Labor Force “At-Will”

South Carolina is an “Employment At-Will” state. This means: “that the employer may terminate the employment or the employee may leave the employment at any time for any reason (or for no reason)” in the absence of an employment contract or specific statutory protection. Labor unions largely fulfill the function of representing members in disputes over labor contracts. With the strike by oil industry workers prominent in the news, it seems that these terms and uses bear some consideration for the workforce in this state. I am a contractor and employed by contract. When my contracts are fulfilled there is usually room for an employer to pick up further work on “at-will” terms. This results in working past a contract or over the limitations specified in a contract for both my employer’s benefit and my own benefit. A “breakdown” in the contract employment relationship is my personal responsibility to repair, redeem, or negotiate. I like this arrangement. In my line of work, it keeps me independent and paid. In a corporation, where certain workers may or may not form a union, tension forms from the “at-will” status that is in force in South Carolina. I do not see “at-will” and “contract” as mutually exclusive. Like an independent contract, union contracts can be created to benefit employees and work well for employers if “at-will” rights are retained and not excluded by contract terms. This gives union members contract points to collectively bargain and everyone involved the rights of “at-will” agreements that are not contrary to contract terms. While it seems that this would erode the “collective” idea of bargaining, it actually strengthens it. When contracts are terminated, employment is terminated and this comes from both union and management vantage points. Neither unions nor management want to lose jobs under a collective contract. Retaining the capability of contract negotiation with “at-will” freedoms designates that the employer/employee relationship is not bound by “contract only” specifications. As an independent contractor my employment is bound by contract, but often some work in the job is “at-will”. I do not usually have an obligation to my employer for overtime, extra work, or certain hours on the clock. On the other hand, some of the best jobs I have worked under contract allow for an “at-will” give and take between my employer and me to include some of those “extras at-will”. These “extra” terms do not have to be built into a re-negotiated contract. I am not implying that these same terms apply to non-contractual agreements for unions to uphold. What I am stating is that contracts can leave room for “at-will” answers to still exist. Perhaps I see an “at-will” state’s union workers as just a large group of independent contractors- the union workers are just all on the same contract. In a time where jobs are precious, the employer/employee relationship is important and keeping both contract work and “at-will” employment should benefit the workforce through keeping job elimination at a minimum while still protecting employees.

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