Did You Know Unions Help With Democracy?

The last couple of weeks we have blogged about the role unions have in the U. S.  We began Labor Day week with a historical perspective on workers and how unions helped to shape our country.  Last week, we blogged on the moral and economic justification of unions.

This week, we’re continuing with that economic and moral justification by focusing more specifically on income inequality and how it also relates to U. S. democracy.

According to the International Monetary Fund(IMF), income of labor has decreased for the last 15 years by about 3.5% thus helping to create the income inequality problem in the U. S.   They cite three reasons for this problem.  One of them is the breakdown of labor unions and policies.  Labor has also identified the other two reasons IMF cites as concerns of unions.  They are trade practices and technological changes. Trade practices hurt U. S. labor markets when production is being done in other countries with an adequate labor supply at  less expense so it becomes much cheaper to produce a product in a country other than the U. S.   The other problem cited that is helping to create income inequality is the advancement of technology.  The IMF says union membership has declined more than 15% since the early 2000s.  They believe this has hurt the ability of wages to increase as fewer workers are covered under collective bargaining processes or the bargaining power of unions has diminished.  Diminishing bargaining power has meant unions have either had to maintain the same wage with no increases or, in some cases, have been threatened layoffs or closures if wages aren’t reduced.  Anti-union legislation at the local or state level has also diminished some of the capability of unions to negotiate better pay for members.  Corporations have been much more aggressive in anti-union campaigns.  While the IMF responds to the concerns about trade and technology, they say they can’t pinpoint a real cause for the reduced power of unions or the decline in memberships so they have no recommendation on how to improve the situation.

On the other hand,  the Economic Policy Institute(EPI) says stagnant wages have started much earlier than what IMF reported.  EPI says it started in 1979 and is now extending to those with a college education.  EPI says wage inequality has been exacerbated not just through economical means but also because of the lack of legislation which has caused those with greater income to see more gains than those with less income.    Like IMF, EPI also believes diminished union power has contributed  to the problem.  But unlike IMF, EPI has some suggestions to improve the ability of unions to assist with wages.  They suggest policy makers need to do more to encourage union membership because when unions win, everybody wins especially for those in lower wage jobs.  Unions set the wage standard for entire industries not just organized workplaces.  Low-wage occupations see a greater increase with unions which benefits all occupations and narrows wage gaps between low earners and high earners .  Had these wages kept pace with productivity levels, the increase to the hourly worker would have increased over 60%.

EPI also says instead of focusing on policies that restrict growth, legislators should focus on policies that help improve the opportunity for union participation.  Federal labor laws that are over 70 years old need to be updated to help increase union membership.

For example, this week in California, lawmakers are looking at applying other measures to cap-and-trade policies for automakers in California.  In order to receive cap-and-trade incentives, automakers, such as Tesla, must show they are acting in a “fair and responsible” manner to unions.  The UAW has been having difficulty with organizing at Tesla because of management efforts.  This may help to ease the organizing tension and help with membership gains.

In another example from an op-ed in The New York Times,  Benjamin Sachs, a professor from Harvard Law School, suggested separating union activities into two distinct plans.  One would be as unions currently function, representing workers through collective bargaining agreements, and the other would be organizing any worker for political purposes only.    In other words, he says, workers would not have  collective bargaining representation in the workplace but would be organized just for political objectives.  A designated location could be established where workers could meet to determine their political objectives.  Dues would not be collected other than payroll deductions agreed to by the worker for political expenditures.  If the designated location was the workplace, retribution would not be allowed by the employer.  This, he wrote, would be better for lower to middle income workers than what is occurring now.

Benjamin Sachs, in his suggestion, said the inability of people to be heard from their government is a failure of democracy.  As wage inequality worsens, it breaks down democracy.  An article in Psychology Today points out people tend to be less hopeful.  Income issues cause hard decisions to be made.  For some, it can mean eating or going to a doctor to get well.  People become less willing to participate in community and society events such as voting.  They feel their vote has little impact on legislative action.  This also leads to even more social problems.

Unions, on the other hand,  help with the democratic process.  They give voice to the needs of working Americans just as they did in the 1800s and 1900s.  Not only do they speak up about wage inequality but they provide a mechanism that shows people how a democracy works.  As we blogged Labor Day week, Senator Wagner encouraged union membership when he wrote about the Wagner Act.  The intent behind it, he wrote,  was to give people an opportunity in a democratic process where they could vote on issues that impacted them and vote on the leaders they wanted to represent them.  His concern was the political process in the United States was too big and too broad to help people understand it.  Unions, he thought, could be a teaching ground.  Today, unions see that and members get involved.  They volunteer during elections to help maintain a democratic process so American people continue to have a voice on important issues.  They also make sure people are able to get out to vote and take them if need be.

