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Japan's reshaping of American labor law.

Japan's Reshaping of American Labor Law.

This book, by a Stanford law school professor who has twice served as a visiting professor in the Tokyo University Law Faculty, is a comparison of labor law under the National Labor Relations Act in the United States and the Trade Union Law in Japan. It consists of an overview, a brief historical review, four chapters dealing with the administrative process of the two laws, as well as remedies, job security, unfair labor practices, a short discussion of the law affecting public sector unions, and the conclusion. William B. Gould's objectives are (1) to use the law to explain and compare industrial relations systems, and (2) to explain how similar legislation has operated quite differently in the two countries.

The chapter on the historical evolution of Japanese labor law notes differences between U.S. practices and those in Japan, despite the fact that Japanese unionization after World War II went forward under U.S. occupation authorities who had been significantly influenced by the National Labor Relations Act, Known also as the Wagner Act, and the development of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Of particular interest to Americans is that elections for an exclusive bargaining agent in a work unit, whose characteristics were determined by an administrative agency, has no counterpart in Japan. Considering the essential role played in the evolution of current American industrial relations by the concept of a single responsible agent in an appropriate unit, it is a wonder that major differences exist between Japan and the United States.

The chapter on administrative processes shows that one of the major differences is that in Japan, the Labor Relations Commissions will give great deference to facilitating the continuing relationship between the parties, even at the expense of what might have been the Commissions' decisions. In the United States, the introduction of the NLRB into a dispute brings public concerns and public goals into play and these then become dominant.

The chapter on remedies looks at those associated with seven different issues of dispute. Overall, the author found the Japanese approach to be imaginative and foresighted. He was, however, particularly critical of the limited role played by the Commissions in issues involving discrimination against one union in favor of another. This is a major problem area with 177 new cases in 1983, about 37 percent of all new unfair labor practice cases in that year. Gould's concern may have lessened somewhat by the post-publication (May 1984) decision of the Supreme Court in the case of the Japan Mail Order Co. in which the Court upheld the original Commission decision. However, the fact that the original discrimination occurred during bargaining over the yearend bonus in 1972, with the final court decision coming more than 11 years later, only underlines the potentials for delay in Japanese legal proceedings.

The chapter on job security sharply contrasts the United States with its emphasis upon the individual and adversary proceedings to settle issues with the more cooperative model which the author found in Japan. He also found that Japanese law gives individuals greater protection from arbitrary discharge and unions the right to more information from companies. He argues that these occur because of their consistency with general Japanese personnel practices.

Under unfair labor practices, Gould finds provisions of the laws in the two countries to be roughly comparable. He notes that in Japan, the line between violence and power is not as clearly drawn as in the United States. Yet, he finds a close correspondence in the treatment involving the wearing of ribbons and other insignia on uniforms of employees in contact with the public. Overall, though, there does not appear to be a common theme to the various decisions.

The author's basic conclusion is that, with a labor law very similar to that of the United States, Japanese legal institutions have moved in different directions from those in the United States. He sees this as support for reforms through changes in our legal approach, either by statute or interpretations by the NLRB and the Supreme Court.

This is an interesting book because of the constant interplay between Japanese and American legal approaches to what are, at least on the surface, similar situations. It is a well-written book, setting out quite clearly a number of specifics concerning the law and particular cases. Yet, the book's audience may be quite small. One should already be interested in and knowledgeable about the labor laws of Japan and the United States. Otherwise, there is too great an expectation of detailed prior knowledge. The general reader wishing information about Japan will be better served by chapters in Taishiro Shirai, ed., Contemporary Industrial Relations in Japan (University of Wisconsin, 1983) or by Tadashi Hanami, Labor Relations in Japan Today (Kondansha, 1979).

The author sought to use the law to examine and compare the two industrial relations systems. For Japan, the system seems to explain the law, for decisions are explained by the influence of current employer and union practice or the need to facilitate the maintenance of relationships. There have been fundamental changes in Japanese industrial relations since the 1950's. This is illustrated in the dramatic decline, by a factor of 10, in the days lost to industrial disputes between 1952-84 and 1976-81. Yet, legal issues do not seem to provide an explanation.

In the United States, we are accustomed to thinking of laws and the NLRB as playing a crucial role. Certainly, early decisions concerning a single representative union, the definition of what was a company-supported union, and key postwar decisions on the required areas of bargaining, especially pensions, do seem to have played essential roles in defining American industrial relations. Yet, increasingly, the law seems irrelevant.

One of the striking differences between the countries is the number of unfair labor practices cases. In 1980, there were 778 new cases filed with the local boards in Japan and in the United States, the NLRB closed some 42,000 cases. Yet, some 20 years earlier there were only about one-sixth as many cases, a fact that suggests that, rather than defining an industrial relations systems, it is being used as a weapon to help one side or the other.

This book will be of special interest to those readers who are concerned and fascinated by issues of national labor policy under the National Labor Relations Act in the United States or the Trade Union Law in Japan.
COPYRIGHT 1985 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Evans, Robert, Jr.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1985
Words:1074
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