L.K. Comstock, one
of the founders
of the CIR.
Council on Industrial Relations (CIR) is one of labor
arbitration history's success stories. Founded in 1920, the CIR
is cosponsored by the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National
Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) as a means to settle
peacefully labor disputes within the electrical industry.
The process has worked well with over 8,000 decisions
issued since inception making the CIR process a shining example
of successful labor-management relations. Under this system, with
a "CIR clause" in the collective bargaining agreement,
all disputes between labor and management which have come to impasse
must be brought to CIR for adjudication. The decision issued by
CIR is legal and binding upon both parties, thus replacing the
need for costly strikes.
The CIR panel is made up of twelve members, six
representatives from the IBEW and six representatives from NECA,
chosen for their ability to render fair and equable decisions
based upon the facts. The Council is unique in that panel members
are from within the industry and are made up of representatives
from both labor and management. Because of this, panel members
fully understand the impact that their decisions will have upon
the industry as well as to the parties involved. All decisions
rendered by CIR are unanimous as all panel members must agree
before a decision becomes official. When the members of the Council
are in session, they do not represent either NECA or IBEW, but
instead must remain objective and represent the electrical contracting
The CIR meets four times a year to hear grievances,
interpret existing agreements, and to arbitrate contract negotiations.
In each case, the parties must have tried to settle their differences
at home but have come to impasse.
The Council on Industrial Relations had its beginning
in the era immediately following World War I when labor strife
was rampant. In 1916, a small group of electrical contractors
called the Conference Club met regularly. Although they were,
in part, a social club, members carried on serious discussions
and presented various papers on matters of concern to the rapidly
expanding electrical industry.
It was during these meetings that a contractor
named L.K. Comstock proposed that a committee be formed with the
IBEW for the purpose of drafting a "National Labor Agreement."
Charles P. Ford,
1912 to 1925,
one of the founders
of the CIR.
A joint committee of IBEW representatives, led
by International Secretary Charles Ford, and contractors, led
by Comstock, met in March 1919. They agreed that a medium was
needed for frank discussions and so they issued a joint declaration
of principles. The declaration was accepted by the National Association
of Electrical Contractors and Dealers (name later changed to the
National Electrical Contractors Association) at their July 1919
convention. The IBEW approved the "Declaration
of Principles" later that same year in September at the
IBEW New Orleans Convention.
A committee comprised of five members of the
IBEW and five from the Contractors were appointed to work out
a plan for putting these principles into action. The committee
adopted a resolution to set up the Council on Industrial Relations,
January 26, 1920.
For their cooperation and hard work, L. K. Comstock,
sometimes called “the Dean of the Electrical Contracting
Industry,” and Charles P. Ford, International Secretary
of the IBEW, are given credit for creating the CIR.
Mr. Comstock said, “There were those who
said the proposal had no merit. The Council taught us how to create
and maintain friendly relations, labor and management, and to
eliminate the strike. This elimination has been productive of
savings of many millions of dollars, which have accrued to employer,
employee and the public. It has set a new and original pattern
of labor relations and has proved its efficacy and usefulness
to all parties concerned.”
While only 45 cases were heard in the first 25
years, as the credibility and influence of the CIR continued to
grow, 1,849 decisions were issued during the next 25 years until
now when an average of 130 decisions are issued each year by the
However, the number of decisions issued by CIR
is only part of the important role this panel plays in creating
stability within the electrical industry. Only a portion of labor
disputes reach CIR as there is pressure on both parties to settle
their disputes at home before they come to Council. Many thousands
of cases have been settled amicably by the employers and the local
unions bargaining in good faith, knowing that as a last resort
this “supreme court of the electrical contracting industry”
is open to them. In addition, CIR decisions rendered through the
years have set a pattern for local contractors and unions to follow
in solving their differences, making many appeals to the Council
The CIR recognizes the fundamental rights of
the employer and the employee and their mutual obligation to each
other, the industry and the general public. The panel follows
the precepts that matters such as wages, union recognition, peaceful
solution of industrial disputes, sacredness of negotiated contracts,
worker cooperation with management, and the obligation of both
parties to strive for efficiency in production are vital to the
Obviously, while the panel tries to be fair and
just, decisions sometimes do not please one or both of the disputing
parties. The record shows, however, that while complaints have
been few, they are almost exactly divided between management and
labor, which indicates that a fair, objective job is being done.
The story of the Council on Industrial Relations
is a story of service to the electrical industry. Today, the CIR
continues to prove that employers and employees can work together
in harmony and peace for the greater good of all.
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