Unions aren’t just about raising wages and  speaking out on wage inequality.  They know and see the problems associated with wage inequality and other social safety net issues that can impact the strength of a country.  Unions give the voice that individual Americans can’t always achieve.  They talk to legislators and provide the expertise to help shape legislative policy.    Unions fight for those less fortunate who may not be a member of a union but because unions are there for them and have been for many years, we as a nation benefit from it.   In recent polls from Gallup and Pew Research, almost two-thirds of American people now believe unions are needed.  They believe unions can help improve their lives.  They believe income can improve and when their income improves so does their daily life and when their daily life improves so does our nation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Did You Know: Another View On The Importance of Unions from a Surprising Source

Last Monday was Labor Day, the holiday where we are supposed to celebrate American workers and their contributions to our society. Part of that should also include the essential role unions played in creating our strong economic system.

Last week we wrote about the role of unions in building our economy. This week, we want to look at what someone else said about this topic, Pope Francis.

The American Jesuit Review reports Pope Francis recently made supporting remarks about the importance of unions. He stated “Labor unions that protect and defend the dignity of work and the rights of workers continue to have an essential role in society, especially in promoting inclusion.” He added “There is no good society without a good union”

The article states the Pope went on to say “Labor unions must guard and protect workers, but also defend the rights of those ‘outside the walls,’ particularly those who are retired and the excluded who are also excluded from rights and democracy.” He added, “There is no justice together if it isn’t together with today’s excluded ones,”

He also pointed out work without respect for the person “becomes something inhuman.” That lack of respect is shown when companies move jobs to areas where workers are paid less, politicians act to reverse wage gains enacted in cities and communities, and right-wing politicians seek to enact “right-to-work” laws which will hurt workers.

It’s not often I get to quote Pope Francis and Jesuit publications, but his remarks about unions are very appreciated. (His Holiness should feel free to quote me anytime he chooses.)

The economic role of unions in building equality can be seen by looking at what has happened to our economy as union membership has declined. In a recent article, Newsweek points to the role unions played in building economic equality and the middle class. They cite a Harvard study which found:

  • Reductions in union jobs account for 33 percent inequality among men, and 40 percent among women since the early 1970s.
  • While losses cut across racial lines, black workers have been hardest hit. Since 1983, the percentage of black workers in a union has declined2 percent, compared to 43.6 percent for white workers. As a result, more than half of black working people make less than $15/hour.

Unions offered workers a path to the middle class, better working conditions, access to health care and other benefits, and collective political power. Not only did union members receive these benefits, but employees of nearby non-organized companies also received higher wages and better conditions in order to keep those companies competitive for the workforce. The article states union and nonunion workers fighting for minimum wage increases have won raises for another 20 million workers, and set 10 million on the road to a living wage.

The role of unions in helping shape our society is undeniable, and their importance in securing economic growth and fairness remains today.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Employee Involvement, Right to Organize | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The 2017 CALMC Golf Outing

The annual CALMC Golf Outing was held August 31, 2017. As always, representatives from labor, management and community organizations enjoyed a great day on the course and the opportunity to come together.

Congratulations to our winning team from the United Way of Central Ohio and to everyone else who participated in the outing.

The winning team from the United Way of Central Ohio, one of the community organizations with which CALMC partners.

We want to offer special thanks to our hole sponsors:

Central Ohio Labor Council, AFL-CIO

National Association of Electrical Contractors, Central Ohio Chapter

Ohio Civil Service Employees Association/AFSCME Local 11

Professional Employees Representatives Union, Local 5

Construction Services Industry, Inc., Gary Schaeffer, President

A full gallery of photos can be seen on the CALMC Facebook page.

If you missed out, be sure to join us next year and be part of the fun and the opportunity to be part of labor and management networking and getting to know each other better.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Labor-Management Cooperation, Teamwork | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Labor Day!

This week the U. S. observes the Labor Day holiday.  The holiday recognizes labor’s achievements.  According to Wikipedia, Labor Day, “…honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws and well-being of the country…”  Most people consider it an extra day off and the last big holiday of the summer season.

Many people take labor’s accomplishments for granted and don’t think about the struggles to get child labor laws, the eight-hour day, overtime pay, safer workplaces or many other work benefits that impact all of us whether we’re a member of a union or not.  As Wikipedia’s definition says, the American labor movement is more than just wages and work benefits.  Workers have been making this country great for quite some time.  Let’s walk through some history and find out how we’ve done it.

