Now Is Not The Time To Be Adversarial!

The Memorial Day weekend has come around again.  It usually marks the beginning of the summer season with many planning vacations and other activities.  Traditionally, the holiday is meant to honor fallen heroes as well as families and friends who also have passed.

This year, though, the effects of the coronavirus have changed things.  Those favorite summer time plans may not materialize this year and, unfortunately, those we honor will also include many who have been deemed essential workers.  These were people who did all kinds of jobs.

On the AFL-CIO website, they have added a memorial page for those workers who have died from the coronavirus.  Of course, not all essential workers are union workers.  Some are non-union and some are members of management.  All lives lost is a tragedy.  In fact, the AFL-CIO page mentioned something else that is extremely important especially as we go forward.  It says we must ALL work together to prevent any further tragedy from occurring and that says the need for health and safety committees.

This last week the AFL-CIO sued OSHA(Occupational Safety and Health Administration) for not protecting workers.  They are asking the court system to order OSHA to come up with a temporary standard for all workplaces to develop plans against coronavirus and other airborne illnesses.  While a lawsuit may be necessary to encourage health and safety committees,  it is a little more of an adversarial   approach of getting workplace safety committees established instead of the approach of “let’s work together.”

On the other hand, the lawsuit could be a response to the complaints employees have had about the  inaction of some employers not protecting them from coronavirus issues and other unsafe working conditions like at Amazon.   The establishment of health and safety committees at each Amazon facility would cost far less than the amount of money Amazon executives have spent on their poor safety pattern, public relations and smear campaigns against their workers.  Not only that, had those committees actually been established and used to decrease accidents and injuries it might have created a more positive public relations image for Amazon instead of the negative one.    It also would have reduced or eliminated both direct and indirect costs of accidents, injuries and deaths.   Amazon executives have accused  at least one employee of being less than intelligent but when the costs of public relations  plus the direct and indirect costs associated with accidents, illnesses and injuries are considered versus the inexpensive approach of  listening and getting new ideas on how to deal with coronavirus and other safety issues, it’s  hard to understand why executives are accusing an employee of being the one with low intelligence.

The coronavirus pandemic is an issue every health and safety committees  needs to work on but there are plenty of other issues committees need to address.  The goal of any health and safety committee  is to be proactive and prevent accidents and injuries from occurring.  Yes, there will be times committees respond reactively but a good health and safety committee creates a safe workplace.  When we have done workplace safety assessments following the establishment of committees, the results always show employees view the workplace as being much safer after the committee was formed.

We normally say safety is an issue most people can agree to work together on because nobody wants to see people hurt.  When it comes to some workplaces, like Amazon, it can take a lot longer to bring people together.   Those with their own adversarial approach have to work through relationships issues first and then major safety improvements  can happen.  This is why many have difficulty working on a collaborative approach. It doesn’t happen overnight and it requires patience.  For some people that can be extremely hard.  They see the process as a waste of time especially as it will take work to make improvements not just on safety but relationships first.  Some people also don’t understand the need to improve work relationships but to have a successful process, there needs to be some trust.  Sometimes people consider improving relationships to be a lot of unnecessary “fluff.”  But when it involves saving lives, that “fluff” is extremely important.  One time we did some training in a traditional environment and one of the employees coming into the training said, “it’s time to go to charm school.”  It is  those kind of attitudes that may require a push like a lawsuit.

There’s  a lot of finger-pointing and accusations going on right now.  Those adversarial behaviors do nothing to make workplace problems that could be associated with the coronavirus go away.  They waste time.  It’s not one side’s decision as to what happens. It’s about both sides identifying the issues and coming up with solutions that work for everybody.  It shouldn’t take a lawsuit and it shouldn’t be about combating negative images.  The coronavirus is a serious issue.  It spreads quickly.  We don’t have time to work against each other.  It requires all of us to work together NOW to overcome it.

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Three Things to Remember: Here Comes the Science

We have had the opportunity to learn a lot in the last few weeks. Words that we had never heard of are now part of our regular vocabulary. We have learned about our friends, families, leaders, and ourselves. What many people have not understood is the need to separate fact from fiction and reasoning from conjecture.

Unfortunately, the desire of leaders to ignore facts that don’t suit their purposes, treat settled science as false, and replace problem solving and responsibility with fictionalized blame finding are already hurting us and our ability to get past the pandemic. “We’re all in this together” has been replaced by “Me first, and I don’t care what happens to everyone else.”

In the end, all of the distortions will not suppress what science tells us is likely to happen. With that in mind, we want to look at three scientific facts we have to keep in mind as we move forward.

  1. We’ve Only Begun to Fight

Over the last month most of us have done a great job in helping control the spread of the virus. We’ve stayed home, practiced social distancing, and made other significant lifestyle changes. By doing so, we have helped reduce the total number of infections and lives lost. While the number of deaths is still astronomical, it would have been much worse.

There is one thing we have not been able to accomplish: Social distancing does not kill the virus.

Although we feel safer, the disease is still there, and the more we expose ourselves to it, the danger of infection increases.  The question is not will the number of infections increase when we all return to work, school, or shopping, it is how much will it increase. This is not a prediction, it is scientific fact.

It’s not that I am “afraid” of the virus. I am afraid of people who, based on their own personal desires, are willing to expose others and contribute to their deaths. They want us to believe we are safe, that because they are healthy, the quarantine is not necessary. They choose to deny the virus is still there, and that they may not be as healthy as they think,

My brother got the virus after being exposed at work. He showed no symptom during the next two weeks, and would not have known he had it if he had not been tested at work. During the next two weeks, he could have exposed hundreds of people to the virus who in turn each could have exposed hundreds more.

The virus is still there, and viruses spread exponentially. Reopening of businesses needs to happen, but as Dr. Robert Pearl explained in Forbes magazine, it must happen in a planned, reasoned manner based on scientific facts.

Medical requirements for reopening the country must include limiting exposure, likely for a year. Restaurants and shops should reopen only under three conditions: (1) community hospitals have additional capacity to handle an uptick in demand, (2) all local businesses agree to restrict indoor capacity based on the six-foot rule, and (3) all staff wear masks. This must also include making tests free and convenient.

