IMPROVING LABOR-MANAGEMENT RELATIONS In today’s highly competitive global economy it is very important for both management and labor to work together to continuously improve the performance of the business as measured by the quality, price, and features of its products, the satisfaction of its customers, and the benefits provided to all its employees.
Achieving continuous improvement requires good labormanagement relations, the timely resolution of workplace disputes, the effective use of the collective bargaining process, innovative approaches to workplace organization, mutual sharing of specialized knowledge about the business, and the shared ownership of new ideas. The SEWN program is experienced in working jointly with labor and management to resolve disputes and improve labor management relations both in crisis situations and over the long-term. Resolving Labor-Management Conflict Unresolved disputes between management and labor contribute to many company crises.
While some, even sharp, conflict may in fact be a sign of healthy workplace relationships, far too often businesses are put in jeopardy by failing to implement high-performance organizational strategies and improve labormanagement relations. The SEWN program has helped a number of clients resolve crisis situations before they cost the workforce their jobs and the community an important employer. Through these efforts to retain manufacturing in the region we have learned that two key principals are critical for success: 1. The Need to Engage the Workforce
To be successful over the long-run, all companies need to engage their workforce in the operation of the business by insuring that workers have the knowledge and skills to do the job as well as the interest and enthusiasm to get things done. In situations in which the workforce is represented by a union, however, management is often ambivalent about the role of the union in the operation of the business. When trust is absent it is especially difficult for both management and labor to separate the workplace situations where they compete or are in conflict from those in which they need to cooperate.
Small and middle-market manufacturers, especially privately owned, closely-held firms, suffer the most when workplace relations deteriorate because they lack the resources to effectively manage the business without cooperation. Closely-held family businesses, especially those that try hard to treat their workers fairly, also tend to find it extremely difficult to accept any outside influence over the workplace. 2. The Need to Insure the Businesses’ Success Unions, too, are often ambivalent about cooperating with management and fail to recognize that their long-term interests usually depend on the viability of the business.
Union leadership sometimes lack the communication and negotiation skills to broaden the union’s role in supporting the business. In other instances local officials lack the technical or political support of their union to handle the increased responsibilities of attending to not only the compensation and conditions of work but also to the successful use of its member’s talents and abilities. Local elected union officers must also contend with a wide range of local issues as well as cope with their own job and family responsibilities.
The SEWN program works hard to stay abreast of the special concerns of organized labor and to maintain good channels of communication. More Than Mediation Both the state and federal government can provide excellent third-party mediation services to help resolve grievances, negotiate contracts, and improve labormanagement relations. When a business is in crisis, however, mediators, are neither able nor responsible for comprehensively examining a businesses’ operating, financial, marketplace, or other problems in order to develop a context in which to quickly bring all of the parties together on what needs to be done.
Mediation services also may not be able to respond quickly enough to small distressed manufacturing companies that may be permanently out-of-business within just a few days of a crisis developing. And, mediation services typically are not called in until a problem has become acute. The SEWN program has the responsiveness, skills and resources to provide this kind of comprehensive assessment for its clients. High-Performance Workplaces
One of the most critical issues to a businesses’ success is how the workplace is organized to get the job done. In an effort to find new ways to compete effectively in today’s global economy many businesses face hard decisions about what to do on a daily basis. Should the business be downsized, adopt cellular manufacturing techniques, seek wage concessions, adopt progressive workplace practices, utilize ISO 9000 production controls, or expand the role of the labor- management committee process in the operation of the business?
Whatever the proper course of action, when both management and labor take ownership of the process of generating and implementing new ideas a much more sustainable process of organizational change can be fostered. Thus, the SEWN program’s approach to improving the productivity, culture, and profitability of a business is client centered. SEWN’s consultants work with all parties to analyze the problems at hand, suggest new ideas, and implement the group’s decisions