Managing Crosscutting Labor Relations Issues: What, Who, and Why? Keys to Success in Dealing with Multiple Constituencies and Multiple Union-Management Relationships at the Federal Level. (Labor-Management Relations)

By Canning, Gordon T.,, III | The Public Manager, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Managing Crosscutting Labor Relations Issues: What, Who, and Why? Keys to Success in Dealing with Multiple Constituencies and Multiple Union-Management Relationships at the Federal Level. (Labor-Management Relations)


Canning, Gordon T.,, III, The Public Manager


Providing the tools needed for effective decision making in rapidly changing environments is a continuing challenge for labor relations practitioners and requires navigating through managerial decision making, collective bargaining, and labor-management partnerships. Here, we attempt to address the role that labor relations practitioners can and should play in bringing about change and to identify approaches that have proven successful in their dealings with multiple constituencies and multiple union-management relationships.

Type of Relationship: No "One Size Fits All"

Approaches to collective bargaining vary greatly among agencies and, in the case of larger agencies, within those agencies. Certainly, the mission of the agency influences the nature of the bargaining relationships. Agencies with relatively homogeneous missions often have large consolidated bargaining units with recognition at the agency headquarters level. In contrast, organizations with more heterogeneous mission requirements are often faced with bargaining units organized along functional lines with recognition at various organizational levels. A particular field location may have multiple bargaining units representing various specialized segments of the activity. For example, the Department of Defense (DOD) has approximately 1,700 bargaining units with recognitions at many different organizational levels. Negotiating personnel policies or programs for DOD with such a large number of bargaining units requires an approach different from what might be appropriate for a single bargaining unit with representa tion at the agency level.

Similarly, in the Department of Transportation, where there are multiple bargaining units with national recognition and a broader than usual scope of bargaining (e.g., the parties negotiate pay in some instances), an approach that is responsive to that unique collective bargaining relationship may be required.

The influences of organizational structure, mission, culture, and union-management relationships are complicated by contracting out, privatization, reorganizations, downsizing, etc. These complicating factors are typically imposed by external forces, accompanied by short timelines, and seldom consider either relationship issues or the time and effort required to engage unions in pre-decisional discussions. Typically, much stress is placed on management and/or the union, with managers addressing operational realities and unions addressing employee security.

Labor Relations Competencies

While there is a clear need for in-depth knowledge of, and skill in applying, the technical requirements of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, an agency labor relations program must be managed by practitioners who also possess a wide range of nontraditional labor relations skills. Depending on the organizational structure, the level or levels of exclusive recognition, and the culture of the organization, the placement and concentration of these skills or competencies may vary. For example, in very small organizations it may be necessary for the labor relations practitioner to have a wide array of competencies while in larger organizations it may be possible and, indeed, more practical to specialize by spreading the competency requirements among several practitioners. In this regard, some complex organizations are beginning to look closely at labor relations "tracks" where labor relations practitioners specialize in such fields as collective bargaining, contract administration, dispute res olution, and so forth.

One illustration of multiple competency requirements is where labor relations practitioners must serve as facilitators, capable of bringing together a management team to reach consensus on how best to deal with union issues and then bringing management and union representatives together in a meaningful and productive manner. …

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Managing Crosscutting Labor Relations Issues: What, Who, and Why? Keys to Success in Dealing with Multiple Constituencies and Multiple Union-Management Relationships at the Federal Level. (Labor-Management Relations)
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