What Is Featherbedding?

Featherbedding is a very old term that applies to labor union work practices that unfairly burden an employer to alter a work force to meet union policies, which results in loss of profits.

Also known as overmanning in the United Kingdom, featherbedding is defined by the British Dictionary as the practice of limiting work production, unnecessarily duplicating work, or overmanning, particularly in compliance with a union contract, to prevent unemployment or to create new jobs. By increasing the demand for workers, featherbedding is also attributed to keeping wages inflated.

The practice is generally attributed to requiring employers to pay for the performance of what they consider to be pointless work, for work that is not actually performed, or for employees who are not required or needed. The situation generally results from a union contract with an employer.

Featherbedding as a Labor Union Practice

Featherbedding has developed over many decades as unions act in response to workers being laid off based on technological advancement. Labor unions generally deny the existence of featherbedding, and there are many related discussions regarding what is considered reasonable in workplaces. Naysayers claim featherbedding promotes outdated work rules and practices that are no longer efficient and made obsolete by emerging technology.

In some instances, unions have allegedly passed building codes and other legislation that was supposedly designed to guarantee public safety, but in reality, the policies promoted featherbedding practices. Although featherbedding is often portrayed in a negative light, some economists claim that the practice helps redistribute surplus profits from organizations to employees who would otherwise be unemployed.

The Taft-Hartley Act

In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act attempted to prohibit featherbedding agreements through Section 8(b)(6), which makes it an unfair labor practice for a union to command payment of wages for services which are not performed or not to be performed.

The Act has since been narrowly interpreted, and the Supreme Court ruled that only payments for workers to not work are prohibited. However, minimum crew sizes and other "make-work" agreements are legal, in spite of the wording of the Taft-Harley Act Section 8(b)(6).

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