Did You Know – Silence Is Better Than A Quick Response?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT,  Sloan School of Management has reported on a new study, appearing soon in the Journal of Psychology, telling about the positive effect “silence” can have on negotiations for all the parties involved.

Researchers found that when one party  doesn’t  immediately respond  to the other party it allows them time to come up with new ideas that can help both parties win instead of immediately responding and using the traditional approach  of one side has to lose for the other side to win.  They also found out that the silence was not as awkward as people sometimes perceive it to be.

Having that period of silence isn’t new to us at CALMC.  We normally encourage groups to use silence  with problem solving.  We suggest groups use “silent generation” time during brainstorming sessions . Silent generation time gives people the opportunity to focus and concentrate.  That silent time is only about five minutes but, just as they found  with the negotiations, the result is better.  People come up with more and better ideas than if they did a more typical popcorn style brainstorming.  Without taking some silent time, it can result in a single solution that everyone goes along with and ends up being a bad solution.  Time is wasted as everyone has to look for other solutions all over again.

Silence isn’t the only technique that can help make both sides win in negotiations.  There’s a bargaining process many labor practitioners are familiar with and that’s interest-based bargaining.  It’s sometimes called win-win negotiations because the process itself is designed for both sides to win.  The process is based on identifying the common interests of the parties which helps them come up with solutions that both sides can support.  Interests are concerns, needs, wants, or fears.  We use it as a problem solving process and have blogged about it many times.  It can be used with just about any group or decision not just with labor-management issues.

The interest-based process has deliberate steps including the step to identify separate interests and then  common interests of the parties.   Most of the time, the parties will find they have more in common than they thought.   The common interests help parties develop solutions that everyone can support.  The process also allows for objectivity to help with decision-making on the multiple solutions developed.

Silence can also be built into the interest-based process because immediate responses are not needed.  It may not be silence built into the process but each of the steps can be done in different sessions.  For example, when we work with groups, depending on the issue or project we’re working on, we may only do a step or two at a meeting.  It may take several meetings to look at solutions, again depending on the problem or project, because more information is needed or additional problem solving techniques are necessary or constituents need to be contacted.

When the report comes out in the Journal of Psychology it may provide more information on how silence works but from the work  we’ve done,  it’s not the silence that brings people together.  It takes more than that to create win-win scenarios.

One thing that helps is the commitment committees have to creating a win-win environment.  It’s not always easy and it can take time and effort to work on some issues.  The best work we’ve seen has come from those committees who are committed to the process.   Committees have worked on all kinds of issues related to safety, scheduling, layoffs, technology changes and a whole host of other items.

Plus, it’s more about what happens during silence that provides for the best outcome for parties.   It’s about doing real problem solving that explores the problem and multiple solutions.  It’s about taking the time to learn and discover.  We live in an instantaneous world and we’ve become too reliant on tech providing quick responses but it takes more than tech to make the decisions.  Tech giving us a response doesn’t guarantee the right response but it can be the reason for silence.  Tech can be a tool to use with our problem solving.

The report mentions job negotiations and how silence can actually be rewarding for both parties but again it’s what happens while there is silence.  It’s just like problem solving.  It’s about learning.  That may involve learning about a job or learning more about a person to fill a job.  That can help to make successful decisions and not rush to judgment.

That’s why silence is much better than the quick response.  It allows us time to research, do our problem solving and come up with possible solutions.

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Labor-Management Updates from Alabama and Washington

Since the Presidential campaign last year, we have heard promises of changes in government rules and procedures that would benefit labor. This week, we saw the first steps in this regard.

President Biden issued an executive order creating a task force charged with making recommendations on how governmental policies could promote labor organizing. The task force will be chaired by Vice President Harris.

Zachary Boullt from On Labor reports the task force will recommend ways new and existing policies can be used to support organized labor. The task force will also focus on encouraging federal government workers to join unions, as well as target marginalized workers and parts of the country with union hostility. The task force’s recommendations will be issued with 180 days.

A second executive order issued by President Biden requires federal contractors institute a $15 minimum wage for contract solicitations. The minimum hourly rate is also set to rise annually with inflation. The new minimum wage will apply to new contracts, renewed contracts, and existing contracts whose companies undergo annual review. The order will also raise the tipped minimum wage for federal contractors to equal the standard minimum wage by 2024.

While anti-union hostility on the part of some employers is nothing new, lately it has become an art form used to squash organizing efforts. It is also a very expensive art form. The multi-million dollar anti-union campaign at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse included forced employee meeting to spread an anti-union message, videos and web-sites with misinformation about unions including the claim that if the union won and workers would have to skip dinner and school supplies to pay their union dues. The company also used direct communication in warehouse bathrooms under what it called its “inSTALLments” program. The inSTALLments were informational sheets that offered anti-union “facts.”

Alex Colvin, the dean of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations wrote, “With its mandatory meetings and constant messaging, Amazon used its advantages to run a more successful campaign than the union, We know campaigns change positions.”

One of the efforts to curb these practices is the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which is now awaiting action in the Senate. This act would make it easier for workers to join unions. Its likelihood of success in the Senate is limited by Democratic Senators who have not committed to supporting it, along with the threats of a filibuster.