When reopening was first discussed, principles such as these were part of the discussion. Lately, we are told these goals are no longer required, and reopening is necessary even if cases are still increasing. The administration even tells us testing is no longer important, perhaps because it will reveal increasing numbers will show the failure of their policies.

We know the virus is not going to “disappear”, despite the claims of the President and his staff. There is no miracle cure awaiting. Social distancing is a prime reason we have done as well as we have. Ignoring science will halt the progress we helped make and lead to more deaths. I am also certain those crying the loudest to be freed will not accept any responsibility for the outcome.

As Dr. Pearl and others point out, the Spanish Flu of 1918 reminds us that the “second wave” of a virus can prove even more deadly than the first.

  1. Facts Save Lives When We Let Them

We all face tough decisions in the coming weeks and months. We need to begin reopening the economy and society, but must do so in a planned, systemic manner. As Dr. Pearl points out, “We can’t allow politics or panic to push our nation too far in either direction.”

Unfortunately, recent experiences highlight the difficulty many have in reading and understanding evidence, as well as separating reliable, fact-based sources from junk on the internet.

Len Niehoff, a Professor at the University of Michigan Law School, wrote, “COVID-19 has revealed our societal failure to understand what evidence is and to respect how it works. National and local political leaders have made decisions that ignored the evidence. Members of the general public have proved slow to accept the evidence. Measures adopted to help flatten the curve have been met with virulent protests, despite the evidence that they are working.”

Evidenced based facts and settled science can be used to guide our decisions and save lives. Alternatively, we can make decisions based on political expediency or those who scream the loudest, but we must be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Ignoring fact and science is not new. We have largely disregarded the impact of global climate change despite the clear evidence of its effects. We use unfounded claims to discourage the use of vaccines despite the clear evidence of their effectiveness.

Instead of basing decisions on what we want to believe or wish were true, we must consider facts. When confronted with opposing evidence, it is too easy to dismiss it as “fake news,” “a hoax,” or “biased” without thought or any type of analysis.

We know social distancing works, and abandoning it prematurely will have potentially dire consequences. One peer-reviewed health care journal reports areas in the United States that do not adhere to any social distancing policies face 35 times more cases of the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Pearl states a contagious person with this virus is likely to spread it to between 2.5 and 3 more people. This infection rate compares to the seasonal flu virus, which has a spread rate of 1.2. As long as the rate is above 1.0, the virus will not die out. The risks are still there. Flattening the curve does not eliminate the disease. We must use an approach based on fact and science or be prepared to deal with the consequences.

  1. What Does All This Have to do With Labor-Management Cooperation?

In most states, businesses are now reopening. We recognize the importance of this to employers, employees, and the public. We also recognize the potential dangers that accompany reopening.

In most instances, it is possible to reopen safely. It is not easy or cheap, and requires continual vigilance. While most employers are at least attempting to accomplish this, others have simply chosen to ignore guidelines and safety.

As a result, many workers have reported they do not feel it is safe for them to return to work. They have concerns about contracting the virus or bringing it home to infect their families. While for some this may be based on fear and misunderstanding, in others it represents a real concern.

This is compounded by the desire of states and governments to force workers to return to work.

Arthur Delaney reports “The U.S. Department of Labor has said that when an employer asks its workers to come back on the job, they can’t refuse and keep receiving unemployment benefits.”

Instead of employees and managers battling over the reopening process, the parties should work together to develop a process acceptable to everyone Both employers and employees can recognize the legitimacy of the needs of both. Employers need to have a sufficient number of employees to reopen their business, and employees want to know there are standards to ensure it is safe for them to return. Since each understands these common interests, there is an opportunity for both to come together and find workable solutions.

Other concerns can also be identified in this process, such as the fears employees have about the impact workplace health and safety will have on them and their families and concerns about plans drafted solely by managers. Using an interest-based approach means both parties can work together as a team to craft solutions together that are acceptable to each.

This could also be the start of a joint labor-management process that continues after the pandemic is over to allow everyone to be involved in creating a better work system.

We will wrap things up today with a quote from one of my favorite scientists, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” We need to accept the principles of science and base our recovery plans on them.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Conflict Resolution, Data-Based Decision Making, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Labor-Management Cooperation, Managing Change, Problem Solving, Systemic change, Workplace Health and Safety | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Obligation To Protect Instead of Violate

When we think about child labor we often think of the pictures from the late 1800s to early 1900s of children working in mills or in coal mines.  It was nothing for children to work around or in dangerous situations.  Children would climb up on the large machines in mills to make the machines work properly.  Children who worked in coal mines would come out with smudged faces and who knows what else if they survived the dangerous mines.  Child labor laws were created and passed in the 1930s that were to protect children and avoid some of that from happening but today there may be more violations than protections.

During the Industrial Revolution, workers were scarce so children were seen as a remedy, plus they also provided a means of cheap labor and the income the children made could help their families.  Today, there are some similarities.  In some industries, such as service and retail, workers are difficult to find  and younger workers looking for work are willing to do the jobs.

As far back as 2008, an article appeared on the website of the National Institutes of Health warning child labor laws were not being enforced.  Problems occurred within the retail and service sectors.  Those problems included the lack of work permits, working later hours than allowed or working more hours than allowed during the school year, not getting paid for work and working with hazardous equipment.

It appears that warning has come to fruition as many fast food chains are facing huge fines on violations such as those sited in the article.  Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Qdoba, and particularly Chipotle are some of the businesses that have been charged.  The inability to find workers and increasing turover is putting pressure on them to fill shifts with existing younger workers.  Instead of improvements in pay and other ways to attract and maintain workers, it appears the preference leans toward expensive violation fines.

In January, a New York Times article told about a case against Chipotle with more than 13,000 violations over a four-year period that amounted to more than $1 million in Massachusetts alone and is the biggest in the state’s history.  The federal government found Wendy’s violating child labor laws in 9 states.  The other fast-food chains mentioned above also had violations.  Chipotle, though, has tried to make improvements.  They have added an educational benefit in certain fields to try to reduce turnover and has tried to implement paid sick-leave which doesn’t always happen in the service or retail industry.

