Labor-Management Relations: Conditions for Collaboration

By Rubin, Barry; Rubin, Richard | Public Personnel Management, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Labor-Management Relations: Conditions for Collaboration


Rubin, Barry, Rubin, Richard, Public Personnel Management


The city of Indianapolis has received significant attention for its efforts in reinventing the delivery of many urban services. It has developed a system of municipal operations that is the envy of many other cities, both in the United States and abroad. Initially driven by the privatization efforts of former Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, a unique partnership has evolved between labor and management, encouraging cooperation and competition between city departments and their represented employees with private contractors. Because of the city's approach to organizational reform, the massive shift to the private sector for the delivery of city services threatened in Goldsmith's mayoral campaign never materialized.

While the city's success in improving the delivery of municipal services is known anecdotally throughout the United States and many other countries, little validation of this success exists. Moreover, research that has been conducted has addressed only limited aspects of the city's efforts, has been done by organizations with a vested interest in the outcome of the analysis, or has failed to connect inputs to outcomes. Thus, the reasons behind the city's success are not immediately obvious. Perhaps most importantly, the methods used to achieve successful reinvention of municipal service delivery in Indianapolis have not been fully documented to allow replication by other communities throughout the U.S. or the world.

Historically, collective bargaining generally has not been adequate to address emerging issues that require cooperation rather than adversarial approaches. Many of the existing responsibilities of local government and especially those resulting from the recent devolution of federal responsibility to states and municipalities fall into these categories. Quality enhancement, improved cost-effectiveness of service delivery, customer relations, neighborhood development and welfare reform are just a few examples that require the cooperation of both municipal officials and labor leaders to work collaboratively. This need for cooperation is especially important in the public sector where, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unions currently represent 45.8 percent of local government workers in dramatic contrast to the 8.5 percent of union-represented private sector workers. (1)

Implementation of collaborative managementaea joint process where both employees and their employer share in decision-makingae has become a major topic of discussion among organizational reformers. Organization management theorists have documented that collaborative management improves labor-management relations in the public sector. When designed and implemented effectively, collaborative strategies satisfy both organizational and individual needs and build lasting relationships between managers and employees.

Despite the currency of such collaborative efforts, little is understood about how such collaboration works. Research has failed to reveal those factors that determine successful collaboration or induce the establishment of cooperative arrangements. The failure to consider the collective bargaining relationship already established between labor and management has been a major deficiency in the research on collaboration, especially since labor unions are likely to have a significant role in determining the initiation and outcomes of organizational improvement programs. Consideration of the preexisting labor-management relationship must be a fundamental component of research investigating organizational reform and collaboration.

This research utilizes a conceptual model for collaborative management in the public sector that is premised on the traditional labor-management process of collective bargaining and identifies the correlates of successful collaboration. (2) Using this model, the city of Indianapolis serves as a case study for the implementation of collaborative management.

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