The Huffington Post reports the AFL-CIO says it’s spending seven figures on television and radio ads aimed at bolstering Senate support for the PRO Act. The ads will run in Arizona, Virginia and West Virginia, states with moderate Democratic senators whose support, or lack of it, could determine the bill’s fate.

John Weber, an AFL-CIO spokesperson, said that in addition to local TV advertising, the federation will be running digital ads across the country urging people to call their senators. Weber said in an email. “The PRO Act is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to give working people a stronger voice on the job.”

It appears organized labor is feeling more empowered in its efforts to organize and support workers. While we do not know how this struggle will turn out, we commend them in their attempts, and hope they will work to establish a positive labor-management relationship moving forward.

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Time To Define What Value Really Means

Last week, Jeff Bezos wrote his final letter as CEO of Amazon to shareholders, or what he terms shareowners.  A copy of that letter is on theverge.com website.  Headlines have been about his response to the Bessemer vote but there’s a lot more in that letter that’s related to what Bezos and Amazon see as value for employees.

Executive letters to shareholders and boards almost always emphasize the positives for their companies and Bezos is no different.  He brags about the $1.6 trillion of wealth he’s created not just for himself but for others and he believes it’s important because it generates value for everyone and that’s something, he says,  every company should aspire to or they shouldn’t exist or won’t be able to continue.

He believes a very simple way of showing value is the $80 billion Amazon pays to its employees.  That may be but when that $80 billion is divided among 1.3 million employees that averages to over $60,000 for each employee but not everyone receives that amount. On payscale.com, they identify the median income of Amazon is just over $93,000 but they also identify the salaries of different  classifications.  For example, some Amazon tech job professionals make $138,000 a year.  An operations manager may make $60,000 and the average pay of the warehouse worker can be $15-an-hour and some warehouse employees having to work a 60-hour week.  And while the overall salary may be adequate, it may be of less value when that 60-hours a week, or 12-hour shifts, keep employees away from family needs and obligations.

Bezos does admit value is not all about money but he still comes up short on the idea of non-monetary value.  The value of quality of life or life itself seems to have little meaning or concern to Bezos and Amazon executives as their drive to demand faster and faster service is more important and has caused accidents and injuries to many Amazon employees.  Last September, revealnews.org did an article on the accidents and injuries occurring at Amazon warehouses.  Reveal is a non-profit jounalist group that does investigative journalism on many different topics.  They have received numerous awards for their reporting.  In fact, they received numerous awards for their Amazon reporting.

While Bezos may appear in his letter to know what the safety problems are or how to correct them, Reveal reports Amazon has been misrepresenting the type and number of accidents and injuries.   Despite Amazon’s claim they  spent money to resolve safety issues, the accident and injury rate went up over multiple years.  In fact, the rate in 2016 was twice the industry rate of similar organizations.   Reveal reporters interviewed one woman who said she loved the people she worked with and her job at Amazon but her quality of life was in jeopardy because of the physical demands that had been placed on her.  An OSHA doctor said the speed required by employees to keep up with the robots definitely takes a toll on their physical well-being.

In his shareowner letter, Bezos writes like a typical traditional manager who knows just exactly what the problem is and has a knee-jerk reaction on how to solve it.  Instead of using a safety committee made up of management and workers to explore the problems,  identify possible solutions, and probably save Amazon money, Bezos says 40% of the occurring accidents are common to the industry and are related to recurring motions.  Most of the employees, he says, that have this problem are new hires and they will be coached with new employee safety training they have devised.  According to a letter from OSHA Reveal obtained, injuries were more than recurring motion problems and the employee who Reveal interviewed that was having problems was not a new hire.  She had been employed at Amazon for 9 years and eventually had to be off work for months because of work-related injuries that became worse.    Does this seem like value for others?

Another example is related to that excessive speed employees need to have  to meet their quotas.  Bezos said only a small fraction of employees are fired.  He says coaching is done routinely to help employees meet their production quotas but that’s not what documents from 2017 to 2018 say.  In a 2019 article from theverge.com, one Amazon fulfillment center fired 10% of its workforce, or 300 people, for not meeting targets.  The documents showed when employees didn’t meet their quotas they were written up and terminated by computers.  That definitely is not coaching or is it a way to show non-monetary value.

Coaching can be a really effective way of helping employees and creating value but it has to be done appropriately.  Helping employees overcome their  weak areas is important not just to correct any deficiencies but to help the employee feel like they can overcome and succeed.  Most employees want to do a good job but that doesn’t appear to be the Amazon philosophy.  General compliments to employees may be written in a letter but non-monetary value needs to be demonstrated.  Involving employees to help set or evaluate their quotas,  or involving them in a safety committee to make the workplace safer can be a powerful way to show respect and value for them.  Acting on their ideas demonstrates true value.   It lets them know their abilities and expertise is recognized and they are part of the organization and there is some concern and interest for them. Plus, by involving workers, that productivity  Amazon is so concerned about comes back because workers feel like they’re more apart of the workplace and want to help it succeed.  That also means there can be huge financial gains for the workplace.   That’s where adding value creates more value.