During colonial days, work was imperative. Those that were considered free laborers were expected to work.  In some cases, if they did not work, there were harsh penalties that included working for free or prison.  Labor also included those sold into slavery.  It was an extremely divisive issue and the social justice issue of the time with no resolution.  Because of a shortage of labor and high wages, some employers saw slavery as a way to keep costs down.  Slaves received no wage for the hard work that was imposed upon them.

By the 1800s, America was moving forward.  Agriculture was still an important industry but manufacturing was starting to take hold.  In larger communities, the labor movement was beginning to establish its roots as people wanted to maintain a standard of living that had become the norm from colonial days.  Costs were going up.  There was more social unrest as more people continued to enter America.  Some of those coming to America for the first time also joined these early unions.  As the country advanced geographically, competition increased causing problems for both workers and employers.  Employers wanted more out of workers.  Some workers from the trade unions, not necessarily identical to what we consider trade unions, wanted only workers within their group employed in their shop.  They asked for overtime pay or reduced work hours from the grueling 12 hour days. In mill towns, owners of mills decided to employ children so they could reduce their labor costs which reduced all wages.

By the time of the Civil War, unions had increased in numbers and at the end of the Civil War, the hard work Americans had accomplished pushed the country as being one of the leading industrial nations in the world.  The United States was getting ready to enter the Industrial era.  By 1885, women were now part of the workforce and that brought a social challenge.  Many of them worked in industrial jobs.  Those who had families not only worked as a means of support but they also had to take care of homes.  Their workday just at the workplace was sunrise to sunset and then there was more to do at home. Some women worked in telegraph offices and were members of the International Typographical Union.  It was also a time when workers formed associations around politics.  The major issues for workers continued to be reduced hours and wage increases.    By 1900, unions were very common and so were strikes.

The early 1900s brought stagnation to unions.  Employers became very aggressive against unions and not only were there more strikes but violence became more common.  Again, the big issues were reduced hours, overtime wages and straight wage increases.  Fear of non-union workers infiltrating unionized shops was also a big issue for many unions.  Employers hired security guards to keep unions out or to keep union members in line.  This too was not without violence.  In one instance, children and wives of union members were killed in clashes.  Union officials, too, were killed when security guards were sent in during a strike situation.  There were other issues that impacted social justice.  Issues regarding safety and unsanitary working conditions were prevalent. In one workplace, The International Ladies Garment Workers tried to organize because of a safety concern.  Shop doors at a factory were bolted to keep the workers, mostly women, in the shop and, according to the shop owners, keep product from going out the door.  Unfortunately, the workplace became symbolic for workplace safety.  In March of 1911, the worst workplace disaster that had ever occurred happened at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  More than 148 women were killed when a fire broke out and they were unable to escape because of the bolted doors.  This was the beginning of more safety regulations at workplaces.  Because of the horrible violence that was erupting between employers and unions, President Wilson decided to take action but was unable to get them to agree.  Finally, Congress stepped in to help unions under the Railway Labor Act in 1926.  While it was primarily for the railroad, it set a precedence for other unions.  It said unions had a right to organize and each side could chose their own representatives during bargaining sessions and there would be no obstruction from either side.  The act also provided mediation and a remedy for strike situations.  The aggressive action by employers to curtail union growth had succeeded.  Union membership had regressed.  The Great Depression occurring in 1929 did nothing to improve the situation.

The Great Depression ushered in devastation to all Americans.  Initially, President Hoover asked unions to work with employers on work-share opportunities.  The unions, very willing to help keep as many people working as they could, complied.  When President Roosevelt was elected, he enacted many forms of legislation to create jobs and provide assistance to American families.  Social programs were created to help Americans with everyday living.  Public work projects were created for jobs.  It was during this era, too,  many of the labor laws we enforce today were legislated.  Legislation passed helped unions and all workers.  The Wagner Act, named for Senator Robert Wagner from New York, was the momentum for the labor movement.  It was enacted as Hitler was beginning to take hold in Europe.  Senator Wagner was concerned about the political climate that was developing throughout the world.  He believed that if the labor movement was encouraged to grow it would bring a democratic process directly to the people so they could have a better understanding of it by actually participating and experiencing it.  Senator Wagner was worried the country’s democratic process was sometimes too cumbersome for ordinary citizens to be involved.  Unions could help teach Americans how a democracy works.  As many of us know, the problems between union and management continued throughout the 1930-40s but the gains made by unions to help all workers during this time frame are what we realize today.  Paid vacations and holidays, shift differentials, overtime pay, and inequality issues were some of the gains that we now take for granted.

