Home

 

 

Rethinking the Management - Labor Relationship
The realities of the 21st Century for organizational leaders include:

• continuing advances in technology and communications,
• new product development,
• rapidly changing markets,
• exceptional quality and customer service as an entitlement in the eyes of the customer,
• an uncertain global economy
• competition from low wage labor in foreign countries
• increasingly more effective competition from niche market suppliers.

The challenge facing American business is to increase quality, market share, and customer satisfaction; maintain or reduce costs; and, operate successfully in a global marketplace.

To be successful in the face of these and other realities, organizations must examine their traditional practices in virtually every facet of their operations: product and/or service development, manufacturing, marketing, distribution and human resources. Success demands the most effective use of all available resources, especially people.

When a labor union represents the workforce, this examination requires an even greater degree of adjustment and re-thinking of relationships. Historically, management has attempted to avoid having a represented workforce. Organized labor, born in an atmosphere of distrust and conflict, has maintained that posture as a way of survival and growth.

The realities of global competition in the 21st Century will force companies and their unions to rethink their traditional postures. Management must examine its stance toward organized labor. Labor has to re-think its stance toward the company. Growth, if not survival, for both are at stake.

As Boyd Young, International President of PACE International Union, once said, “Change is essential only if survival is essential”.

Management, however, is in control. Management controls the resources of the organization and must make choices as to the kind of relationship it will foster with unions. In this article, I will outline the strategic choices management faces, the potential consequences of each, and how union and management leaders may want to rethink their relationship.

KEY ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

The impetus for change comes from the impact of changes in the global marketplace. The key factors that I believe impact the future of union-management relationships include:

  1. Economic Dominance

    In the past, American business dominated
    the global economy. American businesses
    now must compete in a global economy where
    we are not always the "low cost, high quality"
    supplier. The world marketplace is full of
    complexities and uncertainties unparalleled
    in modern history.
  1. The Pace of Change
  2. Rapid and sometimes radical change is a fact upon which organization leaders must base their plans and actions. Constant change occurs in every aspect of business. In 1989 and 1990 the geopolitical map of Europe was re-drawn without major international conflict. A wall crumbled. A divided Germany reunited. Democracy and free market economies began to emerge throughout Eastern Europe.

    This "warp speed change" affects everything: financing, management, design, production, marketing and distribution of products and services. Successful leadership of tomorrow's organization lies in welcoming, leading and managing change.

  1. Information Availability

    The pace of change in communication technology has created a climate in which everyone knows virtually everything about everything - instantly. There really are no secrets as information technology has become available to virtually everyone.

  2. Old Ways Failing

    Managing the way we did just five years ago is not effective today and will not be tomorrow. Rapid communications coupled with heightened expectations, if not perceptions of entitlement, on the part of customers, suppliers and employees have changed the management game. Yesterday's practices will not produce tomorrow's success.
  1. Increase in Litigation

    The increasingly litigious nature of our society places even greater burdens on managers and executives. Customers and employees are increasingly creative in finding ways to bring suit against someone. Product liability stretches far beyond the first several months of use with the initial customer. "Wrongful discharge" is taking on new meanings.
  1. Resistance to Change

    With the increasing pervasiveness of change, people continue to display enormous resistance to change. People are saying they just don't want to do things differently.

As if these, and other, environmental factors were not enough reason to reconsider labor-management relationships, one only needs to review the institutional goals of the respective “institutions” - management and unions - to find an even more compelling reason for such a reexamination.

Continuous improvement in costs, quality, productivity, customer satisfaction, market share, and profitability are key goals of management. The unions and their members are the key, if not primary, contributor to the achievement of management’s goals.

Employment security, due process, human dignity, continually improving wage and benefit programs and involvement in the decision making process are key goals of unions. Management, however, has control of the resources and environment in which these goals are to be achieved.
Neither management nor the union
can achieve its institutional goals
without the other! Both unions
and management are much more
likely to achieve their institutional
goals through collaboration and
cooperation than conflict!