In fairness to those workplaces, the business itself can be demanding and difficult to manage.  They also have to manage each state’s child labor laws and they can be radically different from one state to another.  As OnLabor reported, some states have removed restrictions to help youth with work experiences.  In another report from the U. S. Government of Accountability Office in November, 2018, it says it’s difficult to determine if the overall number of violations for child labor really are on the increase.  The report says the Department of Labor has a lot of variables when identifying violations.  For example, it depends on the industry as to what is a violation and it also can depend on the exact age of the child or certain populations of children.  There are also agency to agency differences or interagency differences that can make a difference. It also depends on the availability of budgets. Some of the problems with what appears to be an increase in violations also appears to be a lack of investigators to determine if violations are happening.

There are more serious issues, too, in regard to child labor.  Forced labor is something that doesn’t just happen in other countries, it happens here in the U. S.  According to the website of the National Human Trafficking Hotline,  U. S. law says human trafficking includes forced labor that is done without the victim’s consent.  When it comes to minors and sex trafficking, charges for commercial sex can be anything from encouraging it to the use of force or duress.  That use of force or duress for either sex trafficking or labor trafficking is to make victims do things which could take on many forms such  as physical or psychological abuse.

According to the organization that  manages the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Polaris Project, children that become victims of trafficking can come out of the foster care system, a runaway situation or even their own parents can be the perpetrators of trafficking.  Trafficking occurs in any neighborhood, rich or poor, or any race or ethnicity, and it happens to males and females alike.  While sex trafficking gets more attention, some think labor trafficking is more prevalent.  It becomes difficult to determine because victims are unwilling to come forward.  In 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline accounted for over 4,000 minor children being trafficked but since an exact number is hard to determine it could be more.  Forced situations may occur in a home or town but some children can be sent all over the world. Trafficking can also be in a variety of work settings such as construction, agriculture, or food service.

This is not to say forced labor and the violations stemming from service or retail establishments are the same.  We’ve done many blogs on the need for workplace improvements, individual wages, benefits, perks and so on but we’ve ignored a segment of workers who are the most vulnerable and it requires attention.

Youth workers are vulnerable because of the situations they can get into without realizing it or unaware of laws that are supposed to protect them.  Predators know that by describing those bad, forced labor jobs in such a way they can make them more appealing to youth than the legitimate jobs that simply may not follow actual laws.

Now more than ever, federal labor laws need to be updated.  Laws that were written in the 1930s or 1940s may have been fine for that era but things have drastically changed.  Trafficking laws have been legislated more recently but, of course, trafficking of minors still exists.  As far as updating child labor laws, some states have done that but unfortunately there are those who have taken the drastic step of going backward that only harm youth instead of help youth.  In states such as Idaho, Wisconsin and Maine, laws were changed following the 2010 election to increase the number of hours youth could work during the school year which also reduces the amount of time they have to study for exams.  Some legislation has also decreased the wages for youth despite they do the same job as an adult worker.  In Idaho, a school district used students for jobs instead of hiring workers with the excuse it teaches job skills but it also, of course, saves money for the school district.

We have an obligation to youth to protect them from those predators who prey on them for illicit means but we also have an obligation to make sure child labor laws are followed and those legislated actually protect youth workers instead of the business owners who can violate them.

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Three Things to Remember During the Quarantine

It’s been an interesting time, and from the looks of the news, it is going to get even more interesting. Watching the political gyrations, well-staged outcries, and scientific fallacies would be more amusing if lives were not at stake. Here are three things to keep in mind about our response to the pandemic.

  1. We’re Should be in This Together, but we’re Not

Great leaders have the ability to bring people together to face a crisis. They take steps based on the greater good to help people. Unfortunately, many of those who would be leaders have failed miserably at this.

That is a key difference between politician and leaders. Politicians deal in rumors, blame-finding, and falsehoods to boost their own egos and increase their prospects of reelection. We should be dealing with the needs of people. The most basic need we all face is survival, yet politicians who pretend to be leaders have demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice people in order to reopen businesses.

Eric Liu describes civic character as “character in the collective: how we live together, how we behave in public, how we hold together a community. Civic character is about mutuality, shared sacrifice, and putting service before self.

“The pandemic is forcing Americans to choose, very visibly, whether to live like citizens or like sociopaths. Citizens see in systems, while sociopaths see only themselves; citizens defer short-term gratification for long-term benefit, while sociopaths flip the sequence.”

Instead of reason or logic, we are faced with well-organized “grass-roots” mobs attempting to threaten others to do their bidding. As they tote their guns in an attempt to intimidate and shout their dog-whistle words (socialist, communist, totalitarian, and others), which give a reason for their supporters to not think and analyze, and instead go with the heard. They have demonstrated their concept of civic character is to force people to do their bidding for the good of themselves (or their founders) rather than for the country,

This also reflects what Liu calls our national character. Our national character is constantly being shaped by our actions as a country and as citizens. Certainly, the Coronavirus will impact our national character over both the short and long term. If we truly are all in this together, we can emerge with the best possible outcome. (I won’t call it victory, since only a fool would call over 60,000 deaths a victory.) We can use this to help continue shaping our national character in an appositive way, or history will look back on the events and individuals with shame.

The nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves states “People make choices. Choices make history.” As a society, I hope we will emerge on the positive side of history and demonstrate our ability to hold together for the long term.

  1. Say What You Mean

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee appreciates and supports the work of everyone, from managers to organized employees and those working in non-unionized settings. We also applaud the efforts of those on the front-lines, such as nurses and others in health care, grocery workers, restaurant employees, and others working hard to meet our needs. They are taking additional risks to themselves and their families to provide for us.

We also recognize the desire and need for people to get back to work. Over 30 million people are now unemployed due to the virus and accompanying shut downs. We hope to see them back to work soon, as soon as is safely possible.

The difference between us saying this and many of our leaders is that we mean it. While others may mouth these words, their actions tell a different story.

One example is grocery and restaurant workers. We certainly recognize their importance more so than ever, but governments are taking steps to endanger them. In Iowa, for example, businesses such as restaurants, bars, retail stores, and fitness centers in 77 counties were told they could reopen. Many of the workers in these facilities have been receiving the extended unemployment benefits provided under the CARES Act.