Shortly after the Wagner Act, legislation was done to amend some of the provisions in the Wagner Act.  The Taft-Hartley Act was done to curtail some of the union actions the Wagner Act allowed.  This piece of legislation, like the Wagner Act, is current labor law.

In years later when the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations merged, George Meany became the first president.  Meany wanted unions to focus on broader social issues.  For example, Meany focused on civil rights.  He also pushed tax-cut legislation.  Today, under Meany’s legacy,  unions honor him by recognizing members and citizens who have gone out of their way to provide volunteer service to the local community.

Throughout the history of this country,  as reported above, workers have made  important contributions to this country.  Workers have helped shape this country physically, morally and economically.  Unions have been a conduit so workers could accomplish all that.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unions represent a wide range of people in various occupations including management positions.  More than 13% of union workers are management personnel.  Over 18% are considered to be professional workers.  These include those with computer jobs, architecture jobs, legal jobs, community service jobs and healthcare jobs.  In other words, unions jobs just aren’t the stereotypical manufacturing job.

Since the 1970s, unions have been on a decline in membership.  There are several reasons as to why that has occurred.  One being automation which has decreased the number of workers needed in many factories.  The number of factories may have declined as some have pointed out.  But the need for unions has not gone out of style.  The same things unions fought for in the past are just as relevant today.  As we have stated many times, if unions don’t lobby for the American worker, who will?  When union wages go up, so do wages for everyone.  When a union negotiates with a workplace for a particular benefit, more than likely another workplace will get it whether it’s union or non-union.

The great news for unions to celebrate on Labor Day is more than 60% of people agree unions are necessary compared  to 25% who see them negatively.  It’s also important to know, too, 75% of those under 30 have a favorable opinion of unions.

Some of the things we can thank a union for are a lot of the things they’ve helped to get us over the years.  Those things include increased wages and benefits, paid holidays and vacation, overtime pay, and workplace safety just to mention a few.  In addition, unions speak out on our behalf.  They meet with legislators to encourage legislation that will help working families with healthcare, unemployment, scheduling problems and many more.  Unions volunteer hours to help young people, homeless people, disabled people and anybody who is less fortunate or needs help. Union people make sure our lights turn on at night.  They teach our kids and they keep us ALL safe.

In the coming weeks we’ll be reporting more on some of these issues.  Stay tuned!  In the mean time, HAPPY LABOR DAY!!  Worker, it’s your day.  You deserve it!



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Do You Know: The Importance of Active Listening

As teams work together, one of the most important skills for members is listening. Too often, this is a very underutilized tool.

I had a colleague who described listening as the time you spend trying to figure out what you are going to say while the other person is talking. We plan our arguments because we believe that is how we can be certain we will prevail. We must convince the other party that we are right, and we give little thought to what the other party is saying. Of course, it is likely they are also not listening when we try to make our points.

If we do not listen carefully to the other party, we miss out on an opportunity to learn from what they are saying. We do not hear information we need, and as a result we act on our assumptions rather than reality. When we fail to acknowledge the ideas of others by not listening, it damages the relationship between the parties. As a result, we lose the opportunity to develop the best possible solution to the problems on which we work.

CALMC urges our clients to use active listening skills in dealing with others. I know the term has been around for a while, but the concept is important,

We can demonstrate active listening in a variety of fairly easy ways. After the other party has had an opportunity to speak, we can repeat to them what we understood them to say. In doing so we let them know we did listen to what they were saying, and we also have the opportunity to check our understandings.

We can also ask questions about what the person has said. We can seek additional information, try to determine what interests underlie their positions, check assumptions they have made, and acknowledge what was said.

Controlling body language and responses to the other party is also part of active listening. We want to show the other party we really want to hear what they have to say. If we stare off into space or sit with a closed posture, it hurts the listening process.

The more we can learn about the interests of the other parties as team work helps us to develop better solutions to the problems we face. We have the opportunity to acknowledge their needs while ensuring our own interests are also represented in the solutions we develop.

Do your teams need help with their listening skills? CALMC can help. Just contact us and we can talk about your team. We will be listening.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Communications, Conflict Resolution, Employee Involvement, Facilitation, Labor-Management Committees, Labor-Management Cooperation, Teamwork | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are You Ready For Worker Voice?

For those of you who have followed our blogs you know we at CALMC are strong advocates for worker voice through labor-management partnerships.  We have worked with many groups and have seen the benefits of partnerships but being partners and having that voice can also mean changes for either side and that can be an extremely difficult.

