This last week we were doing some training on contract administration for new supervisors in a unionized organization. It also included some training on communications that would encourage employee engagement within the areas or departments they supervise.
The topics were good for each other because the idea was to help new supervisors understand how they can work with the union and still maintain the labor agreement. For some new supervisors, that can be a rather difficult task. Just learning the contract to avoid pitfalls is not easy but throwing in new communication techniques to encourage participation is no small task either.
The training led us to have an intense discussion on the matter. The training of contract administration by its own nature is no small feat either. It can come off somewhat similar to explaining traditional, adversarial labor-management relations simply because supervisors must uphold that contract. The difficulty, however, arises when talking about creating a culture for a cooperative environment but also maintaining the contract. For some who have been in labor relations for awhile it’s not so bad but explaining to those who are new supervisors or wanting to become new supervisors can be challenging.
The discussion we had included the role labor-management department meetings play regarding contractual issues. Can employees within a department make decisions that impact contractual issues? Not necessarily. It depends, of course, on the make-up of membership. Leadership from both sides must approve recommendations through the proper channels before any change can be finalized and more than likely this will not occur within department meetings. Changes to contracts in between bargaining must have a memorandum-of-understanding. They must be agreed to by all parties but it’s usually the contract administration people on both sides who have the authority to make a change to a contract but it is something our new supervisors need to understand in regards to contract administration. Members in a department meeting probably don’t have the authority to make changes to the contract but they can make some recommendations particularly on other items.
Our discussion continued by reminding ourselves not all topics discussed in labor-management meetings are about contractual language issues. Some of the topics in labor-management meetings have included a variety of topics. Some of those have been about policy issues but they still need to have leaders on both sides present to help determine a recommendation that would be mutually beneficial. One group wanted to look at attendance policy problems and not so much as to make policy but to review it and look at attendance problems that were occurring. As it turned out, employees from both sides were not clear about the attendance policy. It became the group’s responsibility to do a better job of communicating and explaining the policy so people would understand it.
Topics also could be about developing new processes or reviewing old but it still demands to have the proper people on the committee from both sides who can focus on the issues and also help to implement any new processes, too.
As we ended our discussion, we reminded ourselves employees and the supervisor in a department meeting need to identify the topics that are appropriate to discuss and those items that are inappropriate to discuss. It will help guide the group on their work and keep them from wasting time on topics that have no relevancy to them.
For a new supervisor these topics can be daunting and overwhelming to understand. For trainers, it was equally daunting to try and convey information that appears opposite in meaning so it would be comprehensible as well as doable. It also was necessary to explain what was expected of them. These new supervisors, or wannabes, were great. They were very attentive and participated well. Their task ahead: managing the contract, developing positive relationships, keeping those above them happy and doing their everyday work is a lot for anybody to take on. My hat’s off to them for the work they do! Good luck new supervisors!