Some of these employees are justifiably concerned about the safety of returning to work. Medical experts have warned Governor Kim Reynolds about the danger of reopening as the state has not yet reached its peak of infections.

In response to this, the Governor told employees that refusing to return to work would be treated as having “voluntarily quit”, and they would lose their unemployment benefits and could be disqualified from future benefits. In other words, we appreciate you, now get back to work even if it could make you sick,

Speaking of unemployment benefits, some politicians have indicated they will continue to fight against this aid to workers and their families. For example, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham apparently still believes people would rather collect unemployment than work. He said the additional $600 a week in unemployment from the federal government would be extended “over our dead bodies.”  Apparently he has not seen enough dead bodies.  Apparently he feels the money is needed to provide the billions in handouts to corporations that he supports. That should be good news to the 400,000 unemployed in South Carolina.

In South Dakots, Governor Kristi Noem is one of five governors who did not issue a statewide stay-at-home order. She said it is the job of individuals, not the government “to exercise their right to work, to worship and to play. Or to even stay at home.” That’s a laudable idea, providing we can rely on people and employers to do the right things to keep themselves and others safe.

Unfortunately for the people of South Dakota, it hasn’t worked. The state is now home to one of the largest outbreaks in the country. The response of the federal government has been to force people in their most infected workplaces to return to work. Once again, they are saluted for their hard work.

  1. Listen to the Science and the Experts

Who do you trust to make decisions about our pandemic response, doctors and epidemiologists or politicians? In Ohio, at least one legislator believes he should be relied on over the experts.

Ohioans have been fortunate to have a Governor, Mike DeWine (R), who has been very cautious about ensuring the health of our citizens. He has been assisted by the Director of the Ohio Department of Health, Dr. Amy Acton, who has shown credibility and understanding throughout the crisis. She has recognized the problems associated with reopening businesses while virus cases are increasing.

As a result, Representative Bill Seitz, the number three ranking Republican in the Ohio House, has suggested removing the legal authority of Dr. Acton to issue rulings to protect the health of Ohioans. Instead, it is suggested that all rulings be subject to review and approval by the state legislature.

Listen to the science. Make decisions based on fact and real information, not on the opinions of pressure groups or political whim. History will remember the actions or our leaders and their response to the pandemic. We hope politicians will make good decisions for the benefit of workers and society over greed and dogma.

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Workplace Health and Safety Committees Are Needed NOW!

The news reports on the coronavirus have come fast and furious with everything from the daily counts to, more recently,  lifting stay-at-home orders and re-opening businesses.  The lifting of stay-at-home orders and re-openings may be good or may be bad but  the reports offer little insight as to the plans needed no matter when the day will come.

In some locations, committees of business owners and managers are looking at new protocols and protections to keep workers safe when they return.   That sounds great but have they involved the people that actually do the jobs to get their input as to what might help? After all, who but those on the front lines know best about the challenges that occur or can occur.

In unionized organizations, joint health and safety committees have long established a positive proactive record of creating safer and healthier workplaces which has also transferred to improving lives for everybody. Two articles from the National Institutes of Health,  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318309/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4880255/, confirm the important role unions have played in improving health and safety not just in the workplace but in communities, too.

Successful health and safety committees are not limited to  unionized plants.  Many non-union facilities also have done great things.  We have blogged before about Skinner Diesel and their successful safety committee.  The owner was ready to close his shop several years ago when he experienced significant  costs associated with workplace accidents.  Before the safety committee, he tried the typical safety slogans, pictures and games but they didn’t work.  Within  a year of starting the committee,  there was a huge improvement and it has continued with multiple years of no accidents. The owner attributes it to the employees and their ability to lead others to work safely.  The business has expanded and employees have seen an increase in financial rewards and benefits.

So if these committees work, why aren’t more workplaces doing them?  There are a multitude of excuses.  Some think safety committees are a waste of time and provide little benefit or owners or managers lack the patience and think the process will be too slow or meetings will be unproductive and argumentative.  And, of course, there are some who think workers simply don’t have enough knowledge and can’t suggest good ideas or they think the ideas will cost too much.

Getting worker participation can be a problem, too, especially if workers see little benefit.  They know the difference between actual commitment and lip-service.  If workers don’t see value placed on their ideas or have concerns about repercussions participation will be low to non-existent.

What can benefit the process is trust.  Skepticism will prevail by both sides until each show a level of commitment to create a safer and healthier work environment.  Depending on the existing relationship, trust may take a long time or it may not.  More than likely  it will take some work to convince both sides that there is a sincere, sustained effort to make it happen. Conversely, both sides need to realize trust can be broken quickly and the damage can take longer to repair so honesty and sincerity are absolute necessities along with any apology that may be needed.

One of the biggest factors that continues to help at Skinner is when the committee identifies something as a possible hazard, it’s acted upon relatively quick.  The employees see their ideas valued and there is a genuine interest to create safe environment.  That helps to build ongoing trust and commitment for both the owner and the employees.

In an article on the website of the Society for Human Resource Management(SHRM), the author states  health and safety committees have a lot of benefits but below are a few recommendations the article also mentioned that can help create a successful experience.

Near the beginning of the article it talks about the process is not a quick fix.  This is extremely important for people to understand.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  Patience is essential.  It also can mean some extra work especially up front and until the committee members are working together.  In addition, the health and safety committee should be working on real problem solving and problem solving may take some time depending on the issue being addressed.  It’s important to allow that to happen.

it’s imperative to lay a firm foundation when thinking about establishing a health and safety committee.  If that isn’t done, there is good likelihood a committee will have obstacles placed before it which could lead to the committee’s demise.  The foundation items are next.

First and foremost is to make sure there is buy-in and support for the committee process throughout the organization especially at the top.  If the organization is unionized, that buy-in and support must also come from the union side.

Along with support is to make sure everyone understands what the committee is about.  Expectations for the work of the committee need to be established.  Will the committee make decisions or provide recommendations?  Will someone be overseeing the committee or will the committee be overseeing itself?  Does the committee  have a budget or is there a certain financial limit as to what they can do?  These are some of the questions that need to be decided up front before the committee is formed.

