It’s Time To Start Caring For Each Other

A staff layout recently occurred at the major Columbus paper and media outlet, The Dispatch.  Gatehouse Media, the owner of The Dispatch, said it was needed for business purposes and to invest in the future.  It all sounds familiar:  Layoffs occurring either in the newspaper industry or any other industry and the same, tired excuse why they’re needed.   Do these layoffs really need to happen?  When did we start treating others as a number instead of a human life? Why do some think they’re so necessary?

They don’t.  Layoffs don’t need to happen and according to a post on the Harvard Business Review, the phenomena that became so popular in corporate worlds, began in the 1970s.  As companies announced they were laying people off  they were temporarily rewarded through the stock market.

The Harvard Business Review also says layoffs end up hurting business rather than improving business.  Data confirms profits at some organizations decreased for several years with some eventually going into bankruptcy.  In addition, those employees that are left at the organization don’t perform as well as before the layoff.  They too are concerned about the fate of the organization and question the ability of those at the top.  Employee loyalty takes a toll as employees’ allegiance to the organization is weakened by watching their peers be forced out.  Within a year or two, they decide to quit and that increases turnover rates and additional costs.  Other  problems also occur in areas elsewhere which also impact the bottom line.

While some believe the financial problems happened before the layoff and that becomes the reason for the layoff,  it really becomes a band-aid instead of addressing the real issues that are occurring and leading to financial concerns.  In a Fortune magazine article, one CEO says layoffs happen because executives don’t want to work very hard at the problems facing the organization.  One common term that was used in the article was “dead wood” which refers to those who don’t appear to perform very well.  Some executives, the CEO says, would prefer to have a layoff and remove the “dead wood” instead of working with individuals to improve performance.  She also cites other examples where organizations had huge financial problems that were ignored as executives reaped huge compensation packages. Too many times layoffs are the knee-jerk reaction instead of taking time to look at the real problems.  It’s so much quicker, or so it seems, to lay people off than address the root cause of what’s happening.

For those who are laid off it is a devastating experience.  It is a significant life altering event and takes a heavy psychological toll that takes time to recover.  Those who have been laid off describe it as losing a loved one.  There was a story of one man who even after he was laid off would travel to his former work site just as if he was going there to work.  He said he needed that sense of routine to help him feel whole again.  That loss of human dignity and self-esteem that comes from a layoff and is placed on another is cruel and inhumane.  What’s even worse is to watch others receive those huge compensation packages while those who are laid off are suffering to make ends meet and struggle to get their lives back on track.

Many states have unemployment insurance that may provide some financial benefit for possibly six months but that financial benefit can be less than half the salary a worker received if that.  Some may not receive any benefits and are left without any financial support which only adds more pressure and stress to the loss of the job itself.

So are there alternatives to layoffs?  Absolutely.  The Harvard Business Review described re-training efforts at one corporation.  We worked with one group who did something similar.  During a labor-management meeting they addressed training needs at their organization and the concern for job loss if employees weren’t up-to-date on skills.  The employees organized an educational fair to urge their peers to seek additional training so they could maintain their jobs.  Their negotiated contract provided educational benefits so all of the cost of the training was not placed on the employees.  Another group recognized layoffs were not going to help the organization.  All of the work that needed to be completed would not get done if layoffs occurred.  It was a difficult topic for a labor-management committee to discuss but they both recognized an alternative was necessary.  What they came up with after much work was a voluntary furlough plan.  At first, taking a day off without pay was hard but when the day after a popular holiday came up that most employees worked, employees decided to use the voluntary furlough to take the day off.  Employees found out losing a day of pay wasn’t as bad as they had thought.  It was much better than losing their job.  The voluntary furlough plan was very successful at saving the organization some money.

Those are a few examples of the alternatives to layoffs but it takes real leaders willing to do the right thing and look at alternatives.  Real leaders who show empathy, listen to others and have a sense of humility.  These are the leaders that invest in employees like the Federal Reserve recognized in our previous blogs.  They encourage worker voice and listen to the ideas of workers.  That’s what happened in the above organizations we worked with.   Leaders that listen realize they may not have all the ideas to move forward and want help from employees.  When leaders provide the support and tools to employees, it helps the organization become stronger so layoffs become a thing of the past.

Our big corporations had founders and leaders who wanted to support their workers and give back to them because they knew, in the end, it would help them out and it did.  In another article, Henry Ford is  cited because his goal was to share with others and give them the ability to not only help build an industrialized society but improve their lives as they built that society.  George Eastman built a company that also took care of their employees.  Eastman-Kodak was centered around the employee.   George Eastman created a fund that would help employees if they had accidents or illnesses and were unable to work or if they simply wanted to retire.  Eastman provided other benefits such as healthcare, housing, and educational assistance.  He believed if he helped and took care of employees the benefits would come back to the company  and he was right.  Employees remained at Eastman-Kodak throughout their careers.   It’s time to get back to those ideals like George Eastman where caring for employees or for people is an investment and not a cost.

It’s also time to look at what’s really driving the problems within an organization and not rewarding those  who don’t address them.  Instead of allowing workers to be laid off it’s time to support workers and listen to them throughout communities, local governments, state governments and federal governments.  It’s time to show support and care for our fellow men and women.

