The Labor and Management Times are Changing

In the last couple of weeks we have seen some things happen in labor-management relations that we would like to discuss. Depending on your viewpoint, some are good and others not.

While union membership has been stagnant, the benefits of unions for workers are evident. The decline in union membership may have begun to turn around, and so had public perception of unions. CNBC reports union membership increased slightly from 10.3% in 2019 to 10.8% in 2020. While this is only about half of the 20.1% level in 1983, it may indicate the start of a new trend.

One reason for this is seen as union members have held onto their jobs at higher rates than non-union members. “There’s some evidence that unions did a good job at protecting their members from layoffs, compared with the non-union sectors,” says John Logan, a U.S. labor historian at San Francisco State University.

The benefits to workers for being part of a union are reflected in the wage differential between union and nonunion workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that on average, in 2019, union workers earned roughly $1,095 per week, while nonunion workers earned closer to $892. This extrapolates to nonunion workers making just 81 cents for every dollar union workers earn.

Beyond just earnings, another benefit to union members has been increased attention to health and safety conditions impacting workers.

Interest in unions has been steadily rising among workers. According to survey research by MIT’s Tom Kochan, the share of non-union U.S. workers who would vote to join one jumped from 32% in 1995 to 48% in 2017.

“The labor movement has shown signs of life in recent years,” Logan says. “Plenty of inspiring stories, such as domestic workers, car wash workers, online media workers and more.”

Another factor is the growing wealth inequality and increased public perception of the problems it creates. Contributing to this is President Biden’s promise to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.”

These factors have contributed to a growth of interest in union representation from workers in one major area.

The battle for Amazon workers continues. We have reported on the efforts of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to organize workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. CNBC reports the National Labor Relations Board denied Amazon’s request to block mail-in voting in the union representation election.

Amazon filed a request to have the election held in-person instead of by mail, citing errors in the NLRB’s definition of what constitutes a coronavirus outbreak. The NLRB said Amazon’s appeal raised “no substantial issues warranting review.”

The 6,000 workers began casting their ballots earlier this month, with the vote continuing until March 29.

Amazon has actively opposed this election just as they have previous efforts to organize workers. The company hired the same anti-union law firm they used at a Delaware facility in 2014, the last major union effort at Amazon. CNBC notes “Amazon has also set up a website to advertise its position on the Alabama warehouse union drive, urging workers to ‘do it without dues,’ referring to the cost of membership when joining a union. They have also held mandatory meeting for workers about the “evils” of unions, distributed flyers throughout the facility and sent text messages in that time.”

Not lost in all of this is the NLRB ruling favorable to the union and workers. This has not been the pattern in the last four years, and we hope for a more even-handed approach in the future.

Unfortunately, not all of the news this week has been good for workers.

Kroger closes two California stores rather than pay $4 per hour hazard pay. This bonus would have lasted for 120 days and reflected the increase hazards faced by store employees. While Kroger paid employees a bonus of $2 per hour this spring and offered employees $100 if they got the COVID vaccine, in this case they decided they would rather close the stores than pay this benefit.

You might assume the company has struggled financially during the pandemic making it difficult to pay the workers. This, however, is not the case. During the 3rd quarter in 2020, the company earned $2.9 billion in profits, compared to $1.7 billion in the same quarter in 2019.

According to the pro-labor Policy Matters Ohio, Kroger CEO and Trump supporter Rodney McMullin took home $21 million in 2019. At the same meeting where he announced his frontline workers would lose their extra $2 hero pay, he stated he would not take a pay cut.

Policy Matters Ohio researcher Michael Shields said, “Kroger cutting hazard pay in the midst of a pandemic that has increased its profits underscores the disconnect between the value frontline workers are creating for their employers, and what they’re taking home as pay. This is not about skills or economic value, it’s about power, and Kroger’s actions are a great case in point.”

Closing a store can have impacts on the community besides the loss of wages. I shop at Kroger because it is the closest supermarket to my home. The next closest store is also a Kroger. Individuals with limited access to transportation could have difficulty being able to get to a store to buy food, particularly low-income and elderly people.

We hope Kroger will reconsider their decision for the good of employees and the community. In Central Ohio, the company has had a good relationship with the union, and we hope this balance will be maintained.

We see the beginnings of changes, some positive and some negative, in matters involving workers. We hope the positive trends will continue as cooperative labor-management relationships are built and maintained.

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OK, What’s Next?

Through the years, we’ve worked with individuals and groups on leadership.  Leadership isn’t something that automatically  happens when individuals obtain  a particular  job or office or when they become a member of a leadership committee. For some people, it can mean some significant changes in how they look at things or how they approach things.

We blogged a few weeks ago about some big gains for unions.  The Alphabet Workers and the union election at Amazon in Alabama are two of those gains.  This last week there were others as employees at the New York Daily News and Medium announced they are organizing.  These are some major strides for unions, but this also means good, strong leadership skills is going to be extremely important for both sides especially as the transition takes place.

Hopefully, union reps will be available to guide new union leaders on their  responsibilities.  Recognizing the importance of the services they provide and what those services are will help new leaders understand their roles and responsibilities better.   Some of those services will be interpreting the contract to those who may not understand or read the contract.  It also could include helping members understand the difference between a grievance and a personal gripe.  The more these leaders provide assistance to constituents it will help the union be strong and viable.  Some members will have little interest or may not come to meetings but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be listened to or require service.

Establishing a strategic plan of visioning, creating a mission statement and developing goals is something new unions need to think about.  The union representing workers at Medium have already started as they posted their vision on the union’s website.  This helps new leaders think about what they want to be about.  The workers at Medium have identified some important things like work-life balance, ethics, and reaching out to those who may not have a voice.  While this is a great start, it appears to be more like a mission statement that tells who the group is, what they do and who they help.  It can be hard distinguishing between visioning and a mission statement but visioning provides a road map of where the group wants to be in the future, one, three or five years out.  Goals are identified to help groups achieve their vision.