Another important item is the  committee make-up.  There should be both managers and employees on the committee.  Each bring a different perspective that is necessary.  It’s also important the committee be representative of the organization even if that means a rather large committee.  Some think large committees don’t function well but with the work we have done size doesn’t matter.  We’ve seen large committees do better than small committees.  It depends on the commitment of the members.

As a committee gets started, regular meetings are necessary to help make the process credible and  to allow the committee time to do their work.  These meetings need to be at least monthly so problem solving can take place.  If meetings are not scheduled, or are cancelled, members will lose faith with the process.  Setting meeting schedules such as the first Wednesday of every month or the last Wednesday helps everyone to realize it is an important process.  This is not to say there probably will be times when a meeting may have to be cancelled but for the most part, meeting dates and times should be established and conducted.

Getting some assistance is something the article suggests.  There is a great myth out there that putting people together automatically makes them a team.  Wrong!  How people work as a team is critically important to its work.  For example, teams go through various stages of development.  Having somebody available to help the team navigate through stages will help them be more productive.

These are just a few recommendations but what’s more important is workers, both managers and employees,  should have a voice in making their workplaces safer especially now. The process has been proven to work.  Starting a safety committee is a great way to start working together because safety is  something most everyone can agree about and that can lead to other areas where people can work together.  Check the CALMC Channel on YouTube for videos that can help with a committee process.  Coming soon is a section of videos for supervisors.

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Three Things to Remember About Crisis Communications

Effective communications are important for any organization, but it is more crucial now. During uncertainty we must take extra steps to be sure everyone is informed about what is happening.

While everyone realizes the importance of effective communications, few actually put it into practice. In a recent study, Gallup reported only 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. This study was conducted pre-pandemic, so you can imagine the strain being placed on employers by continuing poor communications.

With that in mind, here are three things to remember about communication in times of crisis.

  1. Communications must begin quickly and be focused on the facts about what is happening.

Some employers have dropped the ball when it comes to communications with employees. People want to know what is happening and the want to know it now.  Lauren Landry from Northeastern University points out with the rise of digital and social media, everyone expects a quick response to issues that arise. Landry contends in most cases, if you don’t respond within the first few hours, people typically jump to conclusions.

In the absence of complete information, speculation steps in to fill the void. The rumor mill in your organization is not in quarantine. It is still running, probably faster than ever if you are not communicating with employees. If you provide all relevant information in a timely manner, these rumors can be quelled and you will remain in control of your message.

Rumors cause insecurity among employees. Leaders – labor and management – need to consider potential stressors that fuel rumors and address them. The newfound concerns employees have about their day-to-day work and job security provides more impetus for rumors.

The Gallup study lists some of the unknowns fueling the rumor mills right now:

  • What do the ongoing changes in the business landscape mean for our company’s bottom line?
  • Now that we’re all working from home, will our office ever reopen?
  • Will layoffs happen without notice?
  • What will happen to benefits and bonuses?
  • We went digital pretty much overnight — will my role even be needed anymore?

Has your organization addressed these concerns? If not, the resulting speculation is probably worse than the reality.

  1. Keep your communications fact-based and realistic.

Stick to the facts. Employees want to know what is really happening. The moment you deviate from the facts you create new problems.

As the Gallup article points out, “Because leaders care a great deal about inspiring their followers, there can sometimes be a temptation to steer clear of negative (or real) issues. But when the inspirational messages don’t align with reality — it’s a big problem.”

Consider the communications we have received from elected leaders. It has often reflected speculation about what they want to believe or want us to accept. The result has been talking heads from both sides pointing out possible flaws in the message. Instead of quelling rumors and bringing people together, existing divides are encouraged and widened.

Leaders need to build trust through honesty. Jonathan Bernstein points out the problems that result when leaders are not completely honest.

  • Operational response will break down.
  • Stakeholders will not know what is happening and quickly become confused, angry, and negatively reactive.
  • The organization will be perceived as inept, at best, and criminally negligent, at worst.
  • The length of time required to bring full resolution to the issue will be extended, often dramatically.
  • The impact to the financial and reputational bottom line will be more severe.

Things spiral further out of control when adverse reactions to non-factual statements provide a response of more non-facts. Credibility is lost, and even when the crisis has passed, the organization will be damaged, perhaps irreparably.

  1. Don’t Play the Blame Game

Too often, the first step in problem solving is finding who to blame. The desire to blame others is an attempt to divert attention from our own failures, even if we are at fault. Blame finding also delays or prevents the search for real solutions. It also is an attempt to put ourselves ahead of the people who were impacted by the problem.

It’s really a very simple concept – attack problems, not people. Pointing fingers has no place in problem solving. Even if your actions contributed to the problem, you still need to search for real solutions that put people first. That’s what real leaders do.

Eventually, every organization will have the need for crisis communications. The best workplaces have developed a plan in advance for how to operate under these circumstances. For help developing your crisis communications plan, contact us at CALMC.

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A Few Ideas For Remote Meetings

In this week’s blog, we’re going to continue with the topic from our blog two weeks ago about remote work. That blog was about  a report from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s  Sloan Management  School citing a study that showed positive results for remote work but this week we want to take it a step further and offer a few techniques that will hopefully help others to have just as successful experience as reported in the study.

The report from MIT Sloan Management also told remote work is not for everybody but because we’re in such a unique time, remote work for some is practically necessary.  Team work is best when members have that face-to-face contact such as in their meetings but the techniques we’ll suggest can provide the necessary structure to help teams continue to make accomplishments during their time at home.

Before identifying a few techniques, there are a couple of other things that will help give a more firm foundation to make the techniques and remote work be successful. Commitment by all members is absolutely important.  Some of these techniques may feel like a slow moving process but the commitment to at least try is necessary. We tell any team we train that the biggest thing we see in whether or not a team is successful is by the amount of commitment they have.  It’s the same and probably more with remote teams.

The other thing is supervisors can play a big part in making the techniques work so the work-at-home experience can be productive.  Again, it’s necessary supervisors have the commitment to try them and take on a new role as a facilitator.  It may be some supervisors already do that role but for those that haven’t it can be a different experience and patience is needed.  Using the techniques may give supervisors opportunity to do other things as they delegate more to staff which assists with staff development.  Supervisors as facilitators is also needed in the actual workplace setting and will provide the same positive results for everybody if done correctly.