With these and other forces in the business environment, decision-making has become more complex. We must simplify the criteria for finding our way to success. The basic criterion should be: What is the decision or policy that will allow my corporation to get the job done?

It's simple: continuous improvement in cost, quality and customer satisfaction, and market share in a global economy while meeting the needs of all stakeholders in the organization. Foremost among the stakeholders are the employees (those who do the work). How can we get all the people within our organization to work together towards common goals because they want to, not because they have to?

As management and unions think about the kinds of relationships they can have with one another, they must ask one simple question. What policies, strategic directions, philosophies and practices can best accomplish JOB 1?

Most every American, and certainly every American manager, has biases toward organized labor. Each comes to the relationship with pre-conceived notions, prejudices, and biases. Decisions that will lead to success tomorrow, however, have to transcend prejudice and bias.

Successful decisions serve the needs of the business - doing JOB 1. American business must develop relationships with unions that will allow them to accomplish JOB 1 over the long term. It is simultaneously that simple and complex.

THE CHOICES

Management has, in reality, only four choices or alternative strategies from which to choose in dealing with their union(s).

Strategy 1 - Union Busting

Management can take the posture of doing everything possible to encourage their union employees to de-certify their union. These proceedings, extremely difficult and legally risky, have a very low "success rate". They also result in the loss of “good will” towards the company.

The process of de-certification brings with it many of the acrimonious actions and attitudes which occur during union organizing campaigns. Employees divide into competing factions. Depending on which side of the pro-union or anti-union fence one is on, employees perceive the company to be either caring or malevolent. In addition, efforts to convince employees to decertify usually take years. If for no other reason, the employees will simply resist change.

On the plus side, union busting may work. Management can use its resources to create and live in a hostile environment for a long time. Eventually, the union will be gone.

The question is simple: Is this the most effective use of corporate resources (time and money of both management and employees) to get JOB 1 done? JOB 1 gets done when the organization focuses all its energies on giving customers quality products and services. Union busting detracts from JOB 1.

Why should the employees who want to keep the union care about the quality of the company products? The company is asking them for performance that produces quality and increases productivity. At the same time, they are trying to take away the institution that in the members’ perception, protects them from exploitation and ensures fairness.

Strategy 2 - Hardball

The second option is to play hardball. In this relationship, management rejects every position and suggestion made by the union. Union representatives are wrong and the two parties have to contest every action the other proposes. Arbitration and mediation are a way of life.

In the hardball game, management acts as if everything the union holds dear blocks the road to corporate success. If the union likes it, it can't be good for management. It may be Sunday overtime, seniority, job classifications, or job bidding procedures. Management puts its energy into aggressively attacking anything union officials suggest.

The management posture is to decide on how to improve and then try to find a way to get the union to accept the change. Management identifies a problem, figures out a solution and then jams it down the union's throat, always acting within the scope of the union contract.

Playing hardball can work. Management can find ways to implement its solutions. Pressure, coercion and persuasive arguments by high paid lawyers do win arbitration cases.

Hardball, however, is costly. The litigious labor relation’s process is very expensive. It is also divisive, perpetuating an us versus them mentality. This strategy often prevents management from managing. After all, final decisions often rest with an arbitrator, who has no interest in your JOB 1.

The hardball strategy has both sides focusing on who is right, not what is right. In this continual struggle, everyone – particularly those that have to get the work done - invariably lose sight of accomplishing JOB 1.

Strategy 3 - Making the Union Benign

A benign union does what management asks it to do. There are excellent working relationships between managers, supervisors and employees. Conflicts between the interests of the company and the employees simply disappear or are suppressed by a union leadership that doesn't want to or cannot rock the boat.

The benign union strategy works! Management can run the company the way Management wants to. The benign union and its members become passive employees of the organization. Workers do what they are told, rather than, necessarily, what is best to get JOB 1 done.