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Communications Begins with Effective Listening

It seems like when we first meet with labor-management groups they have complaints about communications in their organizations. We see issues with the ability of both labor and management to effectively communicate with each other.

There are numerous causes for these problems. We have written in the past about the importance of an effective two-way communications process between the parties and their constituents, Today, we would like to focus on an often-overlooked part of the communications process, effective listening.

Problem solving in any setting requires participants to have access to complete information.  This includes the information we can gather by listening to what is being said by everyone. Instead, we divert our attention to framing the arguments we will make when the person is finished speaking.

When we fail to listen carefully, we risk losing important facts, miss an opportunity to understand the interests that underly their positions, and miss out on important facts. We are likely to base our responses on the faulty assumptions we brought into the room with us, not what was just said. When the other side perceives we are not really listening it will damage the ongoing relationship with them. This will further damage the opportunities for the parties to work together.

When we facilitate labor-management meetings, we may ask someone from the other side to restate their understanding of when was just said. Doing so demonstrates they were listening to the points being made and understand them. It further acknowledges their ideas even if we do not agree with them. We want to be sure that everyone is on the same page about the facts under consideration and there is a common understanding of the problem. This is an opportunity for others to affirm what was just said, clarify their statements, or ask for more information.

We may also ask questions to confirm key points made in the statement. While some of these may seem to be obvious (and often are), they are deigned to focus attention on those points and build understandings. The questions are not planned to raise new issues or debating points, but are to help clarify and build understanding of what was said.

Effective listening (during our training we use the common term active listening) is vital for any type of problem solving and group process. Listening seems obvious, but it takes real work and effort. It also takes some self-control to focus on statements being made rather than use the time to frame our arguments. Listening opens up an opportunity to learn more information and better understand the interests of other party. In doing so we can increase likelihood of finding a successful outcome.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Communications, Effective Meetings, Employee Engagement, Facilitation, Labor-Management Committees | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There Is No “I” In Team

We have blogged many times about the need for worker voice whether that be in unionized or non-union work environments.  We also have identified many sources who also agree with us about the need for worker voice.

We’ve recently blogged the Federal Reserve has been pushing for investment in workers.  The Boston Fed website has a lengthy discussion on their website about worker voice.  Those interviewed on worker voice were from Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT) and Harvard and they too agree worker voice is important.  Worker voice, as they tell, has traditionally been through unions to improve wages and working conditions but while it has now extended to a broader section of working class citizens to speak out on issues impacting them and society, people still believe it is better to be part of a union to have that voice.  As MIT representatives from the Sloan School of Management found out in a report they conducted, more people are interested in joining a union than in the 1970s or ’90s so that they can have that voice whether it be on wages or other issues affecting them.

PBS Newshour also found in another study Americans would prefer to join a union because they don’t have enough of a voice at work to make a difference and they see unions as helping with that.

The Roosevelt Institute wrote a report entitled, Rebuilding Worker Voices.  The authors of that report also confirmed worker voice is absolutely essential not just in the workplace but outside of it as well.  It provides an overall positive working environment when workers and managers resolve issues together. Plus, they said, it benefits our country as it is another example of the democratic process.

And finally Pew Research also did some polling which confirms much of the same results. In a poll done last August, more than 50% of Americans had a more positive view of unions than the 33% who did not.

So it makes sense when a group of athletes also see unions as a way to help them have a voice and  help with the issues they face.  This last winter, the leadership group of Olympic athletes started to look into forming a union for all U. S. Olympic athletes.

At the end of last year a report was released about the U. S. Olympic Committee’s handling of the sexual abuse scandal that involved Larry Nasser abusing U. S. gymnasts and other children.  The report identified there was a culture within the U. S. Olympics that cared more about protecting image than protecting athletes.  Athletes were afraid to speak out.  Even if an injury occurred, athletes didn’t want to say anything for fear of repercussion.  Following that report, several former Olympic medalists and athletes urged Congress to help dismantle the culture of the U. S. Olympic community that did little to protect athletes by revising the 1978 Amateur Sports Act to include more to protect athletes.

In an article that first appeared in the Wall St. Journal in February, the Athletes’ Advisory Council(AAC) brought the Major League Baseball union director with them to a meeting with the new CEO of the U. S. Olympic Committee.  The lack of trust between the athletes and U. S. Olympic Committee is real as one athlete explained.  For any change to take place, she said, it would have to come from the outside.  That lack of trust comes from what was stated in the report the U. S. Olympic Committee demonstrates a greater concern for a winning image than a concern for athletes. The Committee appears to view athletes more as a commodity.  Just like workers in a workplace, the athletes would like to be treated with respect and dignity and be viewed as the professionals they are.  They want to be partners with the U. S. Olympic Committee.

Athletes have had no voice in matters that impacted them, including the safety issues they have encountered.  In addition, athletes have difficulty supporting themselves as much of their time is needed for sport competition and that doesn’t allow them time for a job.  While athletes receive stipends, the amount is determined by how well an athlete does at a competition or any medals they receive.  Many have to rely on GoFundMe accounts or sponsors to make ends meet.  Some have been able to squeeze in part-time jobs but for many, having enough money is worrisome.

