I’ve been reading the reports about Gothamist and DNAinfo employees and the owner of those two digital media sites, Joe Ricketts. If you haven’t been following the stories, the employees voted to unionize and following the vote, Ricketts shut the sites down which left the employees without jobs. The stories reminded me about the movie or tv shows of Dragnet and Joe Friday and about some of the labor-management committees we’ve seen.
The reporters writing the stories about Gothamist and DNAinfo came to the conclusion the sites were shut down because of what Joe Ricketts wrote in his blog on September 12th about unions. That could be but we don’t know if that is actually the reason. We don’t know why employees wanted representation from the Writers’ Guild. We don’t know what the relationship was like between Ricketts and the employees before the organizing drive and we don’t know about the Writers’ Guild and how they conducted themselves through all of this. There’s just a lot we don’t know. Instead of gathering what Joe Friday said, “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts,” the stories only assume why Ricketts shut down the outlets. The same happens in labor-management committees. They’ll look at issues based on what they assume they know which may or may not be right. That, unfortunately, is sometimes how workplace issues are resolved.
That’s not the best way to resolve problems because we may be assuming something is a problem when it may not be or we may be assuming the wrong things associated with the problem. For example, in one labor-management meeting one of the managers was absolutely sure there was an overtime issue occurring in a particular area of the organization. In another example, an employee was sure holiday scheduling was not being followed according to the contract. Each time we asked if they were sure those problems were occurring, and, if so, did they have supporting facts. Each time they said no so we told everybody to go back to their work areas and find out what was happening and bring the information back to the next meeting. More often than not, they would come back saying the problem didn’t happen. Had we started to try and solve either of those issues, we would have wasted valuable committee time addressing issues that didn’t exist and it might have prompted other problems.
In addition to the assumptions being made, there are other behaviors such as accusations and positions being taken in the Gothamist and DNAinfo story that also don’t help. Accusations were made of Ricketts for shutting down the sites because the employees wanted to unionize and Ricketts, in his blog, accuses unions of causing division within a workplace. This, too, can happen in committees. Position taking restricts the opportunity of coming up with new ideas and new ways of doing things. Positions are when people draw a line such as, “I must have it this way,” or “I won’t do it if you don’t do this.” Ricketts takes the position of saying, “I am against unions in businesses that I create.” The other day it was reported the Writers Guild and former employees staged a rally against Ricketts with other journalists and politicians. These types of behaviors don’t allow for real problem solving to take place, especially in the labor-management setting. It erodes trust and breaks down relationships which can take a long time to repair.
When labor and management work together, though, we have opportunity to learn more about what concerns people have or what’s driving the accusations and positions. After gathering information and identifying issues associated with a particular issue, we can next address their concerns. We learn what the motivation is behind the concern instead of making accusations and taking positions. Maybe the concerns are job security or it costs too much but once we learn those we have a much better chance of coming up with some solutions to meet those concerns. The final steps would be to determine some objective criteria to help decide which solutions are best and then coming to consensus on a final solution which may be made up of many solutions. By using criteria instead of individual choice we’ve eliminated the possibility of conflict, resolved the problem together and preserved the relationship. That’s the interest-based problem solving process and it’s why we at CALMC advocate for it.
It’s difficult to say if the interest-based problem solving process would help in the Gothamist and DNAinfo situation. They may have tried it or talked about some of the issues and concern and it didn’t work. We don’t know but it doesn’t mean everything stops. It just means the parties keep trying.
Ricketts says in his blog he wants everybody in the workplace to work together to serve the customers and help the business succeed. He probably could use the experience of the employees to help him with digital media sites especially if his experience is limited and that’s exactly what the interest-based process can do. It can address his concerns and the employees’ concerns so they can resolve the issues together. It could be the employees and the Writers’ Guild didn’t want to work together. That has happened before and we’ve blogged about it. It’s unfortunate when that happens because it takes away the opportunity for workers or union members to be involved in workplace decisions.
It takes BOTH sides to be committed to the process or it won’t work. It can’t be just lip service. It means walking the talk. It’s sad when people are stuck in the same thought patterns or bad behaviors because it eliminates the chance to learn about each other and it also eliminates the satisfaction of resolving an issue and doing it together. It’s doubtful anything will happen at Gothamist and DNAinfo but if it does, it will take both sides to realize they’ll need some help if they want to work together.
Again, I don’t know everything that went on at Gothamist and DNAinfo but I do know these facts, labor and management can work together and be very successful at it.