Labor-Management Initiative: The Assets of the Labor-Management Relationship

In A Fire Service Wish List from the IAFC Board of Directors (IAFC On Scene, December 2011), the IAFC shared a fire service wish list for 2012, compiled with the input of IAFC board members. I thought the list was a great guide for discussing Labor-Management Initiative (LMI) principles. Who could argue that "the gift of common sense" isn't the most obvious and at times, one could argue, the least easily reached!

Have you ever wondered what that other department is doing that has them on a successful trajectory? In 99% of departments considered successful, I would submit that their labor-management relationships contain the fundamental assets needed to effectively and efficiently work together. Asset, for the sake of this discussion, would be defined as a thing of value or something useful, not as property or a balance-sheet item. Good health is an example of this kind of asset.

Be Open-minded – The most important asset is the willingness to be open-minded. In the arena of labor-management relations, there are many barriers that can exist to successful relationships. An open mind is the most fundamental asset because without the readiness it provides, little possibility is present.

Perceiving the way things can be, rather than how they are, will be an advantage for everyone involved. Some may refer to this as vision, but you don't have to be a visionary to have an open mind.

See from Others' Points of Views – Along with open-mindedness is the notion of walking in the other person's shoes—taking a look at your relationship from someone else's perspective.

In the 1962 movie To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells his daughter, "If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."

This was great advice then; it still is today and will be tomorrow.

Trust Each Other – Once we gain open-mindedness and understanding, then we must be able to trust each other. Without trust, we have no reference to rely on about what may happen in the future.

Each of us in the fire and emergency service has been afforded the opportunity to serve our constituency. We must behave responsibly and honorably—it's expected and it's required to have any level of success in the relationship. Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu said, "He who does not trust enough, will not be trusted."

Commit to Honesty – We must cross the bridge and commit to an honest dialogue. It's not easy for any partner in the room to lay down their arms and feel vulnerable. Many of our peers will critique and Monday-morning quarterback our actions, but honest communication is essential to the success of our objective of building a more respectful relationship.

As with any discipline in the fire and emergency service, there are many ways to obtain similar outcomes. I would challenge anyone who doesn't believe a fire department that presents a unified front is superior to one that doesn't. Talk to the leaders of the departments that successful trajectory; there are common threads and all the departments I'm aware of will be happy to guide you toward that Promised Land!

Kelly Fox is a lieutenant with the Olympia (Wash.) Fire Department and has been president of the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters since 1996. He's a facilitator for the IAFC/IAFF Labor-Management Initiative.

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