English. For example:

Is it illegal for management to let union-represented employees have compressed workweeks or flexible work hours if that’s not provided for in the union contract?

My guess is that the first version of the question would be unintelligible to 99% of the employees, while nearly everyone can understand the third version.

Why use the jargonish acronyms? To save paper? Paper is cheap. To save time writing and reading? Probably, but at the cost of the writer and the reader knowing what the question means.

Because it is a technical question which requires precise language? Actually, ‘bargaining unit employee’ conveys less information than does ‘union-represented employees,’ and more people understand what is meant by a ‘union contract’ than know what a ‘collective bargaining agreement.’

Surely, ‘commit an unfair labor practice’ is more precise than ‘be illegal.” Not really. As will be discussed another time, the important question is whether management has violated the work-hour law, not whether management has committed an unfair labor practice.