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Labor/Management Negotiation: A Simulation Activity


The railroad industry played a central role in the transformation of the United States from an agrarian society to an industrialized nation. The growing pains that were a part of this process included conflict between owners of large businesses and the laborers who worked for them. Sometimes these conflicts escalated into violence. The railroads were no exception.
In July of 1877, for example, disgruntled B&O workers went on strike in protest over cuts in their wages. This strike spread quickly to every railroad east of the Mississippi and then to the Missouri Pacific and other western lines. For more than a week, most freight and even some passenger traffic covering over 50,000 miles was stopped in its tracks.  The situation in Baltimore got out of hand quickly as other disaffected citizens joined to create a mob of fifteen thousand. Marching on Camden Station, they clashed with National Guardsmen called in by the Governor. The confrontation resulted in at least ten deaths and scores of injuries. The station suffered damage as passenger cars were burned and nearby tracks were torn apart. Following a plea from B&O president John W. Garret, President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered five hundred federal troops to Baltimore to help end the chaos. Peace was restored. The strikers retreated, and by early August the trains were running again. But neither side was happy with the outcome. Probably the only thing they agreed upon was that there must be a better way to settle their differences.
Collective bargaining involves representatives of both labor unions and management in negotiations about the terms of a contract. Today, the procedures to be followed are governed by federal law. This simulation activity is designed to allow students to participate in the process through which workers and big business owners attempted to settle their disputes without resorting to strikes and their potential for producing violent confrontation.
Groups of students will assume the roles of railway union leaders and representatives of top management as they engage in the collective bargaining process. Each side will be given information about the current contract, and the status of negotiations on the new contract. They will also be provided with confidential information that is not to be revealed to their counterparts. Students will meet with members of their negotiating teams to plan a bargaining strategy. Once they are prepared, negotiations between teams representing labor and management begin. Failure to reach an agreement within the allotted time will result in a strike.
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