What’s also important along with services and creating that strategic plan is communication. Communicating is vitally important to a union.  It helps to create more involvement from members.  Just as unions like to have a voice in the workplace, union members like to have a voice in their unions.  Leaders, just like managers of a workplace, need to make sure that happens.  Getting ideas and thoughts plus acting on them will help strengthen support for anything union leaders want to get done.  Members thoughts should be considered for strategic planning.  Many times we’ve heard from union leaders it’s difficult to get everyone to speak up or agree.  That’s true but it’s also the what leaders need to work on as they consider how to get more involvement from members.  If there is no attempt or members are ignored, support for anything leaders try to do will be extremely limited if non-existent.

A lot of times, too, we’ll hear from union leaders that no one comes to the meetings.  That may or may not be true.  There may be limited participation but if word gets out that it’s interpreted as no one coming those who do attend will be offended.  Every effort should be made to include members in discussion.  That effort may be small group work.  It may be working on different topics that would be of interest to specific individuals.  Whatever it is, leaders need to work on encouraging participation.  That is a responsibility of utmost importance.

Not only will the union side need to look at leadership so will the management side because they may have to make adjustments in their own approach.  While some may be tempted to ignore the union and be angry, ignoring can have legal consequences and negative behaviors can only make the situation worse.  Tensions can be high and mistrust is also normal but, for managers, the best approach is to try to make things better.  One of the best examples I heard was from one of our colleagues who helped a labor-management relationship following a horrible labor dispute.  Both sides came together after union members expressed their sentiment about the struggles they faced and the owner apologized for not recognizing those struggles.  It was that apology, our colleague said, that helped to improve the relationship.

And that brings us to forming labor-management committees.  If a committee can be formed, that’s great but that may not be the case for all workplaces which is why the response to becoming a union shop is important.  Labor-management committees can accomplish a lot! It more than likely won’t happen immediately but the more both sides work  at relationship building there’s  a good chance major projects or problems can be undertaken.  It will some time and patience and some understanding mistakes will be made by both sides.  Developing that positive relationship doesn’t happen overnight especially if workplaces have a lot of mistrust or an “us vs them” culture.  Amazon is an example of one workplace where it may take longer.  In a CNBC article today, there was another incident that appeared as if Amazon was trying to catch employees doing something wrong.  That is the type of behavior that takes a long time to overcome.

It’s best if labor and management agree to get some help from neutral advocates that can provide them with skills and techniques to get them on the right path.  Some people think they don’t need help or they don’t want to take the time but it can be time well spent as it provides a good foundation that move things faster.  Whether it’s organizations like CALMC or federal mediators, the assistance is worthwhile.

After workers vote to unionize, what’s next? Lots.   There’s plenty of work to do after the vote on both sides.   These are just a few ideas on what needs to happen.

 

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Why People Believe What They Believe

Ever wonder why people believe what they do? In spite of a lack of any evidence, obvious lies, and logical obfuscation, they cling to absurd beliefs as if they were something for which they should be proud.

The answer to the question is really very basic and had been upheld by scientific studies: People believe what they want to believe is true. If something fits within their beliefs and values, they cling tenaciously to it.

While Donald Trump was averaging 50 false or misleading claims a day, his devout followers wrapped themselves around every one. Tell them Coronavirus is a hoax and they will make up stories about false death tolls. Suggest they drink bleach to prevent the virus and the number of poisoning increased. Discuss the impacts of climate change and they brush aside the evidence as wrong or “fake news”. Tell them the election was stolen and he actually won by a landslide and they will storm the capitol and attempt a coup.

The bigger the lie the better, as believing it becomes a matter of faith for the deluded, and very little can be done to cure their clinging to falsehoods. They hold beliefs strictly because they want them to be true.

A recent article by Adrian Bardon, Professor of Philosophy, at Wake Forest University, described “motivated reasoning” as the process of deciding what evidence to accept based on the conclusion one prefers. The resulting polarization in our society is destructive and potentially harmful to people.

Last week a group of right-wing protesters succeeded in shutting down a COVID vaccine site in Los Angles. Their reasoning was fueled in part by the anti-vaxxer movement and their erroneous beliefs. The protesters also claimed that Bill Gates is behind the vaccine in order to obtain mind-control over people.

Is there any evidence to support this? The answer is “None whatsoever.” Nevertheless, the “true believers” in these myths stopped the distribution of vaccines for about an hour, putting others in jeopardy by depriving them of the opportunity to receive their shots.

Bardon states, “In theory, resolving factual disputes should be relatively easy: Just present evidence of a strong expert consensus. This approach succeeds most of the time, when the issue is, say, the atomic weight of hydrogen.

“But things don’t work that way when the scientific consensus presents a picture that threatens someone’s ideological worldview. In practice, it turns out that one’s political, religious or ethnic identity quite effectively predicts one’s willingness to accept expertise on any given politicized issue.”

We see that science is on little value to those who want to believe something that it contradicts. As Trump’s press spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany put it, “The science should not stand in the way.” 

This denial is not the result of ignorance. It is not based on the lack of verifiable information. It is a function of the political persuasion of the individual.

Barden cites a 2015 study that “showed that ideological polarization over the reality of climate change actually increases with respondents’ knowledge of politics, science and/or energy policy. The chances that a conservative is a climate change denier is significantly higher if he or she is college-educated. Conservatives scoring highest on tests for cognitive sophistication or quantitative reasoning skills are most susceptible to motivated reasoning about climate science.”

This motivated reasoning is not restricted to conservatives. Researcher Dan Kahan has demonstrated, liberals are less likely to accept expert consensus on the possibility of safe storage of nuclear waste, or on the effects of concealed-carry gun laws.

This type of denial is natural. People want to refute information that threatens their ideological viewpoint. We engage in “confirmation bias,” giving credit to purported facts we like and find reasons to reject the rest.

