For this exercise, I am very much drawn to Labor Relations and that is what I shall discuss. In any unionized environment, maintaining successful labor relations is key to a healthy and profitable business. Over the years, and in taking part in the process of three labor contracts in two industries, I am convinced that when the blood is running bad, so too will morale, productivity and safety. I have personally observed key mistakes on the part of both the union and management over the years.
On a personal level the biggest of these occurs when either an operational supervisor or his or her counterpart union steward believe that they are not equals on the work floor. I’ve witnessed firsthand how the lack of mutual respect can degrade these localized relationships and, in turn, degrade morale and goodwill amongst the union workforce and company personnel. Therefore, operational supervisors need to be of the mindset that their local union officials are to be powerful partners in order to achieve mutual company/union objectives with regards to successful and safe operations.
On a negotiation level, I’ve also see just how bitter contract meetings can be when one or both sides cannot or will not come to terms or even try. I saw this during negotiations in 2010 and again in 2014. In both of these cases, the parties stalemated and began to take shots at each other in the form of threats and propaganda. This negativity quickly trickles down into the working ranks of both sides and, as in the case mentioned above, can result in morale and peace shattering uncertainty amongst all stakeholders concerned. This kind of instability that we witnessed in York, Pennsylvania affected workers, their focus, their families and the critical government customer. Government defense contracts were lost at the site as a direct result of that ongoing labor dispute. Nothing affects the morale and well-being of any worker more than the uncertainty associated with possible job loss or a prolonged strike.
That being said, I firmly believe that there are several critical and essential elements that are absolutely necessary when dealing with labor relations. Understanding the contract in its entirety and agreeing to work through any issues and/or gray areas is an operational must. Ensuring that everyone involved on both sides to include the entire union body and company personnel are fully aware and educated about the agreements and abide by them is also critical. Also being transparent with each other about goals and desires for each other’s organization is, perhaps, the most important of all. If we lay it all out on the table to include budgets, forecasts and numbers then we put forth our strongest argument as to why it becomes and “can do” or a “can’t do” issue. Neither side will have any justification to believe the other has taken a “won’t do” stance. I have also seen firsthand how the assumption of a “won’t do” stance can quickly steam roll into the need for government mediation and arbitration.
I am not going to sit here and say it is easy or that a magic wand can be waved and everyone is happy. In my experience in union shops, I’ve noticed that what management wants most is success in business and what the union wants most is respect for their people. What this boils down to is that both sides have to remember their obligation to the mission they’ve committed to accomplish together as well as their commitment to all the stakeholders involved at every level. Doing this as well as bargaining in good faith at all times is critical to maintaining good labor relations. Union and management will not always see eye to eye, but if good faith is always maintained then so will the mutual respect that keeps both parties from getting up and leaving the table.