Unfortunately, Bezos and the executive staff are very traditional managers.  Their concern is more in numbers and dollars than people. They are the only ones who know what problems Amazon faces and only they know how to solve those problems.  They don’t want to spend time on problem solving because they’re too impatient and they know their operations better than anyone else. Those executives also probably believe employees will slack off if they don’t continuously increase the quotas and if that happens Amazon will lose out.  They also probably believe if workers have an accident or injury, it’s their fault because they goofed off and didn’t pay attention.  Employees, according to them, have very little consideration for the workplace  and couldn’t possibly be smart enough to know how to advance it.  That’s the mindset of most traditional managers and they don’t realize the monetary and non-monetary rewards  of  involving employees in everyday work issues.

In an October Bloomberg article, they report the state of Washington and other states with Amazon fulfillment centers are considering charging Amazon more for their workers’ compensation because the accident rate is so much higher than other similar workplaces.  Amazon could be charged 15% more a year while other similar workplaces would see a decrease of 20%.

The one company we’ve blogged about before involved workers and the workers compensation costs went down so significantly employees received more benefits and the owner was able to expand his business.  That’s value.  Does it sound like Amazon is creating value?  As Bezos suggested,  maybe it’s time for Amazon to stop existing?

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An Important Question for Labor and Management Leaders

In the last few weeks we have looked at skills both labor and management leaders will need to build a cooperative, labor-management process. Today, we want to look at a significant question they must be ready to answer, “What’s in it for me?”

It is a serious question. When you implement a cooperative process, it represents a significant change for both labor and management. Change, especially major change, is always difficult. Many of the skills they have used may no longer be effective or even desired. Unilateral leadership is replaced by the ability to work in teams. Hostility toward the other side must give way to cooperation.

Changing those established skills and tools will be uncomfortable. You can encounter strong resistance unless you can let people know how they will benefit from the new methods. We need to let front-line people on both sides know what’s in it for them and why they should buy in.

We can take a look at reasons why a cooperative process is good for the union. Managers will have a similar list focused on the benefits they will see from collaboration.

The list for what’s in it for the union includes:

  • Involving Members Increases Satisfaction With the Union

  • Provides Union Members the Opportunity to be Heard on Issues

  • Allows for More Perspectives to be Heard
  • Involvement Helps Build New Union Activists
  • Being Part of A Cooperative Process Builds the Image of the Union

  • The Union Has the Opportunity to be an Even Stronger Voice
  • Cooperative Problem Solving Can Reduce Grievances
  • Demonstrated Labor-Management Cooperation Improves Employees Outlook on the Organization
  • Strategic Planning Helps Advance the Union’s Ideas
  • Involving Others Enables Leaders to Work on More Pressing Issues
  • Involving Others Provides Leaders More Opportunity to be Forward Looking
  • Successful Problem Solving Opens the Doors to Other Cooperative Efforts
  • A Cooperative Process Gives the Union an Opportunity to be Involved in Systemic Change
  • The More Constituents are Involved, the More Buy-In They Will Have
  • Participating in Problem Solving Helps Strengthen the Organization. This Contributes to Growth, Which Increases the Return for Employees and Increases Job Security.

The list could go on, but the point we are trying to make is there. Unions, their leaders, and members benefit from putting in the effort as part of a cooperative labor-management process. It may not be easy at first, and you can expect some healthy skepticism. Help your members understand why it is work their time to work in building and sustaining cooperation.

What’s in it for managers? They can look at this list and see how the points are relevant to them as well. Replacing “Union” with “the Organization” or “Managers” produces reasons why cooperation is important for them.

Building cooperation is not quick or easy. It does, however, benefit both managers and employees. If you would like help with your labor-management process, contact CALMC.

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Yes, We Really Do Have More In Common Than We Think

We’ve been busy revising some of our material for union leader training and labor-management training.  On a regular basis we update material but this time we’re doing a little more than we have.  There are some pieces that definitely need to go but what is really surprising is the concept of what we’ve been doing all these years is so very badly needed especially now.

Even though there currently is such divisive pressure placed on society, there are people who are trying to remind us we have more in common than apart.  When it comes to labor and management that is exactly true and when they do realize their commonalities it helps them, their workplaces and communities just like before.

One of the training sections we’re updating is the interest-based problem solving section.  This non-traditional problem solving process works in most every type of setting, not just labor-management.   It comes from the interest-based bargaining process.  It identifies the commonalities groups have.  By identifying and emphasizing those commonalities, groups have a much better opportunity to resolve problems.

There have been some variations of the interest-based process but the more authentic versions are those that include a step to identify those commonalities, or interests, and they take the time to come up with solutions that take those common interests into account.

Interests are the concerns or needs about a particular problem.  It’s the “why” of wanting to solve a problem.   It allows everyone to actually see they do have more in common than not.  The process has some definite steps that must be followed to have successful problem solving.  Those steps with brief explanations are below.  This is based on our variation.

1.First item is to identify the problem and the issues associated with it.  It works best if one of those issues is picked to start on.  The issues can be prioritized to work on or maybe they’re all associated to each other.  It’s important for participants to focus just on problems and not try to jump to a solution.  That happens a lot in groups.  We’ve identified a problem and we also know how to solve it.  That must be avoided!

2.Next is to identify the interests.  One party identifies their interests and  then the other party, or parties, follow.  Once each of the parties have identified their interests or concerns or needs, they go back and identify those that are common.  We have groups circle the common interests.