When presented with evidence that does not support our views or belies, we simply reject it. This is not a new phenomenon. In the time of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) scientists were forced to reject evidence that did not support established views.  In many cases, when scientists found measurements that did not support the existing theories they simply rejected or changed the data. When Galileo supported the theory the earth revolves around the sun, he was persecuted and threatened with torture for his beliefs. It was said this was a heretical contradiction to the Bible.

The key is to reasonably and rationally assess the information we see to be certain it is factual instead of simply grasping onto the conspiracy theory of the week.

Another issue occurs when we present observable, verifiable information about what is really occurring in a situation. The presence of these facts makes the non-believers very uncomfortable.

Psychiatrist and Philosopher Frantz Fanon wrote, “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance.” That conflict that makes it extremely difficult for individuals to accept they were wrong. In this circumstance they tend to dig in their heels even more firmly and develop an even stronger belief about their views. No matter how wrong they may be, their perception of the facts will not change, and it takes little or no evidence to make them believe they are correct.

We see this same phenomenon in or work with labor and management. We are told there is no possible way that the two sides can work together. They do not believe they share most of the same interests the other side does. To support this, they tell stories of events that supposedly happened years before the current people were part of the workforce.

They choose not to believe the other side is really interested in working with them. They think, “They must be up to something.”

Joel Barker made a career studying the impact of our paradigms on our behaviors. He pointed out our paradigms shape our beliefs and we use them to help understand what is happening now and predict the future.

Unfortunately, these paradigms are not always correct or relevant. When this occurs, they block thinking. We cannot consider doing anything new because “It will never work”, meaning it does not fit our paradigms.

When groups are willing to suspend their beliefs in some of their paradigms, they are able to work together and make may positive achievements. Getting them to do this is difficult, and sometimes takes us telling them, “OK, Try this for now and see if it works. If not, you can always go back to the old ways.” Once they see it works and the success in reinforced, the individuals will come to accept the ne paradigms, albeit very slowly for some.

We have seen the recent destructive impact of blindly following an ideological belief in spite of obvious facts that contradict their viewpoint. When we do this, we stop any critical thinking or real analysis of the type we need to solve problems and improve work systems.

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The Possibilities Are Endless But Temper Those Expectations

Organized labor has received some positive news in recent weeks.

One big item that occurred is the formation of the Alphabet Workers Union at Google.   While this is not a traditional labor in the sense it won’t negotiate contracts for wages, benefits and work-related issues,but it does provide Labor with an opening to the tech industry.  Tech employees have been reluctant to join unions because they didn’t believe unions could adequately represent their needs but this is a start and will allow about 600 employees and contractors a voice on the issues that impact them, the organization and others.   The Communication Workers Association (CWA) will provide necessary assistance.

Along with workers at Google, employees at an Amazon facility in Alabama are in the middle of voting to unionize.  Between February and the end of March more than 5,000 workers will make a decision.  Already about half of the employees declared a union was necessary when they signed cards for election.  The National Labor Relations Board agreed there was plenty of interest to let the election go forward.  The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union responded to workers who were tired of being tracked on their productivity.  Amazon has already contacted an anti-union legal firm to thwart the efforts.

On January 20th, the United States held the presidential inauguration for its 46th president.  President Joe Biden has already removed two Trump appointed general counsels of the National Labor Relations Board.  His nominee for Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh,  is a former union leader. President Biden has also asked several pro-labor people to help carry out his agenda.  One of the many executive orders President Biden has signed is one that allows workers to receive unemployment benefits if they quit because of unsafe working conditions.  In regards to unsafe working conditions, President Biden has asked OSHA to provide newer guidelines for worker protection from covid.

And if all that wasn’t enough, union membership rate increased .5% during 2020 which is a first in ten years.  According to Economic Policy Institute(EPI), that rate increase was because there was less job loss among union workers than non-union.  It was that ability to have voice in covid health and safety issues that helped save their jobs.

This all sounds very positive for Labor but it still means there’s a lot of work to do.  The gains made in technology are small, and, while having a presidential advocate is great, the outcomes may not be what every union leader expects or likes.  The same workplace issues will still continue to exist, too, and there will probably be some new issues.  It doesn’t automatically go away with a presidential advocate.

What is more than likely necessary is some change on everybody’s part.  Those tech workers at Google aren’t necessarily sold on union membership.  It may be unions will have to provide them with more explanation about union membership or maybe union representatives will need to learn more about them.  Some other unions have also looked at different ways to help workers or different industries.  In past blogs, we wrote about the lobster fishing industry in Maine who were concerned about the future of their industry and their communities.  They joined a union to have a greater voice in state legislation.  They agreed the wage and benefit assistance was good but the greater concern was the impact of legislation on their industry.  The International Association of Machinists was obviously not familiar with their industry but they did have the expertise to converse and connect with state legislators which was  something the lobster fishing industry needed.

It also will be important for unions to be ready for any gains they do receive from an administration that is ready to help them.  Unions will need to look inward if they have adequate manpower to help constituents with their issues.  Some union representatives may need more direction and assistance to help members especially as they grow and people have certain expectations of what a union can do for them.

Again, as far as the presidential expectations from union leaders, President Biden and his labor secretary will still need to  listen to the concerns of business people.  When he was mayor of Boston, Marty got along very well with business.  Business people were somewhat skeptical about him because of his union back ground but because he met with them and  listened to them, Marty gained their trust.  That fear of being an anti-business mayor was gone as they saw he considered both the needs of business and labor.

It also may not be just business concerns the President will have to think consider.  Other interests will be at play, too.  For example, environmental concerns may require some changes and changes to jobs.  President Biden has said having good paying union clean energy jobs is important but that may also require some workers to make a transition.  Those environmental issues also relate to those concerns of the lobster fishing industry and how they will adapt to the environmental issues a new president is addressing.  Union representation may help them in the same way it did with state legislation.