This strategy is not without its cost and risks. Its success rests on the relationships managers and supervisors develop with employees. To be successful, first line supervisors must have extraordinarily well developed interpersonal and communications skills. Developing these skills - because most managers are not that well developed - is a lengthy and costly endeavor.

Management also puts itself in the position of stepping covertly between the union and its members. The risk of an unfair labor charge is real, although probably manageable.


Most management groups are not sufficiently patient, skilled, or resourceful to effectively implement this alternative strategy over the long term. Even when they are, management lives in the constant fear that this "sleeping lion" may some day wake up.

The question for management is whether adopting this strategy is the best business decision. Is this the most productive use of time, energy and money to accomplish JOB 1?

Strategy 4 - A True Partnership

The fourth strategy is to form a true partnership. Management and labor work together. They focus their joint energy and resources on doing JOB 1. The union and management decide to
get into the same boat.

“If we are all in the same boat, it is very unlikely that one of us will punch a hole in the bottom of the boat!”

Experience with a growing number of organizations suggests that this is the most appropriate strategy for effectiveness and growth in tomorrow's global economy. Management and labor focus their attention on the continuous improvement of the whole organization.

True cooperative partnerships, however, take time and energy to build. Efforts to create true partnerships always begin with a very traditional argument: Whose boat is it? Your boat or my boat? In true partnerships it is neither the union’s boat nor the management’s boat – it is a new boat that the parties create together. It’s OUR boat!


STARTING POINTS FOR MANAGEMENT

Both management and unions have to make changes in how they view themselves and each other. The following key principles about unions are those that management must adopt as the foundation of a true partnership

  1. Unions serve a legitimate and valued purpose.

    There are, believe it or not, some members of
    management who firmly believe that the only
    good union person is one who died slowly,
    painfully and with a lot of blood.


Management must behave in ways that demonstrate their respect for the institution of organized labor and their respect for the legitimate role union leaders play within both the union and management organizations.

Management has to concern itself with the issues that are important to the union. For example, the source of power and income for unions is its membership. Management often goes to its union and asks them to help reduce the workforce. Managers are asking unions to do something that is not in their best interests.

In a true partnership management would go to its unions and work with them to find ways of meeting both the company and the union's interests. For example, management might say, "Here is what the company needs - reduce the labor content of our base operations. We also want to locate and create new jobs that will maintain or even increase the size of the union membership. How can we work together to accomplish both?"


  1. Management must stop going to the union with solutions.

    Traditionally, management identifies an area for improvement, defines the solution, and moves ahead to figure out how to get the union to “buy” their solution, sometimes requiring changes in the "union's" contract.

    First, management has to stop seeing the contract as the union's contract. Both parties negotiated and agreed to it. It is our contract.

    Second, management must approach the union with its perception of the problem, not the solution. Together union and management can usually find a solution without changing any provision of our contract. In my experience, management can achieve at least 75% what it really needs without changing the contract. This approach makes the union much more open to changes in our contract that will accomplish the remaining 25%.

  1. Management must communicate much more often and with considerably more depth with its union officials than most organizations do now.

    Management usually does not approach its unions on a routine basis with business information (costs, profits, customer service indices, etc.). When management does approach the union, they do so only when they want something. A true partnership requires routine communication about all business issues. Union leaders need to understand the economic and other business realities managers face while management must understand the realities of the world of the union.
  1. Management must recognize that unions are much more reactive, broadly political and democratic than management.

Union leaders, with whom management will
form the partnership, historically, become
leaders in only one way. They convince more
than fifty percent of their members that they will
serve them well. The politics of election and
acceptance by their constituents is never far
from the front of the union leader's consciousness.
This does not imply that there are no politics in
management. There are, simply, fewer voters.

    It takes time and positive experiences before management can realistically expect union officials to believe that they (management) truly want a partnership. Only then will they venture forward and assert their influence upon their members to achieve JOB 1.