Recently we have been working with some groups and it’s been an interesting and different experience with them.  The ability of the groups to work together has changed from previous years and it’s baffling.

As with some of the groups we have trained,  and this includes the most recent groups,  they  come out of training ready to go and eager to get started.  It’s not too unusual for  groups to  identify some fairly big projects to start with once they get done with training.  Even though we tell groups to start small so they can adapt and learn their new skills as they go along, some decide to work on more difficult projects.  Groups may have wanted the training to help with those particular big projects and with relationship building so they can work better together on future problems and projects.    All of that is fine, but the difference lately has been the ability to understand, or maybe the lack of, as to what it really means to work together.

As we’ve blogged before, working together as a team or building a partnership doesn’t happen automatically like a lot of people think.  Training doesn’t automatically make a team or create labor and management partnerships.  That all is explained before and during the training.    There’s no magic wand available for instantaneous success.  It may take more work or it may take a longer time for some groups.  That can depend on the workplace culture or relationships within the workplace.  It does take ongoing work and patience for any group, not stops and starts.  The inability to want to spend time working through issues seems to be more common and that is different.  Holding people or a particular side accountable and taking positions despite being told it won’t get you anywhere seems to be the preferred style.

Partnerships and teams are  not about holding individuals or a side accountable.  While some people may want training labor-management cooperation or team training  to make people behave in a preferable manner, that’s not what it’s about and should that be the case in any organization or workplace, no group, organization or workplace will ever be able to achieve success through any group process.    In fact, should it be tried again in the future for the right reasons,  it will be much more difficult because trust was broken.

This is about working together and not about digging in or taking positions.  Position taking harms everyone, the organization and the workplace because it’s a lose-lose situation where nobody wins.  Working together means coming up with new ideas to resolve issues. It’s  also about gathering information that may be new to everyone.   It also means being in support of a decision that may not be popular but is necessary at the particular time.  It also could be about giving something up.  Whatever that decision ends up being it is NOT cut in stone.   Anything can be and should be revisited at some point in the future.  We tell this to groups.

Working together is about everyone stepping up to the plate to share in the responsibility of completing the problem or project everyone agreed to do.  It’s not about demanding the other side do it or sticking it to the other side to do better.  It means everyone shares in the work to maintain the committee and any project work.  It’s also about sharing information and ideas.  It’s  a great time to show off everyone’s expertise they bring to the group.   This is when partnerships and teams are formed.   It demonstrates the dedication and commitment of each person and each side.  It’s the walk the talk moment and that builds trust and develops a stronger relationship.    The stronger the relationship the more that can be accomplished.  It’s the endurance test.  It will continue the partnership into the future.

Everyone in the workplace has a job to do.   Committee work is additional work.  We all have to maintain a work-life balance.  We get that and we encourage groups to pace themselves but if work on a committee or team or through labor-management partnership ceases or is not done to the best of everyone’s ability, there will be no partnerships or teams or committees.  The inability to assume the responsibility for actions to maintain worker voice disappears and so does worker voice.

What’s so striking and quite baffling is we’re seeing more groups react this way.  We spend time laying out expectations to groups before the training to make sure they are ready for it.  We talk about it during the training and ask at the end if it’s still what they want.  We stay with them to help them with the skills to real life.  But why they want to give up worker voice in the end is unclear.    Some don’t realize the work and time that is involved which could be part of it.  It could be  a lack of understanding.  It could be we live in an even more instantaneous world than before and too much patience is needed for relationship building.   Maybe it’s because of the way society is at the moment or  because there’s new leaders and they need time to develop skills.  Whatever the reason, existing leaders must be ready to stress the importance of maintaining worker voice because once it’s gone it’s hard to get it back.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Are Robots Coming for Your Job?

In the last few blogs we’ve written about the changing job market and questioned whether some jobs will return. This time, we would like to take a look at a controversial part of changing jobs, Robots.

You have probably heard about how robots are threatening jobs. Whether it’s robots building cars, self-driving trucks, kiosks and machines replacing fast-food workers, or a variety of other job types, we hear that robots are going to cause mass unemployment.

The reality may be quite different, according to Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He believes the data about robots clearly show mass job displacements are not happening, and disappearing job opportunities are caused by other factors, not robots or automation.

Baker argues that job displacement from the use of robots would require the robots must be cheaper and easier to produce than costs involved with the workers they replace. That would require robots be cheap enough for us all to own one to do tasks around the home. That has certainly not happened, at least yet.