President Biden will no doubt be doing the same as Marty Walsh did in meeting and listening to business leaders about his plans.  He already has made some friends with the business community.  The U. S. Chamber of Commerce has reached out to President Biden and said they are willing to work with him on issues like covid relief and climate change.  While the U. S. Chamber still maintains their position on  increases to corporate taxes and regulation, they said working together is necessary for a strong economy and country.  That all sends a signal to American businesses about the need for cooperation.

The opportunity for labor and management to work together has never been greater.  Those recent gains for Labor plus having advocates supporting them give a boost and  allow for building strong relationships.  It may not be easy and it may mean not getting everything but the outcomes can be so much better.

Last week we wrote about some things President Biden said in his inaugural address.  He talked about the importance of listening and respecting each other.  Both President Biden and Marty Walsh are effective leaders that have provided an excellent example of how to work together with those who may be of opposite viewpoints.  They are setting the tone.

Whether it’s in the new relationship with Alphabet workers or the possibility of working with Amazon management or continuing to work with other managers on workplace issues it appears the possibilities are there for everyone to succeed.

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Working Together – It Takes More Than Talk

We’ve hears a lot about working together this week. It’s a refreshing message compared to what we’ve heard for a while. The question is, do those talking about cooperation really mean it?

Today, we want to present some thoughts about working together effectively.

Working Together Takes Commitment

When we work with labor and management, there are people on both sides that doubt whether the sides really can work together and cooperatively solve problems. When they hit a tough issue, their belief quickly fades.

Cooperative behaviors are a different way of doing business, and like any different process, it takes practice and time to learn the new behaviors. In order for the process to succeed it requires the continuing commitment of all parties. When facing a tough problem, it is too easy to revert to the traditional behaviors with which we are comfortable.

We emphasize the need to commit to a cooperative process to labor and management leaders. Without that dedication to working together you are better off not trying, since the process will be doomed and the failure will make it more difficult to work together in the future.

The good thing is the groups that have been committed and work through the issues they face have done great things. They have solved problems that have resulted in saving jobs, creating safer workplaces, cut costs and improved efficiencies, increase profitability help retain workers, and many other areas where improvements in the work system have benefited everyone. It is worth the effort.

Working Together is Not About Winning

Just like in our political systems, our workplaces are often about winning and losing. We want to be certain we win, and we believe the only way to do that is to make the other side lose. This is far from the truth.

The fact is, both sides can win in virtually any situation, and when they do, the entire system benefits. Creating losers does not bring any long term benefit to our workplaces or our government, as the defeated side will redouble their commitment to winning as soon as they have the opportunity. The hostility that results will make working together more difficult and create a flawed system.

In our political system, we see that in the ongoing battle between the D’s and the R’s. Names and majorities may change, but the hostilities seem to remain. We need to remember this does not need to happen.

In workplaces we see those who are convinced working together with the other side cannot work. Some will look for excuses to end the process as soon as it is convenient.

When we focus only on winning we are not working together, and a valuable opportunity will be lost.

Cooperation does not mean getting the other side do exactly what we want

Over the last couple of weeks we have heard politicians moaning that the other side does not really want to work together. That often means the other side is not doing what they want.

We hear politicians saying if you will only do what we want now, we will cooperate with you in the future. Their past behaviors have not demonstrated any willingness to cooperate, but now they claim they will.

Remember in the Peanuts comics when Lucy was holding a football for Charlie Brown? She would tell him go ahead and kick the ball, and promise she won’t pull it away this time. He would believe her, only to end up on his back when she did not follow through,

Unlike Charlie Brown we cannot accept the old behaviors. We cannot expect labor or management to believe the other side is ready to abandon a history of hostile behavior without a real demonstration they are ready to do things differently.

Cooperation Must be Consistent, not Just When it’s Convenient

It is easy to cooperate when the stakes are low. No one will mind using teamwork when the issues are small, but when they become more important, there can be a desire to pull back.

When this occurs, we are likely to see a failure of the process.

Commitment to working together requires we always act in this manner, whether it’s in the labor-management committee room or on the shop floor. It is not something that only works on a limited basis, because no one will expect it to continue.

Base Cooperation on Your Interests

We have written numerous times about the importance of identifying the interests of all parties when solving problems. Our interests are the things that are important to us in any issue. They are our values, beliefs, and the reasons why solving the problem is important to us.

In his inaugural address, President Biden listed some basic interest for moving our county forward.

He asked, “What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans? I think I know.

  • Opportunity.
  • Security.
  • Liberty.
  • Dignity.
  • Respect.
  • Honor.
  • And, yes, the truth.”

Does anyone disagree with this list? You probably can think of other things to add, but the items here are interests that are common to everyone.

In virtually any conflict, both sides will have common interests. The basis for solving the problems is found in our common interests. We encourage groups to take the time to develop a list of interests in any problem. There are almost always many more common interests that those that are opposed. By focusing on interests and not positions or traditional behaviors, we are more likely to be able to solve any problem.

President Biden also reminded us of the importance of listening when working together.

“Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another.”

When we follow this course we will have a real opportunity to work together.

Whether we are thinking about political issues or labor and management in the workplace, working together is possible. It is not an easy road at first, but it is in the best interests of everyone.

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There Are Alternatives To Lay-Offs And Closures

A few weeks ago one local media source identified a possible layoff alternative.  They told about a coffee shop that had faced a significant loss of business because of covid so the owner and two directors of the organization decided to look into employee ownership.

The coffee shop has 5 different locations in the Cleveland area with 37 employees.  After obtaining a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, the coffee shop decided to contact a Cleveland co-op that is made up of several other employee owned organizations to help with the small chain’s survival. The Cleveland co-op is the  Evergreen Co-Op which has been around since 2008 and is a model for creating good-paying jobs in low-income areas.  The coffee chain, realizing this was the best option, went through the process of becoming employee-owned and by October of this last year, the coffee shop became another employee-owned business under the Evergreen Co-Op.  When Evergreen Co-Op was formed,  CALMC’s former sister organization, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University (OEOC), helped with its creation.