    Management must earn a positive reaction from the union institution. Management cannot make one impassioned plea and expect unions to join them. Management must take the lead in creating the environment in which a true partnership can emerge. Union leaders will respond to the behavior of management, not it’s words!

  1. Management must pay attention to and address the unions' issues.

    A true partnership means that partners share each other’s interests. The yours - ours dichotomy begins to disappear. The union brings to the partnership issues that are of interest to its members. These interests include continuous training and development, safety and health, sharing the economic gain, employment security and union viability.

    Unions also have very strongly held values regarding human dignity, the fair right of representation, the value of seniority, the need for consistent focus on a safe and healthy work environment, continuous – not just when its affordable – focus on training and development, etc. Management must recognize the legitimacy of these values. Moreover, they must work jointly with the union to resolve them.

    Countless examples could be cited where, as partners, union and management have been able to invent creative solutions to seemingly irreconcilable differences. It is quite remarkable how effective true partners can be.

  2. Management must truly want a stronger and more responsible union.

    A true partnership requires that management view organized labor as a stakeholder in the enterprise. When we think of stakeholders, we quickly think of customers, shareholders, suppliers, employees and community interest groups. The achievement of JOB 1 through a true partnership requires that management view the union, as an institution, as a valued, organizational stakeholder.

    Management must accept that a true partnership will include sharing decision making with appropriate union officials as partners or stakeholders in the enterprise. Coming to agreement on the shared decision making processes to be adopted may well be one of the initial steps in the launching of a partnership effort.


STARTING POINTS - UNIONS

In the spirit of true partnership, there are six principles that the unions have to examine as well. They, too, must be willing to accept some positions that run counter to some of their traditional stance.

  1. The union must demonstrate that they believe effective management of the enterprise has a valuable and essential role to play.
As is the case with management, some union officials seem to believe that the only good manager is one who dies slowly and painfully with a lot of blood. The union helped slay him while drawing double time, and then filed a grievance for a mispick on the overtime for the slaying.

Unions must publicly acknowledge the importance of effective management. They cannot take the position that simultaneously disparages and praises managers. They must stop describing management on the one hand as a collection of incompetent, over-priced lackeys while viewing them as a group of people so intelligent that their every action is part of an extraordinarily brilliant conspiracy to destroy the union movement in the United States.


  1. Unions must come "out of the closet."

    Most union officials will state, privately, that
    continuous improvement - doing JOB 1- is
    essential. However, few take a public stand
    with their membership on this issue. Cooperative
    partnerships simply cannot occur unless
    union officials acknowledge and support
    the achievement of JOB 1.

Union leaders must accept and help their members understand that companies employee people in order to get specific work done in order for the company to success and that employment is not an entitlement and that businesses are not social welfare organizations.

They must publicly acknowledge that highly profitable companies
which are continuously improving costs, market share, quality and customer satisfaction are essential contributors to a strong and viable union movement. In addition to representing its members, helping companies to be successful by these measures must become the business of the union.

  1. Union officials must respond and take the lead in convincing their members that management is sincere.

    People in organizations – management and union alike – have “the memory of an elephant”. While a person, individually, may never have been “wronged” by management, what is often heard is, “I’ve never been done wrong, but management did XYZ to my third cousin’s second wife fifteen years ago.”

    Management's behaviors and actions - rather than rhetoric - will show its sincerity about cooperative efforts. Once this occurs, union leaders have the responsibility to convince the union membership of the need for change and the need for cooperation. They cannot sit on the sidelines while management tries to defend itself with union members. Union officials must take a stand and support and reinforce demonstrated commitment on the part of management.
  1. Union officials must encourage and support truly joint efforts.

    True partnerships create opportunities for union members to participate in continuous improvement and the day-to-day decision making process. Too many unions discourage employee involvement. The fear is that such involvement will weaken the power and influence of union officials. Cooperative partnerships, developed jointly, do not weaken the role of the union, or its officials. In fact, they strengthen them! Union beliefs to the contrary have to change.