Will the Olympic athletes unionize?  It’s too early to say.  From the sounds of things, the issues they have aren’t a whole lot different than what workers face in the workplace.  Members of the Athletes’ Advisory Council and the union director for MLB have been meeting.  Other options are also going to be looked at as well.  Athlete voice is becoming more common.  German athletes have already started an association.

Recently, we sat down with a newly formed labor-management group to listen to their discussions. Labor was hoping to be a partner and was eager to help with issues coming up.  The labor members had an extensive number of years service to the organization so their expertise and experience would be valuable especially since the management people were fairly new to the organization.  It was great the managers were willing to listen and they were very polite but it was quite obvious they did not want to partner as they had finalized any plans on the issues that were in front of the group.

That incident is not much different than the athletes at the meeting with the new CEO of the Olympic Committee who proclaimed change needed to happen. If the new CEO doesn’t involve the athletes, nothing will happen.  If the new management at the organization we visited do not involve labor people, nothing will happen.  For change to happen in any organization it must include not just one or a few voices but many.   Anything that is done without the help of the athletes or workers will be met with skepticism, possibly mistrust and very little chance of success.  Some of that has already happened at both organizations.

The idea of voice is really important to people and it’s becoming more prevalent as issues occur that prevent people from being able to have a quality of life both at home and at work or wherever they may spend a lot of time.   The idea of being treated as partners either as athletes or workers shows the respect and dignity we all crave.  When it comes to something we like to do or spend a lot of time at, we want to have a say in it.  We have ideas based on who we are, what we do and our experiences and that’s good because we have greater ability to help an organization succeed.

It’s baffling why some people find it difficult to allow others to have a voice in decisions on matters that affect us.  We’ve identified many different sources who say the benefits far outweigh the detriments.  So why is it worker, or athlete, voice is prevented? So much more can be accomplished when people come together to actually act as a team.  It’s important to remember, there is no “I” in team and so much more can be accomplished together than as ONE.

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Building Futures – Preparing Graduates for a Better Future

We are entering the graduation season. Whether students will don caps, gowns, hoods, or be in less formal settings, it represents a progression. For some, it is a time for educational pursuits to reach their conclusion, while for others, it represents a beginning.

Recently, Meredith and I had the opportunity to attend the latter type of graduation. Members of Class 3 of the Building Futures program successfully completed their pre-apprenticeship program and prepared to begin their apprenticeships with one of the Building Trades unions and the participating contractors.

We’ve mentioned the Building Futures program in prior blogs. A joint program sponsored by Franklin County, the Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, IMPACT Community Action, and other participating groups, the program serves economically disadvantaged and underserved residents of the county. Promotion of jobs and economic development is one of the strategic goals of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, and their support of this program demonstrates their commitment in this area.

Members of the Third Graduating Class of the Building Futures Pre-Apprenticeship Program, along with Leland Bass (left front) and Dorsey Hager (right front) who manage the program.

It is not an easy program, requiring dedication from the students. As Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce told the graduates, “Someone may provide the opportunity to you, it is up to you to grab it.” That I exactly what these students have done.

Prospective students must have a high school diploma or earn a GED. They must maintain good attendance and pass drug screening. They receive information about the various apprenticeship programs available to them so they can make an informed choice about which trade they would like to enter. In this latest class, the 11 graduates entered seven different programs.

The outcomes from the program have already been dramatic. The program has an 88% graduation rate, with 82% receiving placement into an apprenticeship. Graduates from the first two cohorts of the program have already earned over $1.4 million in wages, with an average wage of over $16.91 per hour plus benefits. Most will also have the opportunity to earn an Associate’s Degree during their apprenticeship programs at no cost to them.

There are a number of examples of how Building Futures has changed the lives of participants. In one case, a student who began the program was homeless and rode a bicycle to class every day. After 12 weeks he had an apartment, a car, and was an apprenticeship with the Laborer’s Union. He is preparing to enter a career that will pay good wages and benefits, job security, economic security for their families, and a clear path to the middle class.

Building Futures has received wide recognitions and several awards, including the prestigious 2018 National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Award for economic development. The program has served as a model for other cities and municipalities to create economic development opportunities in their areas.

Want to learn more about Building Futures? You are invited to attend our upcoming CALMC Membership Meeting on May 22. We will feature Dorsey Hager, Executive Secretary of the Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council and Leland Bass, Employee Relations Manager at IMPACT Community Action. Dorsey and Leland will discuss the programs and its outcomes.

If you are interested in attending the meeting, please contact us for more details. This successful program is well-worth your time and attention, and we hope you will be able to join us.

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Quality Is About Leadership and Working Together

There have been multiple reports on the Boeing Max 737 disasters and also several other articles about ongoing quality problems at Boeing.  The New York Times recently did an investigation that included problems at the South Carolina plant where workers’ quality and safety concerns  were often ignored, or they were disciplined or even terminated because they spoke up about what they were seeing.    In April of 2018, Stars and Stripes, a military news media source, reported the Department of Defense also had ongoing quality issues with Boeing fighter planes.  And on Monday, the head of Boeing, Dennis Muilenberg had to face numerous questions at a stockholders meeting regarding his ability to lead the organization and to produce safe planes.  His response was  that he would continue  as the CEO of Boeing and he would        ” …continue to lead on the front of safety, quality, and integrity.”

