2013 List of Best & Worst in Labor-Management Relations highlights best practices & what not to do

Pulling together our just-released “2013 Best & Worst of Labor-Management Relations List” proved to be an enlightening exercise in reflection on the core attributes that separate inspiring success stories from failures fraught with negative outcomes and painful repercussions.

While our picks for “bests” in 2013 represent a diverse group – a railroad, a federal agency, and a variety of healthcare providers and the unions representing their employees – all share critical similarities. Chief among these is that the leaders at the helm of these organizations embraced alternative approaches, actively sought out ways to buck the status quo in favor of finding greater common ground as the basis for win-win outcomes, and worked together with labor on creative solutions in the face of seemingly daunting challenges. All were able to see the big picture and recognize that a balanced give-and-take approach creates opportunities for realizing greater organizational outcomes in the long-term better interest of the enterprise and all of its stakeholders.

In the spirit of starting the new year on a positive note, let’s focus on how our bests illustrate the power of labor-management collaboration.

In late October, CSX Transportation and its four unions (Transportation Communications Union’s Carmen Division, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), and the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers) signed what the parties heralded as “a landmark agreement” at the Huntington (West Virginia) Locomotive Shop.

In a company press release, the firm’s vice president of labor relations referred to it as an “innovative contract” that is a “true win-win agreement that provides the right incentives for improved worker flexibility and the ability to drive significant improvements in quality, production and efficiency." News reports also quote Jeff Doerr, president and directing general chairman of the IAM, District 19, who noted, “This historic agreement proves that by working efficiently, railroad unions can compete with outside contractors even at higher rates of pay with superior benefits." The contract also guarantees job security for the four-year term of the agreement.

This landmark effort made the 2013 Labor-Management Relations “Best” List because it is innovative and it required visionary leadership on the part of union and management officials. Further, the agreement represents a willingness on the part of all the parties to address “sacred cows” with management agreeing to guarantee job security and unions agreeing to enable members to perform all assigned work without regard to craft or union affiliation, with the current ratio of members of each union being preserved. This agreement is a stellar example of labor and management each achieving their individual core interests and the all-important shared interest of making the facility successful for the long-term.

We put the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its two largest unions, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) union on our “Best” list for their work building a sustainable culture of collaboration that gives it “Most Improved” status on many fronts:
• levels of employee satisfaction moved from nearly rock bottom four years ago to the top third in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey
• drastic reductions in numbers of, and costs associated with, arbitrations and grievances
• dramatic increases in the numbers of initiatives sponsored jointly by labor and management leaders, and levels of participation from the workforce in safety, technological, procedural and airspace-related improvement projects.

Cathy Wright can be reached at c.wright@orginc.com. She is a member of the consulting consortium at Overland Resource Group, which for 30 years has been enabling labor and management leaders to work together to achieve operational and work life improvements.  Based in Overland Park, KS, the firm’s clients have included The Boeing Company, Ford Motor Company, Borg Warner Automotive and the United Auto Workers; Cessna Aircraft Company and the International Association of Machinists; Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, International Steel Group, Northern Indiana Public Service Company and the United Steel Workers of America; Payless ShoeSource and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; R.T. French Company and the United Food & Commercial Workers of America; and many others. Learn more at www.orginc.com.

And perhaps most importantly, we included the FAA, PASS, and NATCA because of the truly transformative nature of their progress, moving from what many would have heralded as the worst labor-management environment four years ago to what today is routinely heralded as a best practice in labor-management collaboration. Read more about it here.

The last of our “Best” picks comes from the healthcare sector, which perhaps, more than any other, found itself under fire in 2013 with the tremendous uncertainties wrought by the Affordable Care Act. And that fact alone is why, in large part, we laud Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199 and management teams from the Greater New York Hospital Association, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and The Care Management Company of Montefiore Medical Center, among others. Instead of focusing on the myriad unknowns foisted upon hospitals, healthcare systems and their employees, the labor and management leaders in these examples worked together to attack problems core to improving patient care, including infection prevention, recruitment and retention of highly skilled healthcare workers, and the improvement of operational results. We commend these leaders who were able to maintain laser-sharp focus on their missions and to create positive outcomes in spite of challenges and uncertainties.

Our intent with the 2013 Best and Worst in Labor-Management Relations List was to shine a light on positive examples of union-management collaboration and also to offer up opportunities for learning from situations that didn’t turn out so well. If you’d like to share your picks for 2013’s Best and Worst in L-M Relations, visit our LinkedIn discussion group, Labor-Management: Conflict to Collaboration.

From all of us at Overland Resource Group, please accept our best wishes for a safe and happy new year.  We look forward to seeing and sharing many more examples of collaboration, employee engagement, and operational improvement in 2014. And here's hoping the "bests" will far outnumber the "worsts" on next year's list!

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