  2. Cooperative partnership and collective bargaining are not either– or choices.

Some union officials believe that a cooperative
partnership weakens the collective bargaining
process. Becoming a cooperative partner does
not endanger the "integrity of the collective
bargaining process."

There is substantial evidence that effective, jointly managed, collaborative efforts serve to strengthen the collective bargaining process. Failure to support such efforts denies a union leader's responsibility to the union members and the institution of organized labor.

  1. Union officials must accept the responsibility that comes along with being a stakeholder of the enterprise.

    The demands of a world marketplace absolutely require major changes in the way in which work is done. Union officials cannot "cherry pick" a stakeholder or partnership relationship. They cannot pick the elements that are easy or positive for them and stonewall those elements that are difficult or risky.

    For example, union officials cannot participate in a consensus decision-making process on an issue, leave the room, and then sabotage the decision made with their full participation. No “hand grenades over the wall”.

STARTING POINTS - UNIONS AND MANAGEMENT

The six points for management and the six points for unions outlined above indicate the changes in thought and subsequent behavior required of the respective parties to a potential partnership. Outline below are six points that both parties must commit to practice if there is any potential for a successful partnership:

  1. Let go of past baggage; focus on the future.

    There is nothing that anyone can do about the past
    except learn from it. Both parties can (and probably
    will) bring up countless incidents in the past that
    "prove" just how evil, incompetent and "bad" the
    other party truly is.

    Moving into the future cannot be accomplished when
    the parties are encumbered with the baggage of the
    past. Both the union and management must identify
    historical baggage, briefly, be instructed by the past,
    and "let it go".
  1. Focus on behaviors not attitudes.

    Traditional labor-management interactions are laced with allegations against the other parties "lack of integrity", "poor attitudes", etc. What really counts in any relationship is what the parties to the partnership do, not what they say. The parties to a partnership must outline the specific behaviors required for success and expected of each other.

    Practicing those behaviors will effectively eliminate the very wasteful diatribes about the others’ "attitudes".
  1. Proceed in the absence of trust.

    If the parties truly trusted one another there would be no need to form a partnership - one would already exist. Delaying working together awaiting "proof" of trustworthiness on the part of the other party is not unlike "waiting for Godot".

    Trust is an earned commodity. All the discussions in the world will not develop trust. By working together in forging and implementing a true partnership, "distrustful" experiences of the past will be replaced with"trustful" experiences. Trust will be built by working together towards common goals. There is no other way.

  1. Never hold the partnership development process hostage.

    Invariably one party or the other, at some point in time, will approach the other with "if you don't give me X, I am pulling out of the partnership". During the evolution of a true partnership, both union and management officials will attempt to hold the process hostage. In other words, both parties will, ultimately, be"equally guilty" of "hostage holding". It cannot be eliminated.

    At the outset of a partnership process, the parties must acknowledge that this will occur and develop procedures and techniques to deal with it when it occurs.

  2. Commit to a long-term process.

    Crafting and maintaining a true partnership is a lengthy process. After all, countless years of adversarial history have to be overcome. Union and management officials considering true partnerships must accept that doing so requires enormous patience, courage and energy.
  1. Never let the partnership "get out ahead of" the ability and the relationship of the union and management to manage the partnership.

    All too often, union and/or management leaders, in their rush to make things happen on the shop floor, institute processes and programs that outpace the ability and capability of their respective leaders to lead and manage those programs and/or processes.

    Employees/members become involved in new ways of doing things that, at best, their institutional leaders don't understand. In many cases,"middle level" union and/or management leaders simply "don't get it" or they "get it, but don't buy it" or they "get it" and "buy it" but simply don't know how to function in the new roles, responsibilities and relationships expected of them. If/when this occurs, the expectations of employees/members are raised and their leaders (be they management
    or union or both) can't deliver! The result is unmet expectations with all its negative implications "coming down on" the leadership of the respective institutions.

