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,
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
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:
- 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.
The Pace of Change
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.
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.
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
Increase in Litigation
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.
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,
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
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
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.
Management has, in reality, only four choices or alternative
strategies from which to choose in dealing with their union(s).
Strategy 1 - Union Busting
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
- Unions serve a legitimate and valued purpose.
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
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?"
Management must stop going
to the union with solutions.
Traditionally, management identifies
an area for improvement, defines the solution, and moves ahead
out how to get
the union to “buy” their solution, sometimes requiring
changes in the "union's" contract.
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
can usually find a solution without changing any provision
of our contract. In my experience, management can achieve at
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%.
Management must communicate
much more often and with considerably more depth with its
union officials than most organizations do now.
does not approach its unions on a routine
basis with business information (costs, profits, customer
service indices, etc.). When management does approach the union,
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.
Management must recognize
that unions are much more reactive, broadly political and democratic
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!
Management must pay attention
to and address the unions' issues.
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
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.
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.
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
we quickly think of customers, shareholders, suppliers,
employees and community interest groups. The achievement of JOB
a true partnership requires that management view the union,
as an institution, as a valued, organizational stakeholder.
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
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
The union must demonstrate that they believe effective management
of the enterprise has a valuable and essential role to
||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
- Unions must come "out of the
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
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.
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
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.
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
do not weaken the role of the union, or its officials. In
fact, they strengthen them! Union beliefs to the contrary have
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
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.
Union officials must accept the responsibility
that comes along with being a stakeholder of the enterprise.
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
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.
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:
- 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
parties are encumbered with the baggage of the
the union and
management must identify
historical baggage, briefly, be
instructed by the
and "let it go".
Focus on behaviors not
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.
those behaviors will effectively eliminate the very wasteful
diatribes about the others’ "attitudes".
Proceed in the absence
If the parties truly trusted one another
there would be no need to form a partnership - one would
together awaiting "proof" of trustworthiness on the
part of the other party is not unlike "waiting for Godot".
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.
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
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.
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.
Never let the partnership "get
out ahead of" the ability and the
relationship of the union and management to manage the
All too often, union and/or management leaders, in their rush
things happen on the shop floor, institute processes and programs that
outpace the ability and capability of their respective leaders to lead
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
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
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.
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
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.
- Awareness and commitment building
- Why should we/do we want
towards a partnership or strategic
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?
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?
Knowing all of this we do or do not believe it is in the best interest
of our organization to move forward.
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?
- Goals and measures
- What are the goals of the partnership or
strategic alliance for the company
- How will we know it when we see it?
What measures will tell us if we
are or are not meeting our goals?
- What will be done
and by whom if we
are not meeting our goals?
Governance and implementation
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?
there major policy and/or philosophy
issues that need to be addressed and resolved before
we can effectively move
e.g. neutrality, outsourcing,
union leader responsibility to
make it work, is partnership
voluntary or mandatory at all locations, etc.?
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?
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?
Who is responsible for
what when the inevitable day-to-day
realities of organizational life cause
Explosions along the way? When
and how will this be accomplished?
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
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
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:
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
Return rate – the
percentage of employees returned to
their previous job, in accordance with collective bargaining
agreement, due to ‘non-performance’ on the
Voluntary return -
the employee has the right to return
to his/her previous position within prescribed period of
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
level job in the classification system creates a ripple
effect for every
job vacated in job classifications below initial job being
Realistic job previews include the following steps:
- 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.
- 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
the employee for the position.
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
of them if they were to be permanently assigned to the
job. While no assessment was made regarding whether or
not a person
qualified for the job, they are given feedback, by both
union and management observers, on how they did and their
for success on the job.
- 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.
The most senior employee
who completed the realistic job
and "rebid" for the position is selected for permanent
placement on the job.
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
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
||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
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
traditional job placement
to course until issues were resolved in a “win-win” manner.
|CAN OTHERS ACCOMPLISH SIMILAR
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!