When OEOC and CALMC were under the Ohio Labor-Management Cooperation Program, we found we many things in common when it came to employee involvement.

Just as we at CALMC have advocated for high-performing work systems with labor-management it also has been encouraged for employee owned organizations.  That foundation for either workplace system is good because it helps either type of organization  be successful with both worker voice and financial success. But no matter what the workplace situation is,  five core characteristics must be evident and work in unison.  Those characteristics include flexible environments, supportive and empowering leaders, investment in employees, customer-focused quality, and, of course, employee involvement.  Those characteristics can easily be adapted to any workplace situation.  This also means for some organizations it can be a culture change and that can be difficult.  Both CALMC and OEOC work with groups to help them go through that change.

When we would meet with our friends at the OEOC, we, of course, discussed labor-management issues and they would talk about the issues employee-owned businesses faced  but we also found out the issues and how we helped our  groups with those issues were the same or similar.  That really shouldn’t be too surprising because it’s about how people interact with each other.  One of the things we both trained on was group process.  Some might think it’s easy to put people together to resolve problems or issues but it’s not.  Either situation requires people working together, not independently of each other.  It’s also important that we help people work together effectively.  Time is precious in either work environment and helping people work together as efficiently as possible is something we both wanted to accomplish.  One of the things we both help groups with is holding effective meetings because that’s a major part of employee involvement.  Not only is it important to get business accomplished but it’s equally important to allow a voices to be heard in the process and that’s not always something groups can do on their own.

Training for either environment also includes problem solving because employees will have to make important decisions so that means solving problems effectively is vital.  Some might think it would be more important in an employee owned scenario especially when people are directly impacted with financial issues but many labor-management committees we’ve worked with have had to make financial decisions that will directly impact them.  One group had to determine if hiring additional employees was in the organization’s best interest.  Another group, which we’ve blogged about before, looked at voluntary furlough as an alternative to layoffs.  Some members from that same group also addressed subcontracting or contracting out  issues.  They all had to use some very definite problem solving skills at to make their decisions.

The employee ownership center includes financial training as  part of their curriculum.  Having attended a  financial training course it was perfect for any employee to get some good, basic information.  It was simplified so it was easy to understand and interactive with participants having hands-on interaction.  It’s also something  labor-management committees could find extremely useful.

Including employees in every day decision-making helps increase employees’ commitment to the organization.  It doesn’t matter if it’s employee ownership or involving employees in committees to look at specific issues or projects or particular problems the organization faces, it just creates a better workplace environment.  Creating partnerships with employees can increase loyalty, improve the atmosphere and create greater mutual respect among everybody.  All of this can in turn help the workplace be competitive and have greater profit margins.

These types of strategies also go beyond the jobs they save.  They help strengthen communities, and in particular, neighborhoods.  That’s why the Evergreen Co-Op was established.  Businesses don’t close so there isn’t an empty building to contend with and  jobs aren’t lost  causing people to move elsewhere.  Tax money remains in the community and that helps the community and citizens as services are provided.  Instead of focusing on bringing new businesses into the community that don’t always provide a good job, Evergreen helps local people.  Employee-owned businesses are created so they can provide that good job so people can have pride in themselves, the work they do and their community.  They can provide better wages, training and offer benefits like health care.

Labor-management committees can do the same.  They can maintain jobs and even expand business and jobs such as the one company did we’ve blogged about that started a safety committee.  People on these committees on both sides take a lot of pride knowing they work together to resolve some good-sized issues.  It’s not always easy but it provides benefits to so many people don’t always think about it.

And there’s one other thing that labor-management can do and employee ownership can do.  They help people learn about each other and build relationships. At a time when this country is divided, these strategies can be a start to bring people and communities together.  The trainings mentioned above teach people how to work together to solve problems especially with those that may have different opinions and perspectives.  People learn to LISTEN to others and they realize that while they may have differing opinions and perspectives, they also have much in common.  People that have gone through our training have said they made new friends and sometimes learned to like people that were at the opposite end of the spectrum from them.

Learning to work together has so many benefits but it takes work, courage and time.  If you’re a business or you know of a business that’s struggling right now with the pandemic, these are options to help you.  It might not be a financial loan like PPP but it can work with PPP to help you sustain and become strong and competitive!  Look at OEOC’s page.  Look at CALMC’s website.  Also check out Evergreen Co-Op to learn more.

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Three Thing About: This Week

I knew what I was going to write about this week, then this week happened.

Like most of us, I’ve never been through anything like this, and don’t ever want to again. The insurrection was clearly part of a coup attempt to keep the current president in power in spite of the will of the electorate. People claiming to be patriots were planning the overthrow of the government. There can be no excuses or attempts to reimagine what we saw.

There is a lot to process from this week as we try to make sense of what happened, but I would like to focus on three significant areas and look at how they relate to labor-management relations.

There Are Consequences for Our Actions

For the last four years, this administration and their minions have been feeding us lie after lie. The Washington Post Fact Checker report shows Trump made 15,413 misleading or false claims in his first 1,007 days in office, an average of over 15 lies per day. These lies were then repeated by Republican leaders, the right-wing media, and other sycophants.

The best way to convince people that a lie is true is to keep repeating it. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” These words of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels were reflected in the writings of Adolph Hitler.

Scientific American reported on a recent study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review that indicates belief in all statements, be they plausible or implausible, increases with repetition. We saw and heard plenty of repetition from Trump and his minions.

Even before the November election, Trump and company were claiming the election was fixed and being stolen. After the election, the frequency of these statements grew to being a continuous blast of lies and deliberate misstatements designed to breed doubt in the legitimacy of the election.