What are some things Dennis Muilenberg needs to do if he wants to lead the front?  When it comes to issues involving quality, involving everyone is crucial.  In a YouTube video from the Deming Institute, economist and former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, and quality guru, W. Edward Deming, discuss the importance of involving workers.  In the video, Dr. Deming tells how workers sometimes get blamed for inferior products.  He says it’s not the workers that are usually the problem but more than likely it’s the system or management because they are normally in charge of the system and the culture.  In the New York Times article, employees at the Charleston plant were repeatedly blamed for leaving tools or debris behind in the plane that could result in safety issues.  Those that tried to correct the problems or bring it to management’s attention faced retribution or were let go.  Dr. Deming said in the video one of his 14 points was people need to be trained and re-trained.  It’s critical, he said, that people understand “why” something is necessary.  There has been some concern Boeing did not properly train pilots for the Max 737.  During the stockholders meeting, Muilenberg blamed the pilots for the accidents because they did not follow all the procedures but that does not appear to be the reason for the accidents.  Did the pilots on the Max 737 fully understand what controls were available to them?  Did Charleston workers  understand why shavings, other debris or tools could cause safety issues?  Some workers said the emphasis was more about getting things done than on quality so it doesn’t sound like training or re-training were done or workers were given any other explanations.

Another one of Dr. Deming’s points he brings out is workers need to recognize their fellow workers as their customer.  In other words, as something is completed by one worker will it meet the standards of the next worker in line?  Again, experienced employees working in Charleston who oversaw the problems of work being done by employees who were just hired were ignored, disciplined or fired.  Some of the experienced employees said unlike Seattle where there were plenty of experienced aerospace people to do the jobs, it was difficult to find that in Charleston.  Recruiting had to be done through community colleges from other locations.  Experienced union workers were not allowed to transfer to the plant for fear they would encourage union representation.

That brings up another of Deming’s 14 points is the need for managers and supervisors to be leaders. Has Dennis Muilenberg been leading Boeing on those values he identified?  He blamed the pilots for the fatal errors.  Is that really helping employees to understand what they need to do?  As a leader, has he been helping them learn and has he listened to them?

On the American Society for Quality (ASQ) website, a big mistake that organizations sometimes make is to put more control on the system or process. The correct improvement to a system or process is to allow workers to have a voice in the process so they can call out when there are problems.  According to articles, it sounds like Boeing put more pressure on the system and less reliance on those who actually did the job or saw the problems that were occurring.

Last week, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown called on Boeing to change its workplace culture and allow workers to have a voice in the decision-making process.  That suggestion is a great one.  As we have been blogging about the Federal Reserve and their encouragement to invest in employees, Senator Brown’s suggestion fits in to that same underlying principle.  Senator Brown knows quite well how labor and management can work together to do great things.

When we work with labor and management, either in a union or non-union environment,  on problem solving, we use quality tools and techniques to develop a continuous improvement process.  In fact, last week when we trained a group, we told them to always go back and review their process.  We showed them a problem solving process they could use that helps them to identify the problem and not symptoms, identify possible solutions, select a solution and implement it, and finally, evaluate it.  This wasn’t Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act process but it was very similar.

We also show them how a problem solving process specific to labor and management can be used with a quality problem solving process.  Not only can quality issues be addressed but relationships can be improved, too, which is something that probably could benefit Boeing and their employees.  As it stands now, there is a lot of mistrust and finger-pointing going on which is typical in a traditional adversarial culture when only one side is allowed in the decision-making process.  In addition, Boeing announced over 400 quality positions would be eliminated and that does not help create a positive relationship especially when quality appears to be a huge factor in the latest catastrophes.

Most workers want their organization to succeed.  That is a common interest most people in an organization share with each other.  On the IAM(International Association of Machinists) website, they appreciate Senator Brown’s efforts and also go on to say the safety of people flying on the planes they help build is a top priority for them.  In other words, they’re looking out for us.  They want to make sure those planes are built without  any defects so that people can get to their destinations safely.  They are very willing to help Boeing managers make improvements to work processes.

During the ’80s and ’90s, quality processes were THE thing.  Total Quality Management, or TQM, or quality circles were the buzzwords.  Teams worked on quality projects and were successful.  Labor-management cooperation was part of it, too.   Whether it was TQM or labor-management cooperation, it worked. People LISTENED and TALKED to each other. They found out they had a lot more in common than what they thought and could work together to come up with ideas to solve workplace problems.  But we suddenly became divisive, focused on where we were far apart and all sense of working together went out the window.

We need to get back together and there may be some hope. We’ve heard from people who are tired of arguing and the combative nature of relationships and want to start working together again.  Let’s hope more people think that way, too, including those at Boeing.  Those problems Boeing faces can be overcome but it can be done best if everyone is working together.

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CALMC Membership Meeting – Smart Columbus

Last month Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee members and guests gathered for our Membership Meeting. They had the opportunity to enjoy breakfast, networking with colleagues, and hear a presentation on an issue impacting labor, management, and the community.

Some of the members and guests at the CALMC Membership meeting.