Getting connected to each other also plays a big part.  If supervisors and their teams can get together through video conferencing, that’s great!  Phone conferences can also be important.  Following up with chats or emails will help and using a combination of all the above is great, too.  Video conferencing lets everybody see the visuals which can be particularly important for some team members.

Setting up a regular schedule will help provide structure and will help maintain spirits and morale.  Plus, there may be those who would prefer knowing specifically when a meeting will take place especially if they have something to report or do at the meeting.

So let’s get started!  We’ll begin with supervisors as facilitators.

Facilitator role:  A facilitator acts as a guide and doesn’t get involved in content.  That also means supervisors will provide support in this role.  It also means more listening than talking. The team will be involved in the content, or doing the talking and discussion.  Supervisors can guide the process through questions.  These questions should be done to provoke thought and not manipulate discussion or team plans but more about getting people to think.  Teams may come up with a plan the supervisor may not like or think will work but it will be necessary to let the plan proceed and see what happens.  In other words, the supervisor as the facilitator needs to take risks.  Team decisions and plans can be learning experiences no matter if the outcome is good or bad.  A good facilitator has the necessary tools in the tool bag to help teams get stuck.  It will be no different in a virtual meeting as in a real-live version.  Supervisors need to be prepared and the next suggestions are tools that can help everybody.  It will be up to the supervisor to know when to use them.

Use a problem-solving process: Once again, it will provide structure that can quickly lose momentum because of everyone being separated and not being comfortable with the virtual process.  There are several processes out there.  The American Society for Quality has a four-step model on their website.  We use a six-step. W. Edwards Deming’s process was similar to the four-step with Plan, Do, Check, Act. This will help teams stay focused and act as a guide on the project they’re addressing plus it’s just an overall good tool to use anytime with projects or problems.  It may take several meetings to complete all the steps but supervisors acting as facilitators can help the team follow the preferred model.

Round-robin brainstorming:  Most of us think of brainstorming as being more sporadic or a “pop corn” style.  That may be a technique that can be used some times but a round-robin approach will include everybody which may be good with video conferencing.  With video conferencing it can be much easier for people to sit back and not participate.  This technique allows everyone to participate.  It’s a matter of going from one person to the next and getting only one idea at a time.  That continues until all ideas have been suggested.  One caution:  don’t stop too soon.  Sometimes when it gets quiet people think they’re done when they may not be.  People can be thinking of other ideas.  This is a much more productive approach to brainstorming and keeps people from straying on to other topics.

Consensus:  A lot of people fear consensus because they think it’s difficult to achieve.  We’ve worked with many different groups and very rarely have we had problems getting a group to come to consensus.  It’s important to let teams have time to discuss.  Problem solving is not a race but should be a process that allows teams to explore all the issues with the project or problem they’re working on and come up with multiple solutions to choose.  Getting all the necessary facts helps teams come to consensus and that’s a good question a facilitator can ask teams – “Do we have all the facts?”  Another “popular” concern people have about consensus is about the one person that will hold them from coming to consensus.  It’s important to LISTEN to what that person is saying.  That person may have a legitimate reason for not agreeing with everybody.  It can help the team come up with alternatives they hadn’t thought about.  Again, this is where the supervisor acting as a facilitator can provide support to the team.  Just as the entire problem-solving process is not a race neither is consensus.  It may not happen in one meeting especially if more information is needed.

Other meeting techniques that can help:  Make sure there is a note-taker.  Teams may need to go back and review what they decided.  Minutes of a meeting should include those who were present, the items discussed and any decisions related to those items.  Also any responsibilities that were assigned need to be included which can act as a reminder for people.  Distribute minutes as soon as possible and make sure everyone is in agreement with what is reported.  Establish the next meeting’s agenda before the end of the current meeting.  That way everybody will have opportunity to have input.  If anything comes up that needs to be added designate a contact person to add it to the agenda.  It could be the supervisor.

These are just a few ideas we have used with groups.  Whether a group is meeting live or in a virtual meeting space, the suggestions provided work.  Working with people in a live setting is not always as easy as we think but when you are working remotely, that can create even more challenges.  That’s why it’s so important to add some structure to the meeting process and keep the team focused on what they’re trying to accomplish.  If that happens, it can provide the same success others have found with remote work!  For more ideas or to have a more visual training, visit the CALMC channel on YouTube.

 

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“The Only Thing We Have to Fear….”

Lately it seems like we have plenty to fear. The Corona Virus has supplied plenty of things to worry about, and politicians have played on fear like it is a game. Others have tried to pretend facts were fabrications and don’t exist.

There is something I fear that has really shown itself: ignorance. It is ignorance that has compounded the problems we face and made them more deadly.

Let me note there is a difference between stupidity and ignorance. Stupidity means the individual does not have the capacity to understand a situation. We’re all somewhat stupid about some things. Just give me a musical instrument and I’ll prove it for myself.

Ignorance reflects an unwillingness to perceive and understand what is going on. A lot of the ignorance we’ve seen has come from smart people who simply will not accept the reality that is right in front of them or choose to deny the science behind what is happening. They also may manipulate reality into something that suit their purposes.

For example, the Governor of Georgia this week was dispensing misinformation about the virus and its spread. He then capped it off by reopening the beaches, inviting more people to congregate and spread the virus. The result can be confusion and misunderstanding about what his citizens need to do to stay safe.

Not to be outdone, the Governor of Florida, after refusing to issue a stay-at-home order, decided that he should exempt religious services from his eventual mandate. Does he honestly believe a virus cannot spread in a church, where social distancing is not likely? In this case, his ignorance could have deadly results.

Politicians have regularly demonstrated their ignorance. Whether it’s the President and his family with their constantly changing interpretations of what is happening or those who still want to downplay the reality we face that end up hurting people.

How about the train engineer in California who intentionally derailed his locomotive in a failed attempt to ram the hospital ship that had just docked. His excuse was he did not believe the reasons given about why it was there. A friend posted “information” about how New York was hiding a thousand respirators to make the administration look bad. This, along with the myriad of other conspiracy theories only get in the way of dealing with the reality of the situation and reestablishing public trust.