We saw the consequences of these actions on Wednesday, when a radical mob fueled by the urgings of Donald Trump, stormed the Capitol building in an effort to stop the affirmation of the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Deluded by the stream of lies, the mob threatened the very roots of democracy, free elections.

What was also disturbing were the Republicans who, in spite of the events of the day, continued to spew the stream of lies from the floor of Congress and in social media. Politicians like Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley maintained the propaganda stream in an effort to accomplish their goals and build their own ambitions and political standing.

The events of the day were the obvious consequence of the stream of lies and deceit. The resulting damage, deaths, and injuries lie at their feet and the blood on their hands. As they have continued to lie, minimize, and redirect blame (without evidence), it appears they have not learned about the consequences of their actions. Donald Trump was reportedly “delighted” when rioters stormed the Capitol, as reported by Republican Senator Ted Sasse (Neb),

When we work with labor and management, we urge them to consider the long-term effects of what they do. We have seen times when one side or the other (or both) twist information and stir discontent in order to achieve a victory. Just like in government, the other side will not go away in defeat, they will become more resolute. When they do, they make it harder to work together in the future.

Focus on Identifying and Solving Problems.

The major effort of the administration has been to delegitimize the results of the election. This has been the first and foremost goal, to the detriment of any efforts to solve the real problems we face. A list of those problems is too long for this writing, but three of the most significant include:

The Economy.           On Friday, the Department of Labor reported that 140,000 jobs were eliminated in December. Over 700,000 workers have lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic. The answer to this problem seemed to be the administration continuing to tout the strength of the economy. This may make some politicians feel better, but the misinformation does nothing to solve the problems.

The Pandemic.          This week, we saw the largest single day death toll in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, along with record numbers of new cases. The strategy of the administration appears to be to ignore the problem, pretend things are getting better, and deny all facts to the contrary. The outcome has been more sick people, hospitals nearing capacity, and more deaths. The strategies clearly are not working and have not worked, yet nothing of note has been done.

Vaccine Distribution.           One of the positive things to come from this administration has been the rapid development of vaccines for the virus. They hold great promise to slow the spread of the disease.

Unfortunately, the distribution of the vaccine has been extremely slow. According to NBC News, it is estimated at the current rate, it would take nearly 10 years to vaccinate enough Americans to bring the pandemic under control.

The slow distribution rates, combined with the politicization of the distribution process and the spread of conspiracy theories have combined to slow vaccine distribution.

There are many other significant problems we face, such as racism, income inequality, and immigration reform, and they will not go away on their own. They can be attacked if we focus on problem identification and resolution. We hope in the next year we will work together to correct them. That needs to be the priority, not partisan gain.

In the same way, labor and management face problems that damage their work systems. Solving them takes teamwork and the positive efforts of everyone. When the concerns are ignored, we lose an opportunity to make long term improvements in our workplace.

Remember to Focus on Interests.

What was very evident this week was the complete lack of teamwork between Democrats and Republicans. The sides demonstrated a desire to destroy each other, all of which culminated Wednesday with the riot. It took that event to make some leaders stop and ask what they were doing. Some have come to admit the problems they were causing, while others remain entrenched in their fraud.

Making any real change will take a very different approach. Instead of focusing on winning at all costs, our leaders need to focus on the mutual interests they have in helping improve our system of government. From those interests we can craft creative solutions about how to do better.

We recommend focusing on interests when we work with labor and management instead of traditional, hostile relationships. Focusing on interests works as long as there are common interests between the parties as is the case in almost all labor-management situations. In the lack of mutual interests, any attempt to solve problems will be futile until the status quo becomes untenable to one or both sides.

We have seen labor and management groups that began entrenched in their behaviors end up turning to a collaborative, interest-based process to resolve disputes. Should we expect any less of our elected leaders?

It is said that sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. This week, we saw some of the worst. While there are people who want to continue the hostilities, we need to do better. I hope we can.

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We (Almost) Made It!

As we near the end of a very tumultuous year, we hope things will be calmer and easier to deal with in 2021. I know we cannot blame a year for all the issues, but the continuing rounds of pandemic, economic slumps, unemployment, more pandemic, violence in the streets, possible evictions, political maneuvering and battling, and more pandemic, we certainly can use a break.

We’ve begun to see some change starting, and hope it will be sustained. This week, we want to mention some of the issues we have seen recently.

Did you hear President-elect Biden’s holiday message? It was great to hear a leader speaking in positive terms without bashing opponents, the press, or even former friends. He spoke frankly without needing to hide behind a Twitter screen.

We hope to see significant change in the role of the President, one in which he places the good of people ahead of his own benefit. This week, the Associated Press published a summary of Trump’s legacy by highlighting key numbers. Among the items cited were:

322,000 and counting: Number of U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19.

0: Comprehensive health care overhaul plans Trump introduced. He repeatedly promised to deliver a plan (very soon) to replace the Obama-era Affordable Care Act with a plan he claimed would cover everyone at a lower cost.

3: Justices added to the Supreme Court, establishing a solid 6-3 conservative majority.

221: Federal trial-level and appeals court judges added to the judiciary. This was due, in part, by the Senate blocking judicial nominees of President Obama.

$3.1 trillion: 2020 budget deficit, the largest in dollar terms in U.S. history.

$21 trillion: Federal debt in December, when it exceeded the size of the economy for the first time in history outside World War II.

82: Number of Trump administration environmental and public health rollbacks tracked on Harvard University’s rollback tracker.

450: Miles of Trump’s “big, beautiful” steel wall along the U.S.-Mexico border expected to be completed by year’s end, roughly 23% of the length of the border. The amount paid for by Mexico: $0.

1 billion: Barrels of oil and gas pumped from federally managed lands in 2019 as the administration sped permits and opened wilderness and other areas to the industry.

$135 billion: Expected growth in the defense budget under Trump.

