The Death and Life of the Labor-Management Partnership

By Hyde, A. C.; Joyce, Mary Ellen | The Public Manager, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

The Death and Life of the Labor-Management Partnership


Hyde, A. C., Joyce, Mary Ellen, The Public Manager


A series of reviews, notes, comments, ideas, and references for public sector professionals trying to keep pace with the accelerating rate of change in the information-technological-management environment.

On February 17, President Bush issued Executive Order 13203, succinctly revoking all aspects of the Clinton administration's eight-year experiment with labor-management partnerships for federal agencies. Interestingly, on the one hand, the order required the director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to "rescind any orders, rules, regulations, guidelines, and or policies implementing" partnerships, and on the other, stated "nothing in this order shall abrogate any collective bargaining agreement in effect on the date of this order." In effect, you can't call it partnership, but if you have partnership as an element of an agency's current bargaining agreement, it stands.

OPM then responded on March 1 with a masterful one-page memorandum to federal agency heads entitled "Guidance for Implementing Execu tive Order 13203." The guidance rescinds all previous memoranda on federal partnerships and reminds agencies of their obligation "to thoroughly review their own orders, rules, and regulations, guidelines, and policies to ensure compliance" with the Bush administration's new executive order. The heart of OPM's true guidance is that "The order (E.O. 13203) does not prescribe any particular approach to labor-management relations. Agencies have discretion to adopt a labor relations strategy best suited to their own needs."

Why the Switch?

As refreshing and rare as such bureaucratic candor may be, there are still two interesting questions: why and what next? Speculation about the why runs the full gamut. There is the political imperative, i.e., that the Bush administration wanted to signal very clearly its displeasure over the union support for the Democratic ticket in the fall 2000 campaign. Another factor is the strategic view, i.e., that the Bush administration is aiming to pursue more contracting, privatization, and competitive government in its management reform plans and does not want to negotiate any of these goals from the position of being a "partner." And there is even the philosophical ground, i.e., that the Bush administration sees public administration in a purely executive context, accepting its responsibility to "work with" unions (or with the Congress for that matter), but rejecting any dilution of its managerial role or authority.

Politics aside, the more interesting question is what next? As agencies pursue strategies best suited to their own needs, unions will surely react once the contours of the Bush adminitration's human resource management strategy are more apparent. After all, as of this writing, we're still not at 100 days into the Bush era. In the spirit of strategy development (something this section of The Public Manager has devoted considerable space and attention to in recent issues), Views would like to offer up four possible scenarios for the future of the nonpartnership era of labor management relations.

Scenario 1: Strategic Labor Management Cooperation. Partnership as a name disappears, but the practice of collaboration and labor management cooperation continues. There is some increase in grievances and legal charges to set up boundaries on some issues, but management practices a new extensive form of "proactive consultation" in exchange for maintaining the union's interest and role in sustaining the size, shape, and development of the federal public service.

Scenario 2: "Managerial Unionism." Through the threat of contracting and privatization in many agencies, management effectively co-opts unions by creating a two-tier employee system. A smaller number of more highly graded public employees receive higher salaries and benefits for their "overseer role" in managing more contractors, temporary employees, retired annuitants/consultants, and external service suppliers. …

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