Last week, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee held our quarterly membership meeting. We featured two speakers, George Albu, a mediator with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and Brian Eastman, a mediator with the State of Ohio Employment Relations Board discussing trends in the labor movement and collective bargaining.
There are pictures from the meeting on our Facebook page, and we will highlight some of their remarks beginning with this entry. Today, we will start with the comments of Dr, Albu, and in a later entry we will move to Brian.
George began by pointing out the need for labor and management to recognize change. He used the analogy of the change of seasons, asking “If it became winter, and you had never seen winter before, would you know how to act?” He compared the current labor climate to winter. We all recognize the change in the labor relations climate over the past decade. Many of the things labor took for granted have disappeared. Labor was very slow to recognize the changes that were happening and develop strategies to deal with them.
As he noted, three years ago no one would have taken a bet that Michigan would become a “Right to Work” state. This is only one of the changes that has hurt the union movement and, in turn, has the potential to harm workers.
Organizations are normally resistant to change. At CALMC, we have seen groups held back by organizational inertia. They ignore the evidence of change or presume it will go away. By the time they are ready to deal with the forces driving the change, it may be too late.
By being open to information and knowing how to analyze it, we can learn how to develop effective strategies for dealing with change. He cited the use of seat belts as an example. When seat belt use was first mandated there were complains about the belts being restrictive, not being effective, or impinging on personal freedoms. As the evidence of the benefits seat belts provide became better know, the opposition subsided. When we understand why change is occurring, we can be better prepared to benefit from it.
When looking at the current trends in collective bargaining, George pointed out labor and management can benefit by creating options for dealing with their concerns that go beyond negotiations. We certainly agree. The traditional bargaining table is a terrible place to do real problem solving. The combination of political pressures, the lack of time to explore the problem, and the dynamics of the bargaining relationship make effective problem solving unlikely. Timely problem solving is impossible when we only bargain every three (or more) years. The result is generally seen as a steady increase in the number of grievances during the term of the contract.
By exploring other ways to resolve problems, organizations can engage employees to move forward. We have written many times about the benefits of employee engagement, and it was good to hear George discuss the importance of looking at this as another option to solving problems.
Next week, we will take a look at some of the other trends in collective bargaining George discussed, along with his views on the long-term impact of the recession on labor and employers.