4: International agreements Trump pulled the U.S. out of: Iran nuclear deal, Paris climate agreement, Open Skies Treaty and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

13: Federal executions scheduled since July, when the administration resumed putting inmates to death after a 17-year hiatus, making Trump the most prolific execution president in more than 130 years.

315: Days Trump has visited a golf course as president, according to Factba.se, a data analytics company.

418: Days Trump has visited a property he owns, according to Factba.se.

25,000 and counting: Tweets, including original messages and retweets, sent by Trump since he took office on Jan. 20, 2017, according to Factba.se.

It’s hard to be proud of this legacy. It does not include the number of indictments and other legal issues faced by his staff and associates, the issuance of pardons and clemency to cover the corrupt activities of friends and associated, or his effort to overthrow democracy by discarding an election without any evidence to support his claims. The damage to our country from these activities will be with us for years.

This weekend, Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said President Donald Trump would leave behind a disastrous legacy if he doesn’t sign the latest COVID-19 relief bill and allows pandemic aid to expire at the end of the month. Much like Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned, instead of dealing with the bill prior to the expiration of unemployment benefit extensions Trump chose to play golf at his resort. Even though he eventually signed the bill, his actions caused additional stress for those who were impacted by the loss of unemployment benefits.

When I was in school we were taught that one of the hallmarks of our democracy was the peaceful transition of power that took place when a new president was elected. What we have seen this year suggests this legacy of free elections and government may become obsolete if the current leadership gets its way. Let’s hope not.

Still, there are signs of change on the horizon that will benefit workers and their right to organize. Amazon will face a union representation election at its warehouse near Birmingham, Alabama. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union seeks to become the representative for a bargaining unit in this facility, which would be the first defeat for the company. The election should be held in early 2021.

As this takes place, watch the efforts of both sides to mobilize support. Amazon is well-known for their union avoidance activities, and we will no doubt see them here. Union issues with worker safety, working conditions, wages, and benefits will be at the forefront of the campaign.

The issue of worker safety at Amazon was raised again this week as the company was forced to close a New Jersey warehouse after it saw an uptick in asymptomatic coronavirus cases.

Although company representatives would not disclose the total number of cases at the facility, they did disclose that nearly 20,000 front-line employees contracted Covid-19 between March 1 and Sept. 19.

Most of Amazon’s warehouses have remained open during the pandemic, as they were deemed essential facilities, alongside grocery stores, pharmacies and banks, among other businesses. The record levels of on-line ordering has placed additional stress on the employees.

Several times this year, we’ve written about the importance of listening to scientific experts about limiting the spread of Covid-19. These recommendations have included staying home, avoiding large groups in close contact, maintaining social distancing, and wearing masks. The evidence clearly supports the wisdom of these suggestions, as they helped “flatten he curve” and hold down the spread of the disease and resulting deaths.

Unfortunately, the scientists did not foresee the conditions that have led to the current surges in the spread of the virus: the problems of stupidity and selfishness. The demand to be able to return to bars, tattoo parlors, and restaurants without restriction is matched by the increase in virus statistics. Some of these citizens have caused problems for workers with their threats and negative behaviors.

Apparently I missed the part of the Constitution which says we do can refuse to do anything we do not want to do. Using the claims of freedom and liberty to justify selfish and harmful behavior is ludicrous.

I would have been much more impressed of these groups had demanded their right to go to a bookstore or the library.

I am sure you have herd the old saying, “May you live in interesting times.” It was intended as a curse, reflecting the difficulty and stress in living in such times. Although the origin of the statement is unknown, we have certainly experienced the difficulties of living under these conditions. Let’s hope 2021 is a lot less interesting.

We hope you and your loved ones will have a great, happy, and calm New Year.

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Did You Know You can Go Farther If You Work Together?

There’s a great story about a grant maker’s ideas on accomplishing social change.

The grant maker was David Bonbright who worked for some of the larger philanthropic organizations such as the Ford Foundation.  David has had a lot of experience with social change.  While at the Ford Foundation, he spent time opposing the apartheid regime in South Africa and then later helped Nelson Mandela and his government establish social changes in South Africa through the development of non-profits as well as to help others become grant makers.

What was really interesting was how he created the societal changes through his work.   The methods and ideology he relied on are very similar to what we do to help labor-management groups work together.

David Bonbright believes for any societal change to happen there must be strong relationships.  In labor-management that is something we also have to do because many times there is a lack of trust or the inability to have a strong relationship prevents issues from being resolved.  One of the things we encourage with our trainings is for labor and management to put aside three days so they start to form that relationship.  As one person said after the three-day training, “We bonded.  I made friends with someone from the other side.”  That helps to create that foundation for being able to look at issues together and making real change.

He says the better the relationship the more that can be done.  That’s absolutely true with labor and management as well.  The very best committees we worked with were the ones that had the best relationships.  Those committees were more committed and could accomplish much more than those who did not have the relationship.  That’s not to say it was always easy for those groups.  One group in particular started off with some difficulty but learned from some of their mistake.

The ability for people to have a voice is central to the success of the change.  While he was in South Africa, David learned people must be included in any change so they have a voice in that change.  He said  frustration occurred because  more people were involved but it provided a better outcome.  An African proverb, he said, substantiated the need for inclusion.  It says,  “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

That proverb reminds me of so many labor-management groups we’ve worked with who did go far because they worked together and became partners.  Several of the groups worked on some difficult issues so it did take longer, but just as David said, the outcome was way better than if one side or one person had been the sole decision maker.  Once those groups realized they could work together and come up with solutions that everyone could support, there was no other way for them to work. They wanted to work on problems together.