SUMMARY

Based on the experience of my clients and other organizations, I have very strong beliefs about cooperative partnerships. I believe that to ensure future success, cooperative partnership is the most viable of the four management strategies I have described. Trying to bust the union, or playing hardball, is not an effective strategy for accomplishing JOB 1. The benign strategy is better than these two, but not as effective as a cooperative partnership.

When trying a cooperative strategy the unions may not choose to "come to the party," or management may not be willing to cooperate "that much." If a cooperative partnership strategy fails - and some do - the relationship between management and labor will still have been improved. The entire organization will have sharpened its focus on JOB 1.

Success at JOB 1 in a global economy will require long-term commitment. It takes the focused energy of everyone in the enterprise to increase quality and customer satisfaction and keep costs competitive.

What labor relations strategy best marshals the energy of everyone to accomplish JOB 1? Management will have to exercise extraordinary leadership and carefully consider cooperative partnership as the most appropriate strategy.

WHERE TO FROM HERE?


The poet, Dylan Thomas, in 1952, admonished people, Do not go gentle into that good night.... Partnerships or strategic alliances are not right for everyone. They require major and dramatic changes in virtually every aspect of both union and management organizations. The decision to proceed should be made on the basis of full understanding of the realities of making it happen on the part of key leaders in both the union and management organizations.

Suggested Step

  1. Awareness and commitment building
    1. Why should we/do we want to move towards a partnership or strategic alliance?
  • What would a partnership or strategic alliance look like in our organization(s)?
  • What is the business case for moving in this direction for the Company? The Union?
  • What would be in it for us? Them?
  • What do we anticipate WE would have to do differently? THEY would have to do differently? BOTH of us would have to do differently?
  1. Knowing all of this we do or do not believe it is in the best interest of our organization to move forward.

or

 

    1. If the answer to B is YES, how do we help the rest of the leaders in our respective organizations arrive at this same conclusion?
  1. Goals and measures
    1. What are the goals of the partnership or
      strategic alliance for the company
      and union?
    2. How will we know it when we see it?
      What measures will tell us if we
      are or are not meeting our goals?
    3. What will be done and by whom if we
      are not meeting our goals?
  1. Governance and implementation planning
    1. What has been the history of labor-management relations? What previous initiatives have occurred? How have they gone? Is there baggage we have to take into account?
    2. Are there major policy and/or philosophy issues that need to be addressed and resolved before we can effectively move forward; e.g. neutrality, outsourcing, union leader responsibility to make it work, is partnership voluntary or mandatory at all locations, etc.?
    3. What form of leadership and governance structures and processes would be most effective? What level of involvement in policy and process formulation is appropriate from others? When?
    4. What is the plan for moving forward? Who is involved in developing that plan and when? What are the stop points or go/no go decision points along the way for management? for the union
    1. Who is responsible for doing
      what when the inevitable day-to-day
      realities of organizational life cause
      Explosions along the way? When
      and how will this be accomplished?
RECOMMENDED APPROACH

A small group of senior management and union officials (2 - 3 each) work together to think through and make recommendations on the topics listed above (as well as others) to appropriate organizational leadership bodies (may or may not involve others in formulating these recommendations).

Upon resolution/agreement on skeleton plan, engage union and management leaders from all locations to be involved (mill managers, operations managers, HR/LR managers, Local Union presidents, staff representatives, etc.) in an introduction to partnerships and strategic alliances in which >work in process= is discussed on all topics listed above to begin the awareness and commitment building process for them as well as gain their insights and suggestions on the implementation plan.


REALISTIC JOB PREVIEW

An example of balancing the interests of unions and management

For more than 30 years it has been my privilege to serve as a coach, adviser, consultant and third-party facilitator for employees and their union and management leaders in 85+ organizations in North America and Europe.
This article presents one example of what union and management leaders can accomplish when they work together to solve mutual problems.