The presentation described the work of Smart Columbus, a part of Mayor Andy Ginther’s office working to create innovative solutions to improve the future of transportation in Columbus. The city received $40 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $10 million from Vulcan, Inc., a Paul G. Allen Company, to fund the study and implementation of new transportation options. These include data analysis to improve traffic flow, smart highways, automated vehicles, improved public transportation access, and other areas. Mayor Ginter noted the importance of this effort as he stated, “Transportation is not just about roads, transit and ride sharing. It’s about how people access opportunity. And how they live.”

Brandi Braun, Deputy Innovation Officer at Smart Columbus describes the innovations underway and being planned.

At our meeting, Brandi Braun, Deputy Innovation Officer of Smart Columbus, described some of the things that are already happening and others in the planning stages. The current tests include autonomous vehicles along the Scioto Mile park, construction of smart lanes on one of the interstates, and development of intervehicle communication and linking this to highway signals.

To learn more about Smart Columbus, look at their web site, https://smart.columbus.gov/.

Membership meetings like this are just one of the benefits of membership in CALMC. We would like to invite you to attend our next meeting, Wednesday May 22, 8 AM, at 2800 South High Street in Columbus.

The next meeting will feature a presentation about the Building Futures program sponsored by Franklin County, the Columbus Construction Trades Council, IMPACT Community Action, and other groups. It has already proven to be successful in building a path to the middle class.

We will give you more information about Building Futures and our efforts to expand it to inform middle-school students about the opportunities provided by joint labor-management apprenticeship programs. If you are interested in hearing about it in person, we hope you will be able to come to our membership meeting. Let us know if you can attend.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Communications, Customer Service, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Managing Change | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Great Starting Place!

Recently, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company released their annual Workplace Safety Index in February and the numbers are astounding.  They identify the top 10 problems that result in workplace injuries.  One of them was Falls to Lower Levels which has increased more than 25% in five years.  Workplace injuries are devastating.  Some lose their lives.  Some can’t recover enough to work again or the costs for rehabilitation even with financial assistance from government entities can be horrible.  And for workplaces, the cost is huge.  Liberty Mutual estimates the weekly cost for workplaces is more than $1 BILLION.  It’s a problem that has a great impact on both employers and employees and one both share a common concern of having a safe workplace.

When employers and employees share a common concern such as safety it can be a great area to start a worker voice process  that can be the beginning of creating those good jobs we’ve been blogging about for the last three weeks.  A worker voice process definitely costs much less than a billion a week and has the potential to eliminate the costs related to accidents and injuries.  That’s been proven at one workplace.  As the Federal Reserve said, worker voice is an investment, and that investment can be used to save injuries and lives and put more money back into the workplace.

Starting a worker voice process on safety is not difficult but, like a lot of other things,  it does take a commitment to do it right to get the most out the investment. Here are some steps to help initiate the process:

  1. Get some help. This will be a cost to transitioning to a worker voice process but it definitely will be a lot less than a weekly billion dollars and, again, it needs to be viewed as an investment. A lot of people think it’s easy to form a team but it may not be. It’s important to have someone who is neutral, not someone for employers’ interests or for employees’ interests but somebody that can help the group as a whole group and help everybody be treated equally.
  2. Next, it might be good to do a safety assessment of workplace culture. Everybody, both managers and workers, needs to take it.  It provides a beginning for workers to voice their thoughts.  Ask questions that will provide valid and reliable results.
  3. Share the assessment results once they have been compiled. Sharing the information will help to build trust and buy-in for future projects.  Don’t be surprised if people remain skeptical.  That’s normal.  It takes time, not an overnight change as one company owner said on the Kansas City Fed website.  A serious commitment must be VISIBLE for employees to believe.
  4. Form the safety committee.  Ask for volunteers.  Try to get people who don’t think alike but have different perspectives or different personality styles.  It will help the committee to get more and new ideas and not get stuck on only one.  Don’t be afraid of those who do volunteer.  It’s amazing to watch those you don’t expect to be the best, become the best.  It can change an entire attitude as they’re allowed to do things and see changes progress.
  5. Identify the things the committee can do and can’t do upfront.  Don’t wait until they come up with an idea because if the idea is immediately struck down, it will cause members to lose trust in the process.  Committees need to know what is expected of them. Let committee members take part in brainstorming a list of what can be done and not done.  A lot of times committee members will be harder on themselves than people expect.
  6. Get a facilitator for the group. This can be a great investment for group process.  A trained facilitator has tools that can help the committee with process.  A facilitator helps groups be more productive.  If they get stuck, have conflict or other issues, the facilitator can help them. A facilitator steers the process but does not get involved in the discussion or group decisions.
  7. Remember to use as much information as possible. The more information, the better and it makes it easier for people to form ideas on how to resolve problems.  Include outside experts, other workers, or managers to provide information to the committee.

 

This stands repeating, allowing worker voice has many rewards not just for the workers but for the workplace itself.  As one of the people on the Boston Fed Worker Voice page said workers have incredible ideas.  Workers are a major part of any organization and they see and hear what happens on a daily basis.  They are the best resource to make improvements and that can start with safety and then lead to other areas.

 

We’ve blogged about worker voice and its importance for the last few weeks.  This is the conclusion of it with an example of how to get started.

