Does management have an unlimited right to select supervisors?

Most arbitrators rule that management has the right to promote workers to supervisory jobs without interference from the union, unless wording in the labor agreement specifies otherwise.
By Raymond Dreyfack January 1, 1999

Most arbitrators rule that management has the right to promote workers to supervisory jobs without interference from the union, unless wording in the labor agreement specifies otherwise. In the case of a New Jersey manufacturing company, the contract stated: “Management will normally promote the most senior qualified employee to a supervisory job.”

When a project leader position outside bargaining unit jurisdiction became available, Maintenance Manager George Riley read and reread this contract provision before making his selection. Poring over the roster Riley felt he had two possible candidates from which to choose: Bill Fosdick, 60, a 12-yr veteran; and Frank Willis, 38, employed less than 2 yr.

In Riley’s opinion both men were equally qualified. Normally, he would have selected the most senior, but Fosdick didn’t seem especially keen on getting it. Riley felt it wouldn’t upset him if he chose someone else. Equally important, Fosdick seemed to Riley to lack ambition and drive. The younger man was motivated to the hilt. He would knock himself out to do the best possible job, an important plus for a key man.

When his selection was announced, Fosdick was at his desk within minutes.

“I’m not saying Frank isn’t a good man,” he said, “but he has only a fraction of my experience. Next to me, he’s a novice. According to the contract, the senior employee should get first crack at the job.”

Riley didn’t see it that way. “The key word in the contract is normal. But this situation isn’t normal. You don’t have the get-up-and-go that a job like this calls for. Willis, on the other hand, has drive and ambition to spare.”

Fosdick refused to go along with this reasoning and threatened to sue.

Question: If Fosdick follows through with his threat, how do you rate his chances of winning?

Plant engineer’s verdict: “Give Fosdick a crack at the job. It was an error to prejudge his ambition and drive just as it was an error to assume he didn’t care whether or not he got the promotion. If his performance turns out to be unsatisfactory for the reason you assume or any other reason, you can always replace him. But rejecting a senior employee because you think he lacks drive won’t cut it. He deserves the chance to prove himself same as anyone else.”