Let Labor, Boss Cooperate, Clinton Commission Says Panel Says Workplace Is Far Too Adversarial for Good of US Economy

Article excerpt

CALLING for historic reform in the United States workplace, a presidential panel yesterday proposed ways to reverse the long adversarial tradition in labor relations.

It also recommended new laws making it easier for workers to organize unions.

The Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations urges the Clinton administration to update antiquated labor laws and promote a cooperative spirit in industrial relations. Such reforms would create a fairer, more productive workplace, it says.

The panel, consisting of scholars, executives, former secretaries of the departments of labor and commerce, and other experts, calls on the government to help solve labor disputes prior to litigation and remove legal barriers to cooperative "participation programs" that aim to bring management and workers together in solving US company problems. It also advocates efforts to simplify federal regulations that inhibit swift resolution of labor disputes.

"The workplaces that we have inherited are far too adversarial in tone and substance for the good of the American economy," the report states.

"An increasing number of employers and unions have found that the best way to compete in the marketplace and secure both profits for the firm and good jobs for workers is through cooperative worker-management relations," the commission says. The panel, established in May 1993, is chaired by former Labor Secretary John Dunlop.

The Dunlop commission details the shortcomings in industrial relations and the goals for reform, but it leaves to the government the question of how to reach the most important goals.

Most notably, the commission only vaguely suggests how to reduce potentially explosive inequalities in income among working Americans. Moreover, it does not recommend ways to curtail the severe decline in membership of unions, which some consider vital for ensuring fair wages and decent treatment for workers.

"The Dunlop Commission gave up on trying to revive unionism. That was their initial goal and that was what {Secretary} Reich appointed {it} for," says Leo Troy, a professor of economics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Still, the commission seeks to bring labor practices and laws in line with several sweeping changes in the US economy and workplace in recent decades:

* There has been unprecedented growth in the employment of part-time, temporary, and other contingent workers. …