 

It’s a choice to make, either have an unsafe work environment and spend the billions of dollars as a result of the unsafe work environment, or, invest in worker voice and save money not just in claims, but productivity, turnover, and training.  Remember, one business owner did it and he created a much safer workplace, expanded his business and increased benefits for employees.

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Is History Repeating Itself?

For the last few weeks, we’ve been blogging on the Federal Reserve’s initiative, Investing in America’s Workforce.  The initiative identifies the issues employers and employees are facing under the current economic conditions based on conversations each of the Fed regional branches has had with people in their areas.  The responsibility of the Fed is to make sure the United States has a strong economic system so for the Fed to address workplace issues when they normally don’t is sending a very strong message that it’s time to do things differently.  As the policy analyst from the Boston Fed pointed out, if something isn’t done to address these employer-employee issues, it will impact the entire U.S. economy.

On the website, Investing in America’s Workforce, there is a report with a summary of what was learned from each of the Fed’s regions.  What was really surprising wasn’t that each region had their own set of problems but each region was identical to the problems they were facing in regard to employers and employees.  Employers were having problems finding workers and workers, especially unskilled workers were having difficulty in finding that quality job we identified in one of the recent blogs.

There were many recommendations in the report including workers should be viewed as an investment instead of a cost and workforce needs and economic development needs need to be more closely aligned.  Yet the report neglected to identify what personnel from MIT’s Sloan School for Management and others saw as a significant issue, particularly for unskilled workers, and that was the inability of unions to have influence on worker issues.  They said both automation and globalization have certainly played a role in the decreased size of unions, and because unions don’t have the power they once did, it has caused stagnant wages and benefits and a loss of voice in the workplace.

Another very good and recent example of union struggles is at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  United Auto Workers has tried multiple times to organize the plant.  Outside interest groups, politicians and others launched massive attacks against the union which didn’t help the outcome of the vote for the union.  The next time UAW tried to organize was with a smaller group of the skilled trades people.  That group voted for the union but management refused to recognize the it unless the entire plant voted for the union.  That may happen as another attempt is going to be made.  Just this last week, UAW filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to vote again for plant organization.

The sad part about the Volkswagen plant is the very people who are supposed to be representing ordinary Americans were the ones fighting against better wages for people and creating a workplace voice for them.  Volkswagen managers who were familiar with work councils were willing to establish one at their plant so both labor and management could work together to tackle the issues they faced.  They, like the companies on the Kansas City Fed website, knew the importance of  investing in workers.

Any  company, union or non-union,  knows providing worker voice helps them be successful.  As the policy analyst from the Boston Fed said when workplaces invest in workers they will see greater productivity, decreased turnover and an overall greater return for their profits.  The owner of one of the companies we have worked with says the same thing.  He’s been able to expand his business and also provides benefits back to the employees through such things as greater financial incentives and increased benefits.

Before we end, let’s reflect on life in America and how it relates to the Fed’s initiative.  More jobs are available with the increase of technology.  Skilled and unskilled workers alike are able to get a job.  Cities are constantly moving and evolving which helps to expand that job creation. It’s a land of equal opportunity as people come to seek refuge from political or religious persecution and escape poverty.  Other countries love to invest in the United States because the economy is strong and robust.  There are new media outlets that are very popular with people and that’s created its own competition.  While all of this sounds like life is wonderful,  there are some major underlying issues.  Those jobs that are employing so many people are those that don’t  pay very much or people have to work long hours and many days to pay bills and feed families.  Work environments have become less safe.  Workplace accidents are occurring more often.  Breaks are almost non-existent in some workplaces.  Business owners are unwilling to raise wages and fight off unions.  Wealthy individuals appear to be increasing their wealth and political unrest is taking place because of those who have and those who have not.

That description of life in America sounds a lot like America today doesn’t it? It’s not.  That was life in America before the 20th century during the so called Gilded Age and by 1895, there was a severe panic in the financial markets.  The financial system of the United States was about to collapse.  Luckily one person was able to come in to prop it up for a few years before another one occurred.

The question is, do we want that to happen again?  We saw what happened during the Great Recession in 2008.  Is history repeating itself?  Unlike 1895, we now have the Federal Reserve to watch over the economy and the Fed is saying it’s time to change.  Are we willing to change our ways and work together to avoid a repeat of history?

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Is There Adequate Worker Representation Today?

For the last couple of weeks, we have been blogging about the Federal Reserve project, Investing in America’s Workforce.  It’s an ongoing initiative to help improve the workplace issues impacting both employers and employees.  Some of the issues the project has been addressing include wage inequality, skills gap, and scheduling.    Last week we looked at workforce investment from the employer perspective.  This week we look at it from the employee perspective.

A few other groups have also partnered with the Fed to provide some valuable information regarding workforce investment.  One of the groups the Fed has partnered with is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management.  They conducted a study in conjunction with other groups and that study has provided some valuable information for the project.

The study was conducted in 2017 across the U. S. and surveyed a variety of different types of workers such as full-time, part-time, contracted workers and so on.  The survey asked questions about various workplace issues including worker voice.  When it came to having a voice on workforce investment topics such as compensation and benefits, training, job performance, promotions and job security, most of the workers said they had very little opportunity to give their opinions.  Those who conducted the study said automation and globalization contributed to the lack of voice because both of those factors had helped in the decline of unions which really is the cause for workers to lose a voice in the workplace.