One key ingredient in any truly effective and successful cooperative effort between any union and management organizations (“partnerships”, “strategic alliances”, etc.) is the acceptance of the objective of collaboration based upon common interests. There will always be interests of unions and/or management that are, in fact, impossible to reconcile through collaboration.


My experience, however, suggests that an overwhelming majority of those that appear to be irreconcilable can be resolved in a truly "win-win" manner through effective, creative collaboration. When the parties hold a sincere and genuine interest in finding creative ways of inventing “win-win" solutions to apparently irreconcilable interests, such solutions can be found.


One example of apparently conflicting interests is the
selection and placement of employees to fill open jobs.
Unions historically advocate a public posting system through
which interested employees can express interest in a job
opening and be given a fair and impartial opportunity
to get the job for which he/she bid. Unions advocate
selection based primarily on seniority. After all,
seniority is an objective, measurable criterion. Selection
based primarily on seniority eliminates any vestige of favoritism.


Management, on the other hand, equally strongly advocates selection based primarily upon the "best qualified" for the position without regard to seniority. Management argues, particularly in light of rapidly increasing technology and more complex job requirements, that selection based upon seniority will not result in the selection of an employee with the best chance for success on the job.

Unions counter that if management had been doing its job of continuously educating and training employees for new technology, the most senior employee would, in fact, be sufficiently qualified to perform the job requirements and be successful on the job.
In spite of the fact that both parties recognize and readily
admit that placing the ‘wrong’ person in a job is in neither
of their best interests, the debate can quickly deteriorate
into an "I'm right, you're wrong" stalemate.

Over a period of 4 – 6 months working with the union and management leaders as a trusted third-party facilitator in two separate client engagements in the late 1980’s, union and management leaders were able to develop a very creative solution.

A brief history

As a result of years of acrimonious had decided “there simply must be a better way”. These leaders researched the experiences of other organizations and attended the Ecology of Work Conference. [The Ecology of Work Conference is held annually and brings together union and management leaders and employees to share their experiences in collaboration.]

As a result of this experience, both organizations concluded they wanted to move forward. They jointly conducted resource selection interviews. I was retained to assist them as a result of that joint process.

At the outset of the engagement over a 3 – 6 month period, a series of facilitated joint meetings took place during which guiding principles for the effort were developed. These guiding principles ultimately became the ‘partnership agreement’ which outlined these principles, goals, and commitments of the parties to achieving those goals.

In both organizations, union and management leaders began by developing a list of traditionally contentious issues they would like to address. After reviewing this jointly generated list of issues, I suggested that they review their respective grievance records and select the most frequently cited grievance as their first collaborative project.

In both cases, the cited cause of the most frequently recurring grievances centered on the selection of employees for open positions:

  • Most senior employee not selected
  • Selected employee being returned to his/her previous job due to ‘failure to perform adequately during the contractual trial period’ for the new job
  • Allegations of harassment by management of the selected employee
  • Etc.

Definitions:

  • Return rate – the percentage of employees returned to their previous job, in accordance with collective bargaining agreement, due to ‘non-performance’ on the new job.
  • Voluntary return - the employee has the right to return to his/her previous position within prescribed period of time.
  • Involuntary return - management has the right to declare‘inability to perform the new job’ within a prescribed time period
  • Ripple effect – filling an open job creates another opening for the job of the employee who is selected for the new job. The highest level job in the classification system creates a ripple effect for every job vacated in job classifications below initial job being filled.

Realistic job previews include the following steps:

  1. Union and management leaders jointly develop a job description that outlines the duties, responsibilities, minimum requirements, compensation, hours of work, etc. Minimum requirements, for example, might include:
    • high school diploma or GED
    • at least two years experience as a machine operator
    • demonstrated ability to read and interpret simple shop drawings.
  1. A job posting form, used in all other job postings
    as prescribed by the labor agreement and containing
    the information developed in step 1, is prepared
    and posted. The job posting invited those interested
    in previewing the job to indicate their interest.
    This is not a “bidding sheet” for selection of
    the employee for the position.

