LMI Guiding Principles: Promoting Cooperation Between Labor and Management

In 2008, Steve Westermann, president of the IAFC, and Harold Schaitberger, general president of the IAFF, signed the IAFC/IAFF Labor-Management Initiative Guiding Principles. This simple document establishes the foundation of the program, whose goal is to promote cooperation for the enhancement of the fire and emergency service.

The five principles were developed jointly by the two organizations with the understanding that labor and management must put forth constant and continuous effort to adhere to these values.

Principle 1 – Recognize that labor and management have a mutual goal of ensuring the wellbeing and safety of fire/EMS personnel and providing high-quality service to the public.

The first principle lays the foundation, clearly stating that both labor and management have the same basic goals: to ensure the wellbeing and safety of personnel and to deliver high