In the 1980’s I purchased a robot. As a techie, I was fascinated by the concept. It stood about 30 inches high and could be programed to do a few tasks, like travel a course, extend an arm, grab objects, and even serve food and drinks. I took it to elementary schools to demonstrate some basic robotic concepts and talk about the future of robots. Now, 30 years later, many home robots of today can do little more than it did.

Baker suggests the lack of robots for the home may imply robots are expensive to produce. This would result their use only in situations that justified the cost. He contends this would result in a large redistribution of wealth “from ordinary workers to the people who own robots, it is because of the patent and copyright monopolies associated with building robots.”

While it is certainly true a redistribution of money from workers to the wealthy has been taking place, it is not possible to link its cause to the increased use of robots. Baker suggests, “On more careful examination, the robot story ends up being just one more policy based explanation like trade, the weakening of labor unions, declining minimum wages, and contractionary macroeconomic policy.”

While robots and automated technology are becoming more commonplace, they have not causes mass job displacement at this point. It’s easy to point to robots since many fear the encroachment of technology into our lives. The bigger concern about job loss comes from the economic policies of the country which seem to promote a redistribution of wealth and the decline of the middle-class.

Posted in CALMC, Change Management, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Managing Change | Tagged , | Leave a comment

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

A lot of us have heard the song from the Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want.  There are a lot of different interpretations out there as to what the intent of the song is but it does seem to represent the struggle of life from the excitement to the disappointment.  In a different way, it can  also be about labor-management relationships.

Something that’s very important to labor is to have a voice in the workplace.  A lot of times this is done through labor-management committees.  At the very least, committee meetings allow labor to learn about or voice concerns about certain work practices, rules, policies or processes.  They may not be doing problem solving but it still can be a source of information and communication for the entire labor side and for management, too. Problem solving, though, does provide labor with the ability to have input on shaping policies, procedures or processes.  It is in labor’s interest to try and develop a relationship with management to establish this within the workplace.  This is what we mean when we talk about labor-management partnerships.

While it can be very beneficial to managers to form partnerships with labor, not all managers want a partnership and sometimes do not feel obligated to share information with labor.  They see it as losing control.  When management is a willing partner, that’s a really big deal and that’s when real problem solving can occur. Labor groups usually embrace and encourage those partnerships.

It’s rare when labor walks away from having a voice but unfortunately it has happened and it’s a shame because it hurts everybody.   It can happen when one person or one side takes a position and is unwilling to accept any other options.    It’s even worse when an union leaders are the ones that reject the opportunity for voice because that also shows a lack of actual leadership ability and it can tear membership apart.  That is something no union wants.  More than likely when something like that does happen, the door is closed for any future cooperative efforts or it takes an extremely long time for both sides to get together again.  Trust levels that existed are diminished and the relationship that previously existed is damaged, sometimes permanently.  It is never an advantage for anyone to take a position because it becomes a lose-lose proposition.

By taking a position with one issue it leads to suspicion as to when the next time will occur.  Even if the cooperative process is able to be reignited, that suspicion will continue for some time.  That’s why it’s also important for leaders of both sides to be careful of expectations.  That is when the Rolling Stones song becomes reality because you don’t always get what you want.  We try to establish expectations up front so everybody understands what can and can’t be done.  Once trust is broken or a relationship has been damaged, the likelihood of being able to do the same as before is lessened.

When we start cooperative processes with labor and management, we don’t paint a rosy picture and we tell them it’s not us that makes the difference but it’s what committee members do to make the change.  We do say we provide tools and techniques and help them how to use those tools and techniques but, in the end, it will be up to them as to the outcome, or, it will be up to their commitment to the process  and that commitment must come from every member of the committee.  This is true for any group as well.  Everybody has to work to help any group they are a member of be successful.

Commitment takes work.  That can be changing negative behaviors that have been in existence for a long time.  It can also be about changing an environment of “us versus them” to a culture of “we.”  Depending on how long all of that has been going on, it may be difficult and doesn’t happen overnight.  Patience is necessary.  Baggage from previous experiences can sometimes prevent groups from moving forward.  The inability to transform quickly can also get in the way.  But for those groups that do make the transition, they are truly committed and that means when mistakes get in the way, they recognize them for what they are and make necessary adjustments.  They take the time to talk and, most important, listen to each other so they can learn from their mistakes.  It also means they have to demonstrate they want to change and that can be extremely difficult because it must happen not just in a meeting but outside the meeting room as well.