The reduction of union representation has also created a significant decline in income since the 1970s.   Productivity may have been but it didn’t help workers.  Shareholders benefited more because corporations decided to provide for them instead.  This wasn’t just a U. S. problem.  It happened in many other countries, too. The only workers who saw a benefit were those in underdeveloped countries.  The loss of unions didn’t just affect workers in organized organizations but it hurt workers in non-organized facilities as well.  One study showed that non-union workers lost more than $3,000 over one year.  The ability to have a good job was lost.

Because unions have decreased in numbers, other non-union worker groups have formed to help workers have a voice with workplace issues.  The Kansas City Fed identified a couple of those organizations such as coworker.org or Direct Caregivers Coalition in New Mexico.  The MIT initiative also identified OUR Walmart or united4respect as a group formed to help Walmart workers.

A non-union group has stepped up to help to help a group of workers that excluded from union representation.  Domestic workers have not been allowed to join unions since labor laws were written in the 1930s because southern lawmakers feared what African-American domestic workers would do if they organized which is a very sad and unacceptable part of history.  Today, the group, The National Domestic Alliance, works with domestic workers to help them on their workplace issues.  These workers nannies, housekeepers, caregivers, cleaning people and others face many obstacles.  Without the ability to have a contract many of these workers have no job security.  Their employment is solely based on the whim of the employer. Thanks to National Domestic Alliance domestic workers now have opportunity to obtain benefits they were not able to get before and they have a Bill of Rights in several states to help with some issues such as wage theft, paid time off, and retaliation or harassment.  Although the National Domestic Alliance is listed as an allied group of AFL-CIO, they can’t organize them because of outdated labor laws. The AFL-CIO can only help raise awareness of their issues.

But there is a group who has been able to gain a voice through a union and they’re very happy about it.  This group is the people who fish for lobster for a living.  They were upset with the fishing industry and decided to talk to a union.  That union was International Association of Machinists, or IAM.  IAM had to figure out how they could best help them.  They didn’t want to turn them down but IAM had never represented a group like this so they had to learn about the fishing industry from the Maine lobster fishing group.  The fishing group is very happy they became IAM members because they now have representation to help with state legislation that can have an impact on their ability to maintain their jobs and make a living.

These are great examples of how workers have gained a voice to raise concerns and, in some cases, receive better benefits so they can improve their lives but, with the exception of IAM and the lobster fishing group, the groups who assist workers gain a voice are somewhat limited what they can do because, as the people at MIT pointed out, there is uncertainty on how those non-union groups can sustain themselves if they don’t have funding sources.

Unions, on the other hand, can do a lot more for work groups.  In one of the articles on the Boston Fed’s site, a union representative told how they organized a group of workers who were making minimum wage with no benefits but thanks to collective bargaining efforts the workers will make $20 per hour with full benefits in the near future.  That’s how unions can create a good job.  Not only can they provide a voice, they can negotiate wages and benefits.  Organized labor has the experience, the expertise and laws behind them to successfully help workers have a good job.

There’s no doubt unions need to look at new and different ways of doing things but they are such as IAM taking on a group that’s totally different than those they normally represent.  Unions are also looking at the automation and globalization issues and how can they better assist workers facing those issues.  Unions, too, are finding new ways to use technology to help them.  But it takes more than looking for new and different ways of doing things.  It also takes updated labor laws which the domestic workers would probably agree.

Most important for any employee is unions do make a difference for ALL workers not just with pay but with a voice.  When you watch labor and management groups work together on some of the most difficult issues, and that includes bargaining for wages and benefits, it becomes hard to understand those who look at unions as an enemy.  When you take away the titles and the labels that are created in the workplace, it comes down to most of us wanting the same things – job security, economic well being and a safe environment so we can home to our families when our work is done.

There’s a section in the Representation article on the Boston Fed site where an economist says unions have two faces.  One face is for worker voice which is good but the other face is viewed as the monopoly face where unions set higher wages than the competition allows and that’s bad he says.  Well, I have questions for him:  Does he want to make a livable wage?  What about executive pay that rose almost 20% in 2017 while average workers’ pay rose only .3%?  What about in 2017 the overall ratio of executive pay to worker pay was 312 to 1, and in 1965, before unions started to decrease in numbers, that same ratio was 20 to 1.  What about that?

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The Problem Isn’t Sooner or Later, It’s NOW!

Last week we blogged about the Fed’s series, Investing In America’s Workforce.  The issue of income inequality has reached a point where something has to be done.  The Federal Reserve has said if something isn’t done it will eventually hurt the overall economy.  Each of the 12 regions has focused on this issue, particularly about workforce investment, as it pertains to each of their locations and needs.   Some of them provide really good information such as the Boston and Kansas City regions that offer perspectives from the employer, employee, or both regarding the issue.  All, if not some of the regions continue to speak out about workforce needs because it is a critical time.  The Richmond Fed, for example, has an upcoming event, Renewing The Promise of the Middle Class, in May.

This week on the blog, we’re going to look at this issue from the employers who have made that investment but also address why some employers may not be able to do it and what needs to happen.