We also need to realize that ignorance can breed stupid actions. For example, the death threats against Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been a hero for basing his statements on scientific reality even if it meant disagreeing with those in power, show the depths of stupidity with which good people must deal.

As we mentioned two weeks ago, we have seen increasing levels of disrespect for workers during this time. Last week, unemployment applications in my home county were up over 3,000%. Even so, congress was very reluctant to provide extended paid family leave, sick leave or extended unemployment benefits. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) went so far as to claim providing better unemployment benefits would make nurses lazy and not want to return to work. He stated nurses making $15 per hour would quit their jobs to collect unemployment benefits that would be around $24 per hour.

This presented three immediate failures in reasoning. 1) Nurses (LPN and RN) make more than $15 per hour unless they are grossly underpaid. 2) You can’t quit your job and collect unemployment. 3) Apparently the Senator has not been paying attention to the tremendous, dangerous work being done by nurses during this crisis. His willingness to demean these professionals, particularly now, shows the lack of respect he and many of his colleagues have for workers.

It is said that ignorance is bliss. If that is true, there are a lot of happy people out there. Unfortunately too many of them are in charge. That’s what I fear.

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Let Teams Make The Decision

Last week’s blog identified some of the challenges we all are facing with the onset of the coronavirus.  Some workplaces have had to close and some are staying open.  Workers such as barbers,  beauticians, restaurant workers and others are facing unemployment.  Workers in organizations that are open face their own concerns and fears about health and job uncertainty.  And then there are other workers who continue to have a job and may be fortunate to work from home or work remotely.

While working from home currently seems to be the panacea for some workplaces, some in the recent past have been considering  abandoning remote work or at least have been questioning its worthiness.

The Society of Human Resources (SHRM) last year reported some of the larger workplaces that had been using remote work for such things as to save on office space costs and provide an employee benefit had decided to eliminate it.

According to the SHRM article, employers had different reasons for wanting to end remote working.  Some were concerned employees wouldn’t have everything they needed or had the skills needed to work from home.  Others were concerned supervisors’ would be unable  to manage remote work or they wouldn’t have the skills to manage the work.  There were also some who had trust issues with the entire work from home process.  They were afraid employees would take advantage of it and not do work or be less productive.

But MIT Sloan Management gave other impressions recently of remote work.  They  reported  on a study done over two years by one of their professors and a University of Minnesota professor.  The professors had been included with others on a workplace project.  The workplace called in experts because they realized they had some problems.  They paid good wages but employees were extremely stressed and turnover was high plus they were having trouble attracting new hires.  The professors conducted a  workplace assessment and found employees had to immediately respond to emails, go to meetings and maintain chat messaging.  All of that prevented them from leaving work on time and also meant late commutes home.  Based on the results of the assessment, the professors decided to start an experiment.  Some workers were placed in a controlled setting of teams that allowed them to make decisions about their daily work routine. Some of the teams decided to work two or three days from home and some continued to work at the office.

Another article from MIT Sloan gave additional information about the experiment including employee reactions. Many of those working from home said they preferred it because they could get their work done.  There were not the interruptions they had at the office.   One employee said she got more accomplished since she no longer got involved with issues that prevented her from staying focused on her work.

There was also another benefit for the managers and employees working from home.  They enjoyed the ability to flex their hours while they worked from home.  Instead of working their regular time, they could address personal obligations and there was no question about the work not getting done.  By flexing hours and addressing their personal obligations, it also meant working late in the evening or on Saturdays but that was okay because it met their needs.  Not only were people trusted but the work got done!

Those that preferred working at the office were better off, too, as the requirement to immediately respond to emails, or go to meetings or maintain chat messaging was changed to something more doable.  The people working in the office said they  liked being around co-workers and being able to separate the work issues from home life.  But the most important takeaway from everyone was their overall ability to make a choice between working at the office and working from home.

In addition, the decision to alter the work routine was not mandated by a few but by teams of people who actually did the work, both managers and employees. Just as many other good teams have done, the teams in that workplace looked at the problems they were facing, gathered information and came up with a solution that was acceptable to everyone.  The information they looked at included what they did, their personal work style and what needed to be accomplished. Executives and upper management of the workplace were willing to take the risk and support the teams’ decisions which was extremely important!

The stress and turnover problems that caused the workplace to call experts in initially  were minimized but, unfortunately, another problem occurred.  The workplace was bought by another organization.  Despite data showing positive results for the workplace, everybody ended up back in the office again as new management didn’t like the work arrangements.

It’s true, just as the study revealed, remote work isn’t for everybody.  For some, it’s easy to maintain a focus on work, create an at-home routine and  work alone.  For others, though, as in the experiment, being able to go to an actual work setting is better. It becomes an individual style just like personality or learning styles are different for everybody. It’s also true not all work environments can support remote work such as with a factory setting.  In situations like we’re currently in, remote work on a temporary basis may be the best and only option but everybody needs to be involved in the discussion, planning and decision making.

But it also means more permanent remote work possibilities should not be overlooked because they can be productive and done in a successful way that also allows organizations to show support for employees. As with many new things, it may mean a different set of tools and a new way of thinking and doing.  Training for both employees and supervisors may be needed.  It also may mean some real risk-taking and trust. It also can be a change of thinking or believing that most people want to do a good job and should be respected for their abilities and knowledge.

All of those things shouldn’t be the sole determinant of whether or not to do remote work.  It may be part of it but what’s really more important is exactly what happened at the workplace in the experiment – the ability for teams of people to make their own decisions.

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Three Things to Remember During the Pandemic – **ALSO** Important CALMC Information

If you are like me, you are spending a lot more time at home practicing “social distancing” It’s a term that describes my high school days, but now has new meaning.

I want to share some things to think about this week, and also share some news with you.

  1. Teachers are the Largely Unsung Heroes of the Pandemic

In just a few days teachers revised the system of instruction, replacing face-to-face teaching with on-line and distance learning. In doing so, they have demonstrated not only their skills, but also their ability to work in teams and collaborate.