Some will jump out immediately and some will take some consideration.  It won’t be unusual for most of the interests to be common interests. Eventually, groups are able to identify the interests of the other party but that’s not until the parties are comfortable with the process.  It’s also important this step is not left out!

3.The third step is to look at solutions to the problem based on those common interests.  This step may require other problem solving tools so it may take a little longer and some people may be uncomfortable with that.  But it’s good when groups take more time because it shows some real exploration of the problem and how to solve it.

Brainstorming is a really useful tool because the more solutions there are the better the process.  It’s also good  to come up with solutions that don’t meet the common interests.  We’ll have another stop to help determine if they’re proper solutions.  Groups also need to be careful of, again, jumping to a single solution.  We encourage groups to talk to their constituents for possible solutions.

4.The next step is another part of the interest-based process that makes it different than most problem-solving processes and helps groups come together and that is identifying standards. We use standards or criteria all the time but we don’t think about it.

A couple of examples involve fishing or buying lettuce at the grocery store.  How do you determine which fish to keep and which to throw back?  When you’re buying lettuce, how do you determine which lettuce to buy?  Again, this is nothing new but replaces the power and rights that are normally used to resolve problems.  This makes the process much more objective.

It’s good for the parties to brainstorm their standards but in the end their list needs to be narrowed to no more than five standards.  Any more than that can eliminate some good solutions.

When the final standards are determined, a letter must be placed by them – A, B, C, D, E, and when the solutions are compared to the standards, a letter will be placed beside the solution to show the standard is met.  If a solution doesn’t meet a standard, it’s struck.

5.The final step is to come to consensus on how to proceed with the solutions that meet all the standards because, if done correctly, there will be more than one solution with will meet all the standards.  The group should decide if prioritizing is good or maybe putting the solutions together or maybe doing one solution at a time.  It’s up to the group.  In addition, after the implementation of the solution it will be good for the group to review it at a future date.

That’s the interest-based problem solving process.  That’s how people learn they have more in common than they thought.  However, there are some things to consider with the interest-based process and this can be hard for some people:

1.Patience is needed.  That can be a problem for some people in itself.  Not all problems need to be solved this way but most can be.  Good problem-solving processes take time.  There is always a rush to solve a problem in one sitting but when that happens, a lot of times the problem is truly not resolved and groups have to revisit the problem.  That takes valuable group time with more time wasted.

2.Information needs to be shared. The best problem solving occurs when all the information is available to everyone and not kept by some for power purposes.

3.The process can be revealing because people have to identify their concerns, needs, wants.  That may be difficult for some.

4.As you can see, the process has some detail and at first, for someone new to it,  it can feel a little cumbersome. The more people use it the more comfortable they get.  It does take commitment to stick with it.  That can be hard to do, too, but practice makes perfect.  We always recommend to groups to start with smaller problems at first and build some momentum if that’s possible.

5.We suggest to groups to make sure to have the steps in front of them the first few times and get some HELP!  It will be beneficial.  Whether it’s groups like our group or mediators, like federal mediators, to help with the process.  Many mediators are familiar with it.

Not all problems can be resolved through this process.  For example, crisis situations need to be resolved differently.  This is just another tool for groups to resolve problems when they need it and, just like people are saying, we really do have more in common than not and it’s a process we need to keep using.

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Where Do We Begin? Labor-Management Cooperation Tips for Management Leaders

In my last two blogs we discussed some of the skills new labor leaders need as they begin working on a cooperative labor-management process. Today, we want to look at some of the skills managers will need.

We know moving to cooperation requires some different skills from those of traditional leaders. We employ different methods to use the advantages offered by cooperation. As we will see, many of them are the same tools we recommended to labor leaders.

Focus on Problem Solving – A cooperative process creates an opportunity for the sides to work together to improve the work system. Management and labor can communicate their concerns and resolve them together, rather than dance around problems. In a traditional approach we do not consider involving the other side since we feel the need to do everything ourselves or believe the other party will ignore the concerns.

Managers need to participate fully in the process. A common complaint we hear from union members of labor-management committees is that managers never bring any issues to the committee. They sit and listen, they answer questions, but they never present concerns the sides could work to resolve. When this happens, a chance to improve the workplace is lost.

Better problem solving is a tool that helps both management and labor. Be sure to take advantage of it.

Roles and Responsibilities – Some managers view acting cooperatively as a sign of weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Managers have a responsibility to help the organization in its day-to-day operation and create opportunities for growth. These responsibilities are better achieved by working together.

This means the methods managers will use differ from traditional approaches. “Do as I say” needs to be replaced by “Let’s find the best way to do it.” The outcome will be better solutions crafted by the collective wisdom of a team, not an arbitrary approach. They will also achieve higher levels of buy-in from workers.

You may feel some of the skills required in a cooperative process are not the ones that made you a manager. You are right, they may not be. Your old skills are also not the ones that will keep you effective moving forward.

Employee Involvement – As a manger in a cooperative process, one of your responsibilities will be to promote employee involvement. Actively seek input and ideas from those you supervise. Ask them questions and actively listen to their responses.

Realize you may be greeted with some skepticism at first. Your employees may not be used to being asked or having a manager listen to them. The only way to overcome this skepticism is to demonstrate your sincerity by taking action on their ideas and responding to the concerns they raise. If you do this on a consistent basis, you will begin to turn things around.

