2014 was a year of stark contrasts in labor-management relations between organizations like Ford Motor Company that modeled the spirit of partnership in working to create jobs, and IKEA, whose spike in U.S. popularity is not catching on with international labor groups that represent workers who were locked-out in battles over concessionary contracts.
Researching candidates for the just-released 2014 List of Best & Worst in Labor-Management Relations, led me to see vast differences in approaches utilized by corporations, unions and federal agencies, with some focusing on progress and sustainability of their collaborative efforts, and others plowing the familiar and unfertile ground of conflict, acrimony and lose-lose propositions.
In addition to Ford, Overland Resource Group’s picks for Best included Alabama Power Company and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the Federal Aviation Administration, National Air Traffic Controllers Association and Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union; and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. Joining IKEA and its international unions on our list of Worsts was the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union. We determine our picks based on several criteria, which include: achieving measureable results versus negative impacts; modeling innovation or exemplifying antiquated approaches; sustaining partnership or stifling success; and demonstrating leadership vision (or lack thereof). Read a full description of those who made this year’s list here.
Those cited as Best provide excellent examples of organizations that have figured out how to find common ground, delivering positive results for the enterprise, for the employees and for the unions who represent them, while the Worsts illuminate the disastrous effects of adhering to age-old conflict and failing to explore new approaches.
There is also great promise reflected in Overland’s picks for The Jury is Still Out category. These include:
- The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TN, which is experimenting with unique avenues for employees to exercise their collective voice through “micro-unions”—some affiliated with legacy labor unions and some not;
- New rulings that may mean independent contractors could be eligible for protection under federal labor law and collective bargaining options, and;
- Increasingly organized campaigns among low-wage workers, and louder calls for upping the minimum wage, that are spawning a variety of non-traditional approaches and affiliations, even within legacy unions.
While it is too early to tell how these will turn out, we are sure from our 30 years of labor-management consulting that experiments of this kind form the very foundation that enables leaders to find win-win outcomes. Our wish for 2015 is that more leaders will step into this fray and exhibit the courage required to forge the kind of bold new paths that lead to unexpected and often unprecedented results.
Robert Hughes is president of Overland Resource Group, a 30-year-old firm specializing in helping its clients achieve operational improvement through employee engagement and labor-management collaboration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.