Rewriting the entire curriculum delivery including methods to engage students in their learning is a significant feat in its own right. What is even more impressive is the speed with which it was accomplished. Lessons are now on line, classes are being run with video, chat rooms, and discussion boards, and teachers have set up virtual help sessions. Real learning is taking place, and the development process is continuing as the uncertainty about schools reopening grows.

Looking ahead, students will have the opportunity to finish the curriculum for this year and be prepared to move on to the next class in the fall. They have accomplished all of this without the support or suggestions from the U.S. Department of Education.

One additional side benefit is also emerging. Parents who are now responsible for keeping their students on track are developing a new appreciation for teachers, their skills, and their patience.

Bear in mind that, in most cases, teachers have developed all the new material and methodology on their own time with no additional compensation. They have freely shared their material, methods, and ideas with colleagues in their schools and other districts around the country.

That’s what happens when teachers don’t have to worry about teaching to standardized tests!

  1. Stick to the Science

Have you heard that if you can take a deep breath and hold your breath for more than 10 seconds without coughing or discomfort, you are not infected with the Corona virus? How about advice that you should take a few sips of water at least every 15 minutes as this will wash the virus down through your throat and into the stomach? Once there, your stomach acid will kill all the virus. Maybe you’ve heard that gargling with salt water will eliminate the Coronavirus?

These three examples have one thing in common – they are completely false.

Misinformation such as this can hurt people if it deludes them into thinking they do not need to avoid the virus or get tested. Clinging to simple solutions or what we would like to be true can be harmful.

In recent years scientists have been discredited when their research is not in line with political views or current fads. Some people ignore scientific evidence and cling to the opinions of a celebrity or rock star with no training in the field. Recently, we are hearing that vaccines will be available quickly (they won’t), there will be plenty of test kits available this week (there aren’t), or a vaccine for one disease will mysteriously work on the Coronavirus (possible, but not likely). Each of these was planned to distract people from the facts and build false hope. Although medical professionals and scientists point out they are false, much of the public clings to them because of who spread the message.

The implications from all of this for our workplaces is the danger they present in trying to limit the scope of the disease and getting people back to work. Workplace health and safety is not a labor or management responsibility, it is in the best interest of both to improve these areas. By sticking to the facts, objective evidence, and quality scientific research we can be better at solving problems.

  1. Remember the Workers

From the pandemic we again see evidence of how our leadership values (or doesn’t value) workers. Examples of this include:

Efforts to provide paid family leave for workers. This issue has divided our politicians along party lines. Even in our current situation, family leave provisions were weakened in the legislation as it made its way through Congress. Extended leave will not be available for people who are sick with COVID-19. Those workers would only be able to take 10 days of paid sick leave, but only if they work at a company with fewer than 500 employees. Also, companies with fewer than 50 workers can apply for hardship relief and get out of providing both sick and family leave.

Companies have used a variety of techniques to avoid responsibility for family leave. Employees of a major grocery chain with over 400,000 employees reportedly told the political newsletter Popular Information that due to that policy, they wouldn’t be paid for work they missed due to illness ― which all but ensures they’d go to work sick. The company would, however, provide every associate with a $25 gift card to “show how much [the company] appreciates and acknowledges you.”

On the other hand, the cuts to worker leave can help fund the huge bailouts coming to the airline, travel, and hospitality industries.

Long term impact on the economy. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin warned that without government intervention, the unemployment rate could rise to nearly 20%. Tens of thousands of workers have already lost their jobs with more added each day. First-time unemployment claims increased by 33% in the last week. Mass layoffs can mean loss of health coverage in the middle of a pandemic.

How does the government respond to the news?  The Trump administration’s Labor Department sent an email to state officials this week asking them to report new unemployment claims only in “generalities” to avoid spooking financial markets, The New York Times reported.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Corporate Responsibility

Keep an eye on corporate response to this crisis to gauge their level of corporate responsibility. The results can be surprising.

The New York Post reports video game retail giant GameStop called itself “essential retail” in a memo to employees, instructing them to keep stores open — despite local governments nationwide issuing lockdowns amid the coronavirus crisis. Employees reported wishing the stores would close to protect themselves and their families.

In the past we have been critical of rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft for their treatment of their drivers. I want to commend them this week, as they have announced plans to provide funds for drivers affected by coronavirus. According to The Hill, an Uber spokesperson stated the rideshare company will make funds available to drivers infected or quarantined due to the virus to make up for up to 14 days of lost revenue. Lyft stated that it would provide similar compensation to its drivers, and DoorDash and Instacart are also reportedly considering providing funds to their drivers. This will be particularly helpful to drivers, as in most states

unemployment insurance programs are not available for gig workers or part-time workers who lose their jobs.

The most important message today is practice social distancing and remember the needs of workers who are either laid off or are working under even more stressful conditions than normal. Also, be sure to remember the dedication shown by teachers in revising the entire system of instruction for their students.

I’ll close this topic with a quote from Isle of Palms, SC, Mayor Jimmy Carroll. “People need to prepare but they don’t need to be crazy.”

 

Some quick notes about CALMC, our response to the pandemic, and new online postings.

This week, we made the decision to close the CALMC office until at least April 6. This is being done out of an abundance of concern for Meredith and myself as well our families and our clients.

Even though the office is closed, we are still working. You can still reach us by email (preferred) and phone. Contact information is available on our website. We will reassess our reopening date in advance of April 6.

In the meantime, we want to increase the learning opportunities we offer in our on-line libraries. We posted a new Quick Takes video, the second part of our look at Frequently Asked Questions about consensus decision making.  This video and the others in the series are available from the On-Demand tab on our website.

We also added a new podcast, the fourth part in our series about the life and career of Eugene Brundige, a labor leader, agency manager, and neutral. This segment covers his career as an arbitrator and a neutral. You can also find our podcasts on the On-Demand tab of the website.

A couple of weeks ago we told you about our CALMC Membership Meeting that focused on an upcoming project, A Soldier’s Journey Home. If you missed it, we encourage you to go back and learn more about this great effort to help a wounded veteran.

This week, we added photos from the meeting to our Facebook page. You can view the photo library by clicking on the link.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe.

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