Base Your Decisions on Facts – This was one of the encouragements we offered to union leaders, and it is equally relevant to managers. Do not make decision based on what you think is true, use observations, data, and the input of others to determine the best outcomes.

There are many good problem-solving tools that can help us identify problems and find root causes. It may take some extra time to use them, but the information they provide is worth the effort. It also presets another opportunity for employee involvement as you gather and analyze the data.

Flexibility – Does everything in your organization operate perfectly? If not, there is room for improvement. Finding these opportunities will require managers to be flexible as they look for ways to improve. Sticking with the old ways of doing things because they are the way we have always done them will only impede progress,

By the way, if you think everything is operating perfectly, you need to open your eyes and look around. Reality may be staring back at you.

Mean it or Forget it – We have seen people from both management and labor become part of a cooperative process, but only go through the motions. They may feign interest and know the right things to say, but their behaviors and attitudes do not change.

As a manager, you must commit to cooperation and demonstrate it with your actions and your attitudes. You cannot walk away from cooperation when it becomes uncomfortable or inconvenient.

As we cautioned union leaders, you need to ask yourself if you are ready for labor-management cooperation. Not everyone is. If not, do not get involved in the process. Let those who buy in to the process step up.

Understand the Negotiated Contract, but Know Your Limitations – The negotiated contract is not a book of suggestions. It represents the law between labor and management in your workplace. As such, you must know its terms and follow them exactly at all times.

You need to read the contract and be certain you understand the terms that impact you and your workers. If you are not sure what something means, ask your supervisor, preferably in advance of problems occurring.

You want to be certain you know the contract so that you do not accidentally violate it, If you do

make a mistake, it can reflect badly on you and the organization. It will certainly lead to a potential grievance.

Understand the Grievance Procedure – If your actions do result in a grievance, be certain you understand how the process works. You will have a defined role to play in the process under definite time lines, and you must be ready. Do not lose a grievance because you miss a meeting or a time limit.

It may seem like a contradiction to discuss grievances during an article about cooperation, but it is not. People will make mistakes simply because they are people. There may be issues regarding the contract language that need to be resolved and better understood by everyone. You should also monitor the causes of grievances that are filed to identify problems that need to be resolved before they lead to more grievances.

As a leader in an organization, your role in building or enhancing a cooperative process is essential. Most of the day-to-day operations in the labor-management process occur on the front lines and directly impact you as a supervisor. Do not presume you will not play a role in promoting an effective labor-management process because you will.

We have not looked at some of the roles and responsibilities of labor and management leaders in build cooperation. If you have other ideas or examples of the roles of either party, please share them in a comment to this post or by email. We look forward to hearing from you.

Next time, we want to take a look at one more major question that impacts both sides participating in labor-management cooperation.

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Is Amazon Another Triangle?

The big story in labor-management relations is the conclusion of the Alabama Amazon unionizing efforts.  Employees are voting whether or not to become part of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union(RWDS) .  The vote ends this week.

Earlier in the year,  the  National Labor Relations Board allowed a mail-in voting system instead of an in-person vote because of the pandemic.  Amazon  believed there was not enough of an infection rate at the warehouse for mail-in voting so they appealed the decision.  NLRB denied and the mail process stayed. 

Many suspect Amazon didn’t want mail-in voting because it would be more difficult to discourage employees from voting for the union.  The union already had been successful at getting more than the 30%  requirement  of  employees to sign cards for a vote.    In response, and in a rather unusual move, Amazon hired more than one anti-union consultant to keep the Bessemer warehouse from being unionized so Amazon must be nervous.

The question, though, for Amazon or any employer hiring anti-union consultants is why spend exorbitant  amounts of money for them when working together in a labor-management partnership costs less and provides substantial rewards?  The average amount  spent for an anti-union consultant is  $340 million a year  and doesn’t provide the long-term investment that labor-management partnerships can bring.   

A lot of people think unions are mostly about increasing wages and benefits but they’re also very good at improving working conditions.  According to a report on CNBC Amazon’s accident rate is twice the industry rate.  One Amazon worker, that was later fired for failed union organizing attempts, had previously worked at an aluminum plant and was a member of the International Association of Machinists(IAM).  He learned from that job and as a union member about the importance of safety.   When he went to work at Amazon he said unsafe short cuts were encouraged.  He believed a union could help create a safer work environment.

Health and safety can be a great way to start a labor-management partnership because most everybody can agree they don’t want to see people get hurt.  It’s a common concern that labor and management share.  From that common concern, both sides can look at issues to prevent accidents, injuries and health hazards from occurring.  This not only can reduce incidences from occurring but have significant effects on the viability of the workplace.

For example, Skinner Diesel is a truck repair shop on the south side of Columbus.  The owner had tried everything to reduce his accident and injury rate except involving employees to help make operations safer.  He agreed to start a joint safety committee and two years later  the accidents and injury rate was down to 0.  Not only was it a safer environment but the overall environment was more positive.  According to workplace culture assessments, employees agreed the workplace was safer and they also believed they were viewed as more valued and appreciated.  The savings the owner received  were given back to the employees in the form of year-end bonuses and additional benefits.  Plus, for him as the owner, he was able to expand his business. 

