Teamwork in Labor Relations

Article excerpt

The trouble with labor unions in our country is systemic, not just a problem with or for the unions. When it comes to the state of the labor movement or almost any other aspect of American business, major forces are contributing to the problem - federal government, state governments, employers and unions.

The soundest long-term solution w will come through collaboration in planning and managing the necessary changes. To prepare for that massive cultural shift to cooperation, each party needs to focus on the mutual, long-term goal of stability and competitiveness for our country's work force. We need better laws to support the future of the American worker and workplace.

Both labor and management need to seek and elevate leadership not only capable of this collaborative thinking - but also driven by its empowering potential.

Labor unions are in turmoil over internal leadership. Some union members want to backpedal to the past with tough, adversarial, powerful men and women at the helm. Those members believe they can win back the losses of the last decade with the traditional approach.

Meanwhile, a powerful alternative is being considered. The leaders of this movement want to work in collaboration with employers to involve and thus strengthen union work forces. This movement represents a shift away from coercive power toward power based on expertise and relationships.

The new, more collaborative union leaders can see the big picture of American work and are mindful of the powerful global economy. They understand the forces of economics, finance, markets and personnel. They also acknowledge that often their labor unions have been remiss in minding their businesses in terms of clear mission, fiscal practices, communication and member service.

Historically, unions devoted massive resources to 5 percent of the members who were constantly in trouble and ignored 95 percent who kept businesses running. That sturdy 95 percent became victims of a punitive, high-control "over-management" system and of their unions, which catered to the squeaky wheels.

The future of unions and of their employers is in the 95 percent. Unions can build bridges to full employment and a good standard of living by taking responsibility for their future. …