Throughout the United States, new, cooperative partnerships are emerging between organized labor and management. Rooted primarily in economic imperative, the methods of achieving such partnerships are variable and the results, diverse. Clearly, not all efforts at labor/management cooperation have achieved the desired success. The missing link? Effective partnership skills. To work together to develop a workforce and a work environment prepared to meet the challenges of the year 2000 and beyond, labor and management must be equipped with effective partnership skills.
Why are leaders of management and labor across the United States moving toward partnership and cooperation in their approach to working with each other? What external changes mandate that organizations find new ways to ensure survival and prosperity? As one union leader explained in Management Review, "If we don't take this on now, we're not being effective, and we can't represent our people, or identify with the changes they're seeing. It's very easy to keep our old perspectives, and think that everything will stay the same as it was for 30 years. But it is guaranteed that things will not stay the same for the next 30 years."
In many industries the change in the relationship between labor and management has been so massive that the emerging cooperation is understandable. What is happening is not a mystery--it is competition at work. Businesses today face greater competitive pressures than at any time in this century--certainly any time since the 1930s and '40s when the framework of our present labor/management relations system was constructed.
Increasingly, case studies show that cooperation between labor and management is critical to the survival of both companies and unions. The desire to survive seems to be the catalyst for cooperation and participation efforts. According to one United Auto Workers union local president quoted in U.S. News & World Report, "Job security is the only game in town. Team concept is a matter of survival."
Wherever partnership, involvement, or cooperative efforts have succeeded, labor and management recognize that to prosper in a changing, increasingly competitive environment they need to change the way people relate to one another. Labor and management professionals are realizing that cooperative labor systems are more productive than adversarial ones, that worker involvement increases productivity and morale, and that job breadth and versatility can be good for both employer and employee. The external forces that produce change in the business environment precipitate change in the relationships between labor and management. With a joint effort, the chances for prosperity are multiplied.
What is labor/management
Labor/management cooperation is a set of principles that embraces basic values. It is a philosophy that values people as the most important resource in the organization, a philosophy that all people should be treated with dignity and respect, a philosophy that believes employees are responsible, trustworthy, and capable of making valuable contributions.
Labor/management cooperation encompasses a variety of involvement and participation efforts, including specific programs such as employee involvement, quality of work life, autonomous work teams, quality circles, labor/management participation teams, and team concepts. Such programs systematically involve workers in aspects of problem solving on issues affecting their jobs. Shop-floor meetings and discussion groups are typical participative activities, and many involve workers in varying degrees in day-to-day decision making.
One fundamental ingredient of a successful partnership program is a commitment to the philosophy of cooperation by both labor and management. …