How to Plan for and Manage Success in a Labor Relations Environment. (Labor-Management Relations)

By Schumacher, Stephen E. | The Public Manager, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

How to Plan for and Manage Success in a Labor Relations Environment. (Labor-Management Relations)


Schumacher, Stephen E., The Public Manager


Traditional and nontraditional tools and techniques that federal labor relations practitioners-management and union reps alike-- believe are key to getting to yes.

There are certain elements (contributors) of an organization's labor relations program that increase opportunities for management to be successful in the planning, development, and management of the program. Contributors are of two types: well-defined and discernible program elements (objective contributors); and interpersonal or cultural attributes of a program (relationship contributors). The more contributors there are within a labor relations program, the greater the likelihood that the program will be successful.

Definition of a Successful Labor Relations Program

Out the outset, let me explain what is not meant by "success." Success does not mean that management always achieves its bargaining objectives. Nor does it mean that management has more third-party "wins" than the union. And it does not mean that there is an absence of grievances and third-party litigation. Nor does it mean that there is always an aura of collaboration on the premises.

From management's perspective, success is a deceptively simple proposition: a successful labor relations program is one in which management's goals and informed expectations are met through the use of traditional and nontraditional labor relations processes.

Noting that the term "management" includes representatives of management at all levels of the organization--from first-line supervisors to the head of the organization--can further refine this definition. The term also encompasses management representatives from such staff offices as human resources, general counsel, labor relations, and budget.

The phrase "informed expectations" means that management's labor relations objectives are realistic and reasonable--based on sound policy, genuine need, and a full understanding of labor relations practices and precedents.

"Labor relations processes" refer to the methods employed by management to achieve its objectives in a collective bargaining environment. More than one process is available. For example, management may follow a traditional union-management model where it places emphasis on its own institutional rights. Or management may prefer to rely upon the available legal processes in lieu of negotiations and compromise. Alternatively, in a collaborative environment, management and the union may employ forms of consultation and pre-decisional union involvement where they recognize and jointly try to accommodate each other's interests. The salient point, however, is that there is more than one labor relations process available to management (and the union) as it strives to obtain management's goals and informed expectations within a collective bargaining environment.

A successful labor relations program is one in which management's goals and informed expectations are met through the use of traditional and nontraditional labor relations processes.

Contributors to Success

The success of a labor relations program is dependent upon an array of contributors, which fall into two categories: those that are well-defined and clearly discernible elements of a program (objective contributors) and those that manifest interpersonal or cultural attributes of a program (relationship contributors).

No single contributor, or group of contributors, will assure a successful labor relations program. But--and this is the most important point--the more contributors there are within a program, the greater the likelihood that management's objectives will be met through the use of labor relations processes. A second important point is that management determines the number and kinds of contributors to include within a labor relations program.

Objective Contributors

As noted above, objective contributors are elements of an organization's labor relations program that are well defined and clearly discernible. …

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