Labor Management Meetings:  Friend or Foe?

By:  Yvonne Trevino, Attorney

Union and management working together to improve how their organization works. Does it work?  Good question.

Labor management partnerships have been discussed and analyzed for well over the past 20 years.  Former U.S Secretary of Labor Robert Reich had created a task force analyzing public sector partnerships.   He released reports stating “the task force was unanimous in the view that public workplaces must change from traditional ways of doing business and move towards workplace cooperation, participation and quality improvement.”  It was determined that labor management committees can provide a useful strategy for representing union members when critical issues arise.  This relationship between management and unions has been proven to have a substantial impact on addressing departmental inefficiencies, proactively deal with policy changes, focusing on possible employee morale issues and economic factors.

There are a few things to keep in mind when conducting or participating in a labor management meeting.  First, create an agenda with the matter(s) to be discussed.  Presenting an agenda also allows those participating an opportunity to prepare and bring relevant information pertaining to the agenda items to the meeting.  Follow the agenda with flexibility as something new may arise worth talking about.  Secondly, actively listen to the person speaking and come prepared with ideas or possible solutions. How many times do you hear people say “things will never change around here?” or “they will never do that.”  Well, they can change and it takes the membership to step up and let their voices be heard.  Some of the biggest problems in departments is that no one wants to step forward and become involved.  To sit back and remain uninvolved only perpetuates the situation and usually makes things worse.  Next, the committee should take notes or have a designated person to jot down what was discussed.  Be sure to review the notes or minutes of the meeting with those who participated before they are shared with the membership.  Lastly, avoid personal attacks or individual issues.  Set aside personal differences or agendas and focus on the union as a group.

As we know, the union can have great intentions for a labor management meeting but what is the downside? Unfortunately, it can be a way for management to listen without doing much of anything.  It could simply tie up the issues in endless discussion and negotiations.

So, how do you try and avoid this from happening? Labor management meetings should be approached with a “bargaining” approach.  We all (or at least we should) approach contract negotiations with the mindset of “give and take.”  The management and the union positions can be quite distinct and that cannot be forgotten. Again, union representatives should be mindful of the union membership as a whole – not particular individuals with their separate wants or needs.

With that being said – who or what type of person should represent the union in these meetings?  Much will depend on the dynamics of your individual group and varying personalities.  Perhaps someone who has successfully participated in contract bargaining in the past or who is familiar with the history within the department.  Who better to size up the other side than someone who understands the past players and issues? Someone who is skilled or capable of utilizing problem solving techniques to actively engage with management.   To have successful dialogue there needs to be an open line of communication and willingness to share thoughts and ideas.

In the end – labor management meetings can be a great opportunity to resolve issues within your department, thus making a better environment for all.