Is it fair to eliminate an obsoleted job classification?

Jim Algorth was the last of a breed. On his retirement, the classification of Service Equipment Mechanic became obsolete in this small to mid-size plant.
By Raymond Dreyfack June 1, 1998

Jim Algorth was the last of a breed. On his retirement, the classification of Service Equipment Mechanic became obsolete in this small to mid-size plant. Mechanic Grades I and II covered all mechanical service functions, including the skilled work covered by Jim’s long experience.

With Jim gone, Maintenance Supervisor Jeff Lane shifted his duties to Grade I mechanics who were qualified to handle them.

This drew a quick protest from Plant Steward Jack Delman, who accused Lane of violating the contract. “You can’t unilaterally eliminate a job classification.”

“You gotta be kidding,” Lane replied. “What’s to eliminate? The classification eliminated itself; it’s a virtual duplication of the Grade I category. We only retained it out of respect for Jim Algorth. When he retired…”

“It’s not that simple,” Delman persisted. “The classification is on the books and calls for a higher wage rate than Grade I. If you want to eliminate it, boost the Grade I rate to the Service Equipment Mechanic level. Otherwise, it’s a negotiable change.”

“The only reason the rate is higher,” Lane tried to explain, “is because Jim has been in the department since the beginning of time.”

Delman shrugged. “That’s immaterial. You’re still in violation.”

“I think you’re mistaken,” Lane said, “but I’ll check it out to make sure.”

Question : What’s your opinion? Can the obsolete classification be eliminated without consulting the union?

Frankel’s verdict: “I think we’re pretty much up a tree on this one,” Plant Engineer George Frankel told Lane when filled in on the details. “The labor agreement states specifically that job descriptions and classifications are to remain unchanged unless both management and the union agree otherwise. In the absence of this restriction, we would be free to eliminate the classification. Since it exists, we’ll have to thrash it out with the union.”