Skinner Diesel may be much smaller than Amazon but it’s not about size.  Labor-management partnerships can happen in big or small organizations, union or non-union .  It’s about people being committed to working together and having the patience to do it.  It’s not an easy process especially if, like Amazon, there’s some bad history .  When that happens, it usually means it can take some time to overcome lack of trust issues.   

What helped at Skinner was the employees were listened to, not just heard.  The owner was also willing to accept some risk with employees’  ideas.  With the ideas employees had, the owner acted upon them.   When they had their next safety meeting, those employees knew their suggestions had been received and  acted upon.  

On the Society of Human Resource Management(SHRM) website, there’s a page with  some  suggestions for companies wanting to keep unions away but there’s real irony to the list because those suggestions are the same things unions encourage and want from organizations  for their members.  Some of the suggestions include no threatening or intimidating behavior,  reasonable pay and benefits, fair policies, and employee trust and recognition. 

On the AFL-CIO website, they very clearly state unions do not harm the employer and they also state they do not protect workers who don’t perform which those who dislike unions have perpetuated the myth forever  about unions protecting low-performing workers.  The AFL-CIO  also says unions help reduce turnover and the costs associated with it.  And they say they make the workplace safer which not only helps people go home with the same number of fingers and toes they had when they arrived at work but reduces the costs associated with accidents and injuries.

Another irony to the timing of the Amazon Bessemer vote  is this last week was the anniversary of the horrible tragedy at another workplace, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  Over a hundred lives were lost to a fire that started at the end of the shift.  People were locked in the building with no way out.  The International Ladies Garment Workers Union had tried to organize the workers because they knew about the  health and safety issues at Triangle but the owners asked police officers to remove the union from the premises because, just like Amazon, the owners were anti-union. 

So with all of those areas that labor and management have in common on improving the workplace, why are Amazon and other companies opposed to unions? 

Because of their horrible safety record, Amazon’s workers’ compensation costs could increase 15-20% next year in the state of Washington.   Those costs will probably increase in other states wherever Amazon has a warehouse.  That’s an area where the union with their expertise of employee organizing and workplace safety could actually help Amazon just as it could have helped the Triangle Shirtwaist Company

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Where Do We Begin? Labor-Management Cooperation Tips for Union Leaders – Part 2

Last time, we took a look at some of the skills essential for new leaders participating in labor-management partnerships. This week, we will continue our list, focusing on some areas specific to union operations.  After that, we will look at management roles in the process.

Understand the Negotiated Contract, but Know Your Limitations – Face it, most of your union members have never read the contract (and the same is probably true of your front-line managers.) They may have looked at the pages about pay and benefits, but not the rest of the agreement. That means you will be the number one source of information for them (and for some managers) about its contents.

That places the burden on you to know and understand what is in the contract. You will need to answer their questions, but do not feel you have to be the expert on all facets of the agreement.

Do not hesitate to ask your leadership about anything in the contract. Be sure the answers you provide your members are completely correct and free from you own interpretations. The last thing you want to do is provide a wrong answer or put your spin on what you think the answer should be.

Understand the Grievance Procedure – The grievance process is the main way the contract is enforced. That does not mean we spend our time searching for managers making mistakes, but we need to know what to do if they occur.

You will need to understand the entire process beginning with the definition of what constitutes a grievance. Most contracts define a grievance using terms like, “a violation of a specific clause of the negotiated agreement.” Some contracts may have a broader definition of grievances, but remember the purpose of the process is to enforce the contract while resolving problems.

Members may come to you with complaints they have about something their supervisor did. They may feel they were treated unfairly, and they may be right. However, it the behavior did not violate the contract, there is no grievance. You will need to find other ways to resolve the situation, such as mediating a meeting between the individuals.

Be certain you know the steps in your grievance process, what will happen at each step, and the time lines at each step. You do not want to lose a grievance because you did not follow the process.

When a member discusses a possible grievance with you be sure to get your grievance committee or representative involved. They will handle the details of the process and help you understand what will be expected of you in the process.

Understand the Discipline Process – Just as the grievance process helps insure the negotiated agreement is followed by managers, the discipline process of management’s way on enforcing the agreement and work rules. Your role in discipline will be similar to what it was when handling grievances.

Be certain you understand the steps and timelines in the discipline process. You may be asked to represent your member in meetings related to the discipline. Be sure to let your local officers know what has happened so they can provide any assistance necessary. You will also need to talk to the employees and others who may be witnesses to the offense and secure statements from them.

Negotiations – Collective bargaining can be a stressful process, particularly as deadlines near. Members will look to you for information about what is going on and is likely to happen.

To answer their questions, be prepared with facts, not conjecture. If you are not sure about the answer to any questions, ask your leadership. You will need to understand the negotiations process, such as time lines and how bargaining is conducted.

You may have managers approach you will questions or comments about bargaining, particularly if you are friends. No matter that you know the answer to their questions or have strong opinions about them, do not answer the inquiry or make any comments. Refer them to their supervisors. Any information you provide to a manager, no matter how accurate or well founded, could be construed to be an unfair labor practice.

You should also be familiar with the dispute resolution procedure in your negotiations process. Whether it involves mediation, arbitration, or an alternative process, be sure you know what will be happening, including the ratification procedures.

