Unions and Management – Can’t We Just Get Along?

Initially it seems like oil and water, or cats and dogs; they just don’t get along. But that perception, and the fundamental reality, is changing.

THERE’S MORE IN COMMON THAN YOU MAY THINK

Unions want to gain higher salaries and more benefits for their members. They also want job security, good working conditions, and career opportunities. And, they certainly will defend members who are being treated unfairly.

Management shares some, if not all, of these objectives. They don’t object to fair compensation, want a stable workforce, and would prefer to have fairness and equity among employees.

SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

The profit motive necessitates efforts to contain or reduce the costs of doing business. Labor is almost always the major expense. So management desires to keep a lid on salaries and benefits. This factor alone creates a conflict between management and the unions that represent their employees.

Unions need to gain concessions from management to satisfy their members (who pay dues to get this representation and clout). Management, on the other hand, needs to show profits to satisfy their stockholders and owners.

DISAGREEMENTS CAN GET UGLY

When unions and management fail to adequately resolve their differences through negotiations, the consequences can be profound. There can be strikes, walkouts, lockouts, slowdowns, rotating absences, etc.

Most unions have distanced themselves from the thug tactics of yore, although occasional incidents of violence, intimidation or other unfair practices still occasionally occur.

Management can also be tough. When the air traffic controllers went on strike in 1981 President Regan fired them, assigned military personnel to handle their jobs, and eventually replaced them all.

A PARTNERSHIP IS NEEDED

Businesses need workers and workers need jobs. The fundamental rationale for cooperation is, therefore, in place. However, as with most things, “the devil is in the details.” EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) regulations, the Civil Rights Act, Fair Labor Standards Practices Act, Minimum Wage standards, and many more legislative and legal provisions form a legal foundation for labor issues. Bargaining Agreements, Labor Contacts, Binding Arbitration requirements, Past Practices history, etc., also govern the relationships between labor and management in a more explicit fashion. But the fundamental requirement for constructive relationships between the parties is based on cooperation, respect, and a genuine partnership to achieve mutual objectives.

There are many examples of these types of positive, constructive, results-producing partnerships. One that I am personally familiar with is SEIU (Services Employees International Union) and the County of Los Angeles where the union sponsored their members to attend a certification program for Medical Records Coding. The County’s health department needed the coders, and the unionized clerks wanted better career opportunities. So the County arranged for the instruction, and the Union paid the tuition and purchased the necessary computers, software, and textbooks. In return, the County agreed to hire the program graduates. Of course there are numerous other examples of this type of cooperation in the telecommunications industry (GTE), the automobile industry (all the majors), high-tech manufacturing (Siemens), hospital restructuring (several), etc.

LABOR-MANAGEMENT COOPERATION IS REQUIRED

Economic conditions and requirements have changed so rapidly that outmoded ways of doing business can no longer be indulged. Although I am not part of a growing chorus of managers and business leaders who believe that unions have “outlived their usefulness,” I do believe that a more cooperative relationship is required. Business is a partnership, and the stakeholders include labor, management, regulators, consumers, government, and the public.

Organized labor is well-aware that a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship that emphasizes productivity, competitiveness and cost containment/reduction is essential to maintaining and growing the business sector, our economy and society. The same imperative applies to the government sector where unions have made substantial inroads in organizing public employees. A changing economic world means confrontation must be replaced by concessions, cooperation, and the identification and support of mutual objectives.

Copyright © 2010, Dr. Ben A. Carlsen, MBA. All Rights Reserved Worldwide for all Media. You may reprint this article in your ezine, newsletter, newspaper, magazine, website, etc. as long as you leave all of the links active, do not edit the article in any way, leave my name and bio box intact, and you follow all of the EzineArticles Terms of Service for Publishers.