We also talk to groups about the stages of group development.  All groups go through the stages and there’s no set pattern as to how a group will go through them.  One thing that can cause a group go through what’s called the “storming” stage is new members.  This can be tough for labor-management committees especially because each side chooses their own members.  It can also be difficult for elected groups , too.  A new member may not be appealing to a labor or management member but each side must adjust.  It means going through the storming stage can be difficult.  A group will go through it and it’s how they manage going through the stage that’s particularly important.  It can make or break the group.  It can be very tempting for positions and other traditional behaviors to come out but members must refrain from going back to them in order to succeed.

Life is hard.  We all know that.  It’s no different for labor-management relationships.  There’s a lot of pressure on a committee.  For labor,  maybe even more so because leaders must work with members.  Sometimes members don’t like working with management and accuse leaders of working too closely with them.  Other times members want leaders to do more.  It’s a delicate balance leaders must follow but what is extremely important is they provide a consistent vision, a consistent message of what’s important and why.  Sometimes it requires doing something that may not be popular but it’s necessary for the long run.  Without that, confusion exists and, once again, trust, or lack of, becomes the issue again.

Labor has enough issues right now.  They are being attacked by special interests.  Membership is down and some people don’t see the value to being a union member.  What’s important for labor leaders to remember is the impact for them and their members is not just in their own individual workplaces but is about the labor movement overall.  Any judgment call in one workplace will impact lots of other workplaces.  Losing the voice in one workplace is the beginning of losing it in another and another and another…

“….You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need…”

The Rolling Stones

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs – Another Look

The promise of jobs is still the rallying cry of politicians. “We are going to bring back jobs in _______” (fill in the blank with whichever industry or region they are trying to rally.) Yet the jobs they promise never materialize, and even those that seem to be created have often disappeared once the attention is turned to something else.

In a previous blog entry, we addressed the concern that some jobs and industries are not likely to expand or return to pre-recession levels. A recent report from the World Economic Forum examines some of the trends that will help shape the future of jobs and work. It’s a long read, but the insights it presents are thought provoking.

The authors state, “New categories of jobs will emerge, partly or wholly displacing others. The skill sets required in both old and new occupations will change in most industries and transform how and where people work. It may also affect female and male workers differently and transform the dynamics of the industry gender gap.”

The key for labor and management is to recognize these trends and prepare for them rather than cling to outdated employment models. While there is a likelihood of employment growth, we must recognize the job types and skills that will be essential to future workers. The report predicts the possibility of creating 2.2 million new jobs in the United States, but that is accompanied by the displacement of 1.6 million current workers.

Obviously, we want to be on the positive side of those job changes. Doing so will require a change in the sills our employees possess and redesign of existing jobs. As demand grows, employees with these skills will be more difficult to recruit and retain. This necessitates renewed job training for our current workforce. The report cites investing in current employees as the most significant workforce strategy in all employment types and industries.

The report lists the top 10 skills workers will need in 2020 as compared to those from 2015.










Source: The Future of Jobs

The factors in the top skills list for 2020 generally fall into the category of “soft skills.” At Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, these are the skills for which we provide training, coaching, and support. Many of them are based in teamwork and employee engagement, key skills for organization wishing to grow and deliver world-class services and products.

If we are truly serious about creating jobs, we need to begin by looking at the skills employees will need in the future. Focusing on obsolete or declining job types will not produce a lasting impact, and strategies that focus on these jobs may look good in the short term, but are doomed to fail. We must begin by working together to identify the skills our employees will need going forward and providing the training employers and current employees will need to be successful.


Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Employee Training, Job Retention, Managing Change, Systemic change, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is It About Work Ethic Or The Need To Change?

This last week, I was looking for contractors to do a job.   I called three that said they would provide free estimates.  All three said they would call me back to get more information.  Only one called me back and that prompted me to think business must be really good and their work ethic stinks!  But after doing some research on the topic of work ethics, I began to think more about it.

Employers have complained they can’t find workers with a good work ethic.  Some have suggested it’s a generational problem but is it a generational issue or is it a broader issue than placing blame on one specific generation?

You hear lots of stories about the work ethic of younger workers.  In an article from Science Daily, data, along with some analysis, was compiled to look at the work ethic of different age groups.  The conclusion was there was no specific age group that had a better work ethic than another.  It didn’t matter about the hours worked, the type of work or family responsibilities. So if it isn’t a generational problem, what is it?

In an op-ed discussion on American work ethic in a 2011 New York Times edition, one person said it isn’t so much work ethics has changed but the nature of work.  The discussion focused on manual labor jobs that seasonal workers do, or migrants.  Americans, this person said, are used to a better work life.  There’s machinery to help make the job a little easier as well as other aids that not only make the job less physically demanding but make it safer.  That sounds more like our work expectations have evolved.