Protecting Members Rights – Remember, the major responsibility of the union is to protect the rights of members. This includes a wide range of areas ranging from the duty of fair representation to Weingarten Rights. If you are not familiar with these, you may not be providing your members the service they need.

Mot unions provide excellent training about members’ rights. Be sure you participate in this training and ask questions as issues rise.

Cooperation At All Times – Remember the importance of establishing a cooperative labor-management process. All of the responsibilities listed above are better accomplished by working together.

You must display cooperation at all times, not just in labor-management committee meetings or when it is convenient. Labor-management cooperation requires trust, and if you are inconsistent your actions will always be in doubt.

I have had participants tell me they were doing well because in meeting they worked cooperatively. Outside of meetings, traditional, adversarial behaviors still flourished. As is demonstrated by inconsistency, this is not a cooperative process.  

Change – Be warned! Any labor-management cooperative process will bring about changes in how you organization does business, your job responsibilities, your role in union leadership, and your relationships with others. As the process grows and evolves, the change will continue and become more apparent.

Change can be difficult for some people. Be sure to keep you members informed about what is happening and why. Listen to their concerns and work with your leadership to help deal with them. The goal of any cooperative process should entail improving the work system. This is best accomplished by working together to achieve mutually developed goals.

Do you have other ideas about these of other areas of importance for union leaders in a cooperative process? If so, please share your thoughts with us and we will include them in a future blog post.

Next week, we will change our focus to the role of new managers in labor-management partnerships. You may be surprised at how similar the lists are.

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A Democratic Workplace Is Not About Control

This week a blog on the Onlabor website talks about democracy in the workplace.  It gives some ideas on how workers benefit and also provides some democratic workplace models but the concept described of what a democratic workplace is  may not be quite right.

A democratic workplace, as described in the blog, is workers having control over the entire operation including over management, wages and policies.  That  could not be farther from the truth especially with the three different models given.  Those models include  the European model of work councils which is a corporate board consisting of some workers as board members, unionized workplaces and employee ownership workplaces.  All of these models are about people having a voice but not about control.

Everybody has a different perspective and in a democratic workplace those different perspectives are needed and valued when looking at projects or solving problems.  The voice of a manager is equally as important as the voice of worker.   That voice may be through voting but it’s more about being involved in everyday decisions that allow people to be heard on outcomes that impact them or the work they do.

A couple of weeks ago we blogged about issues employees and employers were having with the virtual workplace.  Employees believe there is a lack of leadership and employers don’t believe new initiatives are being addressed. We suggested in the blog both issues could be resolved if leaders would hold online sessions with employees to encourage them to come up with new ideas or projects and guide and support them as they continued to work on them through the virtual workplace.  That’s how a virtual democratic workplace can work and that can happen in the physical workplace and it has in both  unionized and non unionized facilities.

In the Onlabor blog, the author mentioned in a democratic corporation workers wouldn’t allow excessive executive pay but usually what happens in a democratic workplace with worker voice those types of issues are not topics of discussion.  In  a unionized setting the discussion of wages, especially  for workers, is not an item for a leadership committee or a work area committee but is set aside for bargaining committees to discuss. Bargaining committees do not necessarily have the same members as leadership or everyday work committees. Leadership committees can look at operational processes, look at policy changes, customer service issues, or a particular issue that may be impacting many workers as well as many other topics.  Financial subjects during bargaining can be difficult topics but it takes both sides to agree and the union must take it to members so they, too, can have a voice and vote for or against the contract.  If workers vote against it  then both sides have to continue to negotiate until they can get an agreement workers will support.

The author also says in a democratic corporation, workers would never let their jobs go elsewhere.  That, too, may be up for debate.  One group we worked with saw the information laid out before them and worked with management to have an outside contractor do what had been bargaining work.  It wasn’t about workers taking a position and saying no.  Both sides talked it over.  They had financial information to help with the decision, and instead of the union saying no, they would agree if  workers were placed in other jobs so they wouldn’t lose pay, benefits or seniority. That is workplace democracy.  While those type of decisions may not always be easy  for unions it does allow them to have a voice in a major decision such as that and protect workers.

It  also says in the blog democratic workplace workers would not put place huge productivity targets upon themselves.  That may be true but the experience we have had is workers are harder on themselves than management and are more willing to put greater demands upon themselves.  One example is with technology.  Technology  has made major changes in the amount of work being done in the workplace.  A group of union workers we assisted worked with management to use technology better and to help other union workers adapt to technology so more work would be done but also just make it a more efficient process.  It’s also important to understand that in a true workplace democracy when workers are made to feel like they are part of the organization, productivity increases.

The blog also mentions wages in democratic workplaces tend to be higher.  That’s true especially with unionized shops here in the U. S.  Those unionized wages also put pressure on non-union wages and force increased wages particularly in the same industry.  There is a lot of legitimate discussions going on that say wages have declined because union membership has declined.  But this last year with the pandemic, low-wage workers, which usually are non-union, lost their jobs.  Those jobs that were unionized were able to be saved because unions had a voice to negotiate better and safer working conditions for their members which is something else that happens through a democratic environment.  Safety committees can be a great way to begin a workplace democracy process because it’s something most everyone can agree about.  Everybody wants workers to go home and have the same number of toes and fingers they came to work with at the beginning of the shift.