  1. ALL employees who "signed up" for the job preview are scheduled to actually perform the duties of the job in as realistic a manner as possible consistent with safe work practices and the technical realities of the job. Candidates are paid at their regular rate for the “preview” period.

    The “preview period” is one full cycle of the job activities (1 – 2 days) so that the employees can get a real sense of what the job is really like and what would be required of them if they were to be permanently assigned to the job. While no assessment was made regarding whether or not a person was qualified for the job, they are given feedback, by both union and management observers, on how they did and their potential for success on the job.
  1. Upon completion of the "realistic job preview",
    all who completed the preview must decide if they
    want to bid for consideration for permanent
    selection to the position under the
    terms of the existing labor agreement.
  1. The most senior employee who completed the realistic job
    preview
    and "rebid" for the position is selected for permanent placement on the job.

RATIONALE

Most people are very realistic about what they can and cannot do and what they do and do not want to be doing at work. Employees who are really not qualified for or interested in a job after they have previewed the actual work will not "rebid" for the position. After all, no one likes to fail. Most labor agreements have provisions for an employee to return (or be returned) to their previous job if they do not work out on the new job. Employees don’t want to be embarrassed by having to “go back” to their former job.


HOW IT HAPPENED AND THE RESULTS


As this issue was initially being discussed, both parties took their traditional views and positions.

At the outset, in both the situations, union and
management leaders had “dug in their heels”
- they were stuck. After considerable discussion
and coaching, the leaders decided that the only
way this could even be considered was in a
“ non-precedent setting” pilot project or experiment

An agreement was crafted that authorized this experiment for the next three job openings only. It also provided for joint data collection, analysis and review as the experiment ran its course. Leaders jointly assessed not only the “success rate” of those selected through this process but historical data as well. A “control group” approach was also taken in which the management leaders would state who they would have selected and why.
Union and management leaders jointly reviewed the history of voluntary and involuntary “returns” to the previous job for the previous three year period. Historically, the “return rate” from the traditional “bidding” procedure was 41%. Interestingly, the “return rate” for the traditional “management only” selection procedure for the same period was 38 - 41%!
[Management’s presumed insight into who would be successful was less than stellar!]




In the 10+ years that the “realistic job preview” procedure has been in place, the “return rate” is less than 10%. In fact, management leaders, during the experiment stage, admitted that they were glad that the ones they have privately picked did not get the job. The ones that got the jobs through the realistic job preview process
were performing much better than management could have dreamed their selections would have.
A real success story!

Both parties won! The ‘ripple effect’ disruption, training and retraining costs, lost productivity, temporary increase in quality rejects, and grievances all went down in both organizations dramatically. The success of this initial project brought with it the proof that they parties could work collaboratively so that both parties “won” – a tremendous boost to the collaborative effort in its infancy!

Success was achieved by having union and management leaders who:

  • took the time to learn about and understand each others’ interests and needs beyond traditional negotiating rhetoric
  • committed to focusing on finding and/or creating solutions that enabled both institutions to get their interests met
  • had the courage to “let go” of their past baggage and focus on the future
  • ensured that job previews were accomplished early in the planning for capacity expansion so that this process did not interfere with those plans which could occur through the “domino effect” of traditional job placement
  • stayed to course until issues were resolved in a “win-win” manner.

CAN OTHERS ACCOMPLISH SIMILAR RESULTS?

In my experience, realistic job previews can be an effective tool for increasing the likelihood of success in filling job openings in a variety of organizations and jobs. I have no empirical evidence of its success in complex and highly technical positions – engineers, chemists, information technology.

The empirical evidence for all hourly rated and salaried non-exempt jobs is consistent with the results cited above.

At a minimum, however, regardless of how selection decisions are made, candidates for any job should have the opportunity to experience the job – in its day-to-day realities before the final selection is made.

In the highly complex environment of union-management relations, the potential applicability of realistic job previews depends upon:

which road you choose to take!