Before we learn about the employer’s viewpoint,  it’s important to establish a quality job that demonstrates what it means to invest in the workforce. The Fed calls that quality job a good job and the Boston Fed does an excellent job of defining it.  A policy analyst from the Boston Fed says their research about good jobs shows wage levels of an organization and the benefit structure that is available.  A good job also includes the environment of the workplace.  That includes scheduling which is something that affects a lot of low-wage workers so they know when they will work, or so they will have it ahead of time to make plans for financial and family needs.    Other items that can also be included are safe working conditions, no discrimination, and the ability to have a voice about  issues affecting them and the  workplace.  The analyst does say a good job can be different for different people but he focuses on the basics most people would say make a good job.

The Boston Fed policy analyst says he’s looked at research and it validates employers who invest in those types of good jobs receive a return on it, too, which is what we at CALMC have always said, everybody wins when there is a strong partnership between employers and employees.  The policy analyst explains a little more how employers actually gain by investing in good jobs.  Employers who provide better wages and benefits and create a great work environment will have increased sales and productivity plus lower turnover which only result in higher profits.

The Kansas City Fed highlighted two companies that actually did invest in those good jobs.  One company said they first look at the character of a potential new hire before determining if they have the skills for the job.  They are more concerned about a person being a good fit for their workplace and prefer to train people for the job instead of trying to find someone that already has the necessary skills.  The company provides good wages, benefits, and profit sharing that has provided more than $30,000 annually for each individual hourly employee.  They also provide educational assistance and assistance with financial planning because they understand  the financial concerns employees can have both in the present and future.  It’s important, the company rep said, people look at creating good jobs as an investment and not a cost.  It’s a basic philosophy that people need to have and they have found it works!

The other company was very similar to the first company in regards to wages and benefit structure.  This company makes use of apprenticeship programs and provides regular meetings for employees on the company’s financial status.  The president of the company said teams are empowered to make daily decisions and he advocates it does take some patience because developing teams is not something that can be done in the short-term but over time there are substantial payoffs.  He also says if an employer is interested in starting a worker voice or employee engagement environment it’s best to begin with an “open book” approach.  It helps employees understand the business of the organization.  They learn about profit, sales and quality as well as receiving the organization’s financial information.   The president agreed with the person from the other company and said it is a process that works and his company is doing quite well from it.

Many of the employers we, too, have worked with also see positive success when they invest in their  employees.  There can be a wide range of differences that can determine that success and it depends on the existing relationship and the environment both inside and outside the workplace.  Some have a first of just developing  regular communication while others are ready to problem solve on issues impacting the organization.   It’s important not to distinguish what may appear to be small success versus large success stories.  Sometimes those that appear to be small, such as learning to communicate with each other,  can be big wins for an organization.  It can help lead to working together on problems and that verifies the statement from the president in the Kansas City example when he said it’s not an overnight process.  It does take time and it has to be continuous.  It’s not a fad, it’s not a stop and start process.

We’ve blogged before about diesel repair shop on the south side of Columbus.  This is a non-union facility who had so many workplace accidents it was about to put them out of business.  The owner had tried just about everything when we started with him to develop a safety committee.  He decided it was time to make an investment like the examples from the Kansas City Fed and he is very happy he did.  That process began over 10 years ago but in that time the only accidents they have had are one this year and one last year and both were related to other things.  The business has expanded, profit sharing has been provided annually to employees and their benefit plan has also improved.  The owner says the process works because it’s the employees creating a safer workplace.

In a unionized environment, the employer saw tremendous success when they worked on scheduling issues with employees.  Customers were having difficulty getting their issues resolved because the workplace had a set schedule.  Employees wanted a more flexible schedule to help with family issues.  By working together they were able to extend customer service hours and resolve productivity problems as well as flex schedules so family issues could be resolved.  In addition, the employer saw an upcoming skills gap as the needs of the workplace were changing.  To help workers become more aware of the problem and to encourage them to update their skills, union leadership at the workplace organized an educational fair during work hours so employees could gather the information they would need on schools, financial assistance and other items that would help them develop their skills.  The union was also able to provide tuition assistance which also encouraged employees to upgrade their skills.  This helped the employer save on costs and maintain a consistent, knowledgeable workforce that would yield greater productivity, less turnover costs and be better able to service the needs of their customers in the present and the future.

But not all employers can invest in the workforce.  While these examples are great and many employers would like to do some of the same things from the examples, some of them face stiff competition all the time and that competition is driving down wages.  That immense pressure employers have from competition can determine their decision about workforce investment.  They have to face a real dilemma especially if they’re interested in doing the right thing.  Do they pay low-wages and no benefits or do they increase pay and benefits and risk shut down which could put people out of work altogether?

It also means we all have a decision to make.  Do we continue doing  the same thing we’ve always have done for the last 25 years or longer or do we start to make improvements?  For things to improve we may need more policy and regulation to help raise wages.  Are we willing for that to happen?  Or do we want to continue to see people struggle and use safety net programs as their benefit plans which eventually will cause the programs to suffer because they’re not designed to be benefit programs?  The choice is ours.  We must make a decision because it’s not sooner or later it will affect ALL of us, it’s affecting us NOW.

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