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About CIR

L.K. Comstock, one
of the founders
of the CIR.

The 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 industry.

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, IBEW
International Secretary,
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 panel.

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 unnecessary.

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 industry.

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.

See the Original Guiding Principles

See the Original Guiding Principles

Through the years there have been many significant comments passed on the exemplary relationship existing between NECA and the IBEW, pertaining to the merits and accomplishments of our Council on Industrial Relations. Here are a few selected at random:

L.K Comstock, NECA
Co-Founder of the CIR:

“To my mind, the best and by far the easiest field in which NECA and the IBEW can achieve their goals, is through the Council. Here, if we will, we can jointly proceed with policies of wide significance– not timorously as if we were afraid of the future—but rather as leaders of the type of labor-management most suited to the age which is now dawning. If we indeed achieve cooperation in such spirit, and hold that achievement, then I think we can certainly greet the unknown with a cheer.”

Dan W. Tracy, former
President of the IBEW:

“I know the value of the Council and what it has meant to our people in wage-hours saved. Any person who has ever been skeptical of the value of the Council, should play a part in it, either as member or as an observer. It would make them cherish it as one of the greatest promoters of labor-management relations that could be achieved.”

Chief Judge Sobeloff, U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit:
(Jan. 23, 1963)

“The Council’s principal purpose is to remove the causes of friction and dispute, in the Electrical Contracting Industry, by providing a forum for conciliation and settlement of controversies between IBEW Locals and NECA Chapters. It has aided in creating a relatively strikeless climate within the electrical construction industry, and it is undisputed that, by and large, it has served the parties well over years.”

Business Week—August 24, 1963:
“In only four day last week, 12 men disposed of 22 labor-management disputes that otherwise could have led to long and costly strikes. They were members of one of the oldest voluntary agencies for settling disputes between employers and unions—the Council on Industrial Relations set up in 1920 by the National Electrical Contractors Associations and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.”

Honorable Wayne Morse of Oregon, United States Senator: (May 4, 1963)
“Mr. President. 250 leaders of industry, labor and the public have just spent two days, at the invitation of the President, discussing problems of labor and management in the Nation’s present economic posture. In light of this, my colleagues will be interested I am sure in an account of a meeting which also began on Monday of this week, in Cincinnati, where the Council on Industrial Relations of the Electrical Contracting Industry considered its heaviest caseload in its 42 year history. This unique institution has been well described in an article in the New York Times of May 21, by John D. Pomfret. I ask unanimous consent that this article be inserted in the Appendix of the Record. There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed
in the Record.”

John H. Fanning
Former Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board
June 29, 1987

“After virtually a lifetime of observing Labor and Management trying to devise successful mechanisms for the fair and peaceful resolution of their disagreements, I have seen none better than the Council on Industrial Relations for the Electrical Contracting Industry. I have sat in on some of their meetings as a guest observer and find it difficult, if at all possible, to distinguish between Labor and Management Representatives.”

Council on Industrial Relations, Office of the Secretary
900 Seventh Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
202-728-6165 Fax: 202-728-6168 Email
© Copyright 2008 CIR. CIR is a registered trademark. All rights reserved. CIR is co-sponsored by the IBEW and NECA.