But again this entire idea of a democratic workplace is so much more than just increased wages and decreased productivity.  It’s about people having a voice in the everyday decisions.  It’s about people being trusted and respected.  It’s about people wanting to work together – not place control over one side. Workers and managers  find what they have in common and expand upon that to come up with solutions that both sides support.  It’s more about building partnerships and it works.

In the blog, the author mentions Senator Robert Wagner who wrote the collective bargaining laws we abide by today who wanted  workplace democracy to help maintain a democratic government.  That’s true but there’s a little more to the story.  Senator Wagner and his family immigrated from Germany.  He saw what Hitler was doing to Germany to erode the democratic principles of the German government.  Senator Wagner believed that workers having a voice in the workplace would have a better  understanding of democracy if they actually experienced it and he believed unions could be the vehicle to do that which is another reason why workplace democracies are important.

There’s nothing wrong with what was written in the blog because it brought out  some common misconceptions people have about unions and the idea they control the workplace.  A lot of people think that once a workplace becomes a unionized shop that the union will make demands, pound their fists on the table to get those demands and control management. Some unions may be that way but most are not.  It’s also important to remember some managers will try to control by not recognizing the union when workers vote for representation. Neither of those scenarios are good.  They show how each side likes to control but neither represents real workplace democracy.  Workplace democracy is all about working together.

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Where Do We Begin? Labor-Management Cooperation Tips for Union Leaders – Part 1

Want to start or build on a labor-management cooperative process? We have written many times about the real benefits in cooperation for both labor and management. It is still not easy to accomplish this goal, as it requires different approaches and behaviors from both sides.

Both labor and management are experiencing turnover in their leadership positions. For unions, many long-time leaders are retiring, often without developing the skills of others to take their place. This puts stress on everyone in leadership, from elected officers to stewards.

Management is seeing the same type of turnover due to retirements, changes in job responsibilities, and others leaving their organizations creating gaps in the labor-management skills of the employer.

On both sides of the table, it is essential new leaders recognize the importance of understanding their roles and how they impact labor-management teamwork. This week, we will begin exploring things union leaders should know to be ready for their roles in cooperation. After that, we will look at management roles in the process.

Focus on Problem Solving – It is very easy to get trapped in traditional, contentious labor-management behaviors. For many, it is all they have ever seen, and they think beating the other side is the goal. Instead we should focus on working together to improve the work system.

This means we need to work to determine the problems in the workplace we can work jointly to solve, If we use a structured approach to problem solving that focuses on identifying multiple possible solutions based on the interests of everyone we can avoid getting bogged down in conflict.

Problem solving is one of the advantages of cooperation, and provides an opportunity to improve the workplace. It should be the basis of establishing teamwork.

Roles and Responsibilities – What are the major responsibilities of unions? They include negotiating and defending a contract that protects workers from unfair treatment, helping members be able to do their jobs and secure training if necessary, and be certain rights are protected.

These responsibilities do not change in a cooperative process. The tools and techniques we employ will be different. Instead of an adversarial approach, we try to work together to resolve the real problems that cause workplace issues.

Membership Involvement – Many unions operate using a traditional, top-down structure. The upper leadership makes decisions and passes the down through the chain of command, and eventually to the membership. There was little opportunity for members to get involved or share their ideas.

This results in decreased interest of members in the work of the union and less buy-in to what leadership wants. They will feel leadership is not really interested in what members want. Members are also less likely to want to be involved in the union and aspire to a leadership role.

The biggest problem is the loss of members’ ideas. Those doing a job know the most about it, and if their voice is not heard, their ideas are lost. This hurts the overall problem solving process.

Union leaders must establish an effective process which permits members to be heard and participate in problem solving. If we expect management to listen to the ideas presented by the union, then the union must also listen to members and their input.

Base Your Decisions on Facts – When identifying or solving problems, rely on facts and data to help you make decisions. Often, we believe what we think is true or what we want to believe.

Take the time to gather data and use the basic tools of problem solving to analyze the information and form conclusions. These tools include Pareto charting, run charting, cause and effect diagrams, control charting, and a variety of other tools. You may want to seek outside help to better understand the process and get the most from the data.

We look at current society and we see many examples of people who rely on their own beliefs and ignore other information. This leads to a reliance on false assumptions and can cause severe damage. Do not let this happen in your decision making.

Flexibility – Have you ever heard the expression, “That’s not how we do it here”? When we operate based on this, we lose opportunities to do things differently that can improve the system. We need to be willing to move past our paradigms to look for new ways of operating, both in the workplace and in the union. Flexibility will help you adapt to changing conditions and find better ways to do things.

Mean it or Forget it – Building a cooperative labor-management process takes more than lip-service. It requires a commitment to stay with the new methods, even when things get tough. You cannot walk away from cooperation when it is convenient, as the process will never restart and trust will be broken. Ask yourself if you are ready for labor-management cooperation. Not everyone is. If not, do not get involved in the process. Let those who buy in to the process step up.

That’s it for this post. Next time we will take a look at some additional areas that are important to leaders in a cooperative process and focus on some areas specific to union operations. After that, we will shift our attention to management roles in a cooperative process.

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