We have written a lot about the advantages of having a cooperative, problem solving labor management committee and the kind of things they can do. This week, I want to take a look at the topic from the other side.
There are some issues on which a labor-management committee should not work. Not surprisingly, my list is short, since we have seen committees deal effectively with difficult problems. Still there are some issues to avoid.
- Active Grievances – Once a grievance has been filed, it should work its way through the grievance procedure. The committee should not deal with the specifics of the grievance unless the grievance is referred to the labor-management committee.
While the committee should not deal with the specific grievance, it can look at the problem that created the grievance, particularly if this issue has resulted in other grievances.
- Personal Issues – Don’t spend committee time dealing with interpersonal conflict. Peer mediation or other conflict management techniques should be used.
- Individual Discipline Cases – This is for the same reason as not handling individual grievances. Discipline matters should be handled through the regular discipline procedure.
The labor-management committee could be used to establish a uniform, consistent discipline process if one does not exist.
- The “Second Bite of the Apple” – One time, when we facilitated a committee that met for the first time following the conclusion of bargaining, we ran into a difficult situation. One side brought up a problem that had been discussed during negotiations, but had not been resolved to the satisfaction of that group. Having failed to get their desired result during negotiations, they wanted to take a second shot in the labor-management committee.
Doing this drove a wedge between members of the committee. The trust that had gradually been built up on the team was shattered.
- Issues That Should be Resolved at a Lower Level – If problems are relevant only to a specific office, department, or location, they should be resolved at that level. Only of the issue cannot be resolved at that level after a sincere effort should they be referred to the labor-management committee.
- Attempts to Circumvent the Contract – Once bargained and ratified, the committee cannot be asked to ignore it. The team can discuss interpretations of contract language or seek to develop memorandums of understanding for ratification. If one side is not happy with the language, it should be discussed during the next negotiations.
- Topics Out of Your Control – Committees should only spend their time on issues within their control. Unless they have the ability to make decisions, recommendations, or can influence an outcome, the committee should stay away from the issue.
For example, a company may have made a decision regarding the budget for a particular department or location. If the committee is unable to set the budget, time spend discussing (or complaining) about the decision is wasted. It may be appropriate for the committee to discuss how the funds should be allocated or prioritized.
We work with committees to come to consensus on their boundaries. This is a list of items within their control or influence and those outside. The committee should restrict itself to items within their boundaries.
This list is not very long, which reflects our belief there are a lot more things labor-management committees can do than those they can’t. If you have ideas about other things a committee should not do or thoughts about this list, leave your comments and we can discuss them in future blogs.