One of the things we encourage with labor and management is a continuous improvement process through a problem solving process.  It’s a step-by-step process that allows for better problem exploration.  It usually means the group must gather information and collect data.  There also is a step for the group to go back and re-evaluate their work to make sure everything worked out okay.  David said  that’s the same process for social change group.   He says it helps groups learn and make improvements together.  As we have always emphasized it’s better when all group members get the same information at the same time because the quality of the decisions they make will be much better.  Plus, instead of one person or one side making the decisions, it becomes a more objective process as information and data are the determinants.  More often than not, when we tell groups to go back and get more information it helps them decide together what needs to happen.  It also can mean a totally different outcome than what they originally anticipated.  Many times they find out there really isn’t a problem so that in itself reduces finger-pointing or other traditional means that end up destroying relationships.

But, one of the most important items David mentioned was this idea about mutuality. He said a lot of people think they’re “all-knowing” but he would prefer them to be “not knowing” and to focus on mutuality where people from the top and people at the bottom come together.  That, too, is very similar to labor-management.  In fact, it may be the heart of building the relationship. In problem solving, once groups have identified the problem, the next step is to identify their concerns or interests in the problem.  One side brainstorms their concerns or interests and then the other side identifies their concerns or interests.  Next,  their mutual concerns or interests are identified. They usually have several, sometimes all, and that helps bring both sides together.  Just as David said in the story, the more groups work together it helps to build the relationship.  They listen to each other.  They see they have some mutuality in the issues they’re tackling and from there they can craft better solutions.  It doesn’t mean the areas they don’t share in common go away.  They find it a little bit easier to come up with a solution that will help those areas, too.

There’s a phrase a lot of labor-management committees use and that is, “Leave your title at the door.”  That means everybody coming to the meeting is equal.  Everybody brings something no matter who they are which goes back to David’s “all-knowing.”  Everybody brings their perspectives based on who they are, what they do, their experiences and so on.  That’s important but it also means all those perspectives means every member of the group is there to look at issues and problems, not one or a few individuals.  That’s where David is right about the “not knowing.”  Gathering the information and data together helps them to explore areas they may not have considered. It’s also important for them to  keep that open mind to new ideas and thoughts.

We’ve blogged before how worker voice can spread beyond the workplace so that people can learn more about each other and work together on issues within communities.  The story about David Bonbright and his work on societal change using the same process and the same philosophy validates it. It all goes back to the proverb:  “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

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The Most Important Meal of the Day and Other Things We Believe

I’m sure you have heard the statement, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” This has led many to believe skipping breakfast would be a travesty to our nutritional health. Do you know where this originated?

The claim was made as a marketing slogan in the 19th century by James Caleb Jackson and John Harvey Kellogg to help sell their newly invented breakfast cereal. It was first mentioned in a journal published by a Michigan sanitarium that was run by Kellogg. (He also claimed his cereal was part of a bland diet that would discourage young boys from pleasuring themselves.)

The claim about the importance of breakfast was made without any supporting evidence beyond the claims of Kellogg, yet it persists and is accepted by many today. Nonetheless, it changed historical views about breakfast while building a multi-billion dollar industry. It is something we choose to believe because it has been around for a long time and that we want to accept it.

In the absence of evidence we believe what we choose to accept. This is understandable, but what is troubling is the willingness of many to accept things while disregarding the body of evidence to the contrary.

We believe what we want to believe, and this is often based on our own prejudices. For example, a study found 56% of people (72% of Republicans, and 40% of Democrats) oppose the teaching of Arabic numerals in our schools. I would presume the people who are in opposition probably did not understand the basis of the question and allowed their prejudices to guide their opinion. John Dick, chief executive of Civic Science, said the results were “the saddest and funniest testament to American bigotry we’ve ever seen in our data. It means that the question is about knowledge or ignorance but [also] something else – prejudice.”

What are the Arabic numerals that are opposed by so many? They are the numbers 0-9 that we all learned in school. It is pretty difficult to do mathematics without them, isn’t it?

The survey about Arabic numbers also found that 41% of Donald Trump supporters (and 19% of Democrats) favored bombing the city of Agrabah. While the Middle Eastern sounding name may have raised the ire of some, Agrabah is a fictional locale from a Disney animated movie. Without any information about this, people were ready to listen to their prejudices and plan an attack.

What does this have to do with labor and management? We encourage people on both sides to share all relevant information when solving problems. Attacking a problem without it is doomed to failure. That means we have to take the time to get the information we need, study it, and interpret it properly.

This is where the problem lies. We now have access to virtually any piece of information from history, current events, science, culture, and any area through our computers, tablets, and smart phones. We also have access to vast amounts of deliberate disinformation and outright lies. These are designed to delude us and keep us from understanding what is happening and making good decisions. We need the skills necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff, reject the falsehoods, and act appropriately.

This is hard work, but it is vital. It is difficult to set aside our assumptions about what we think we see. This is exemplified by the debate over proper handling of the Coronavirus.

The science surrounding the pandemic is clear, yet political beliefs keep some from accepting it. The virus, however, does not care about your politics, it will affect anyone who does not take proper precautions. It can be passed and is passed by those who refuse to accept science and reality, often with deadly results.

Nick Visser in the Huffington Post reports on remarks from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. Dr. Fauci said he was troubled by the rise in “anti-science” beliefs throughout the country, saying such ill-founded sentiments could be “a problem” as the nation seeks to move past the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Fauci stated, “One of the problems we face in the United States is that, unfortunately, there is a combination of an anti-science bias that people are ― for reasons that sometimes are, you know, inconceivable and not understandable ― they just don’t believe science and they don’t believe authority.”

“That’s unfortunate because, you know, science is truth,” he added.

 “It’s amazing sometimes the denial there is,” he said. “It’s the same thing that gets people who are anti-vaxxers, who don’t want people to get vaccinated, even though the data clearly indicate the safety of vaccines. That’s really a problem.”

We need to do a better job of using information to help us understand what is happening around us. This is true whether we are considering the efficacy of vaccines or trying to solve problems in the workplace. We owe it to ourselves to accept no less.

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