To validate the point about work expectations, let’s look at gig workers and the work ethics for most of those jobs and also include the work ethic of regular employees.  Should the work ethics  be the same or is there a different set of ethics for contracted workers?  Or, is it more about the relationships or approach we may have with other individuals?  What  is the responsibility of the organization to individuals, or workers?

An article from the U. K. provided some perspectives to work ethics.  Similar views have been raised here in the U.S.  A couple of Uber drivers had two separately different ideas on what it meant to be an Uber driver.  One driver saw his relationship with Uber strictly as a business partnership.  He saw himself as a small business owner with Uber providing him with support services.  Uber provided the marketing and financial support so he could concentrate on building his business.  The other Uber driver saw the opposite.  He felt Uber didn’t support him to build his business.  There was no ability to find out about the trip that was being requested until the customer was picked up.  Some trips were not cost effective so the second driver said he lost money.  Another problem was customers would rate them but there was no feedback for the drivers to provide Uber to let them know if they had rude customers.  Some customers, he said, were racist and he didn’t have the ability to inform Uber about that.  These problems, he said, caused some drivers to lose their jobs or to experience a different set of work ethics than say the first Uber driver.

So do expectations and experiences relate to work ethic?  As  with the second driver in particular,  is it an obligation of Uber to create a better work environment for their drivers?  The first driver may not have had the customer issues the second driver had which may gave him a different opinion and shape his work ethic.  The second driver didn’t feel he had the support of Uber which clouded his ability to increase business.   These questions and experiences could also be the same for any worker. Can expectations and experiences be part of our work ethic?  Is work ethic more of a symptom of other things?

The U. K. article also cited another ride-sharing company.  The drivers were still contractors but for a flat fee, those drivers could purchase insurance, healthcare benefits and put money into a pension system.  Other benefits were also provided to drivers.  In addition, the company charged customers a small fee for the app maintenance instead of charging drivers.  The company approach with the drivers was to build a relationship. Their drivers were seen as people and not just platforms.  This, they thought, would help them to expand business, and it did.  It also impacted the drivers attitudes and work ethic which also helped to expand the business.

Other professionals in the article were asked their thoughts about the ethics of the gig economy and there was concern for workers being deemed independent contractors when they actually should be employees.  This has been an issue professionals in the U. S. have raised.  Do organizations classify workers as being independent instead of employees to save the organization from the burden of additional costs?  It’s something that’s being watched in both countries as there appears to be an increase of misclassification.  This type of behavior not only diminishes the attitudes of workers but their work ethic as well and, in turn, has an effect on whether an organization can actually increase their business.  When workers are viewed as simply a cost and not as humans to form relationships with, it can have a profound effect not just on work ethic but also on the ability of an organization to be profitable.

But going back to younger workers, there was another article from the Huffington Post, that appears to say work ethic may be about age but it may be for other reasons than what’s ordinarily thought.  Work ethic by age can be based on experience and through life lessons.  In the article, the writer responds to the complaints of younger worker.  The writer relates to her what she went through at the same age of the worker.  The outcome led to a positive experience but shaped the writer’s work ethic for the future.  The writer did not appear to consider the experiences of the worker and that may be a mistake.  We don’t know everything that may have attributed to someone’s work ethic.

Some people who have looked into generational differences, say younger people may have seen what happened when their parents were laid off or heard their parents talk about their work experiences which impacted their views on work.  Their parents may have missed some events in their earlier lives that also could impact their ability to provide what we consider a positive work ethic.

We don’t know necessarily know what shapes a person’s work ethic but it does appear values, expectations, experiences and maybe a few other things play a role.  It’s very similar to what we say to employers when they complain about the dead wood in their organizations.  Did  the people act like dead wood when you hired them?  If so, why did you hire them in the first place?  Most of the time, the employers say they weren’t dead wood at the time of hire.  Oh, we say, that dead wood must have evolved over time?  Why?

I truly understand the need for work to be completed on time especially when the customer demands it just like I needed a contractor but maybe we need to think about why people may have a different work ethic than what we do.  It may be more about listening to other individuals and learning about their experiences and viewpoints. Maybe it will require us to understand not everybody has the same expectations we have.  Maybe it’s about building relationships.  We each might have to make some changes but it could be a way to work together.  By doing that,  we may not have dead wood or poor work ethics.

Oh, by the way, I ended up hearing from another contractor who called and apologized for not calling back sooner but explained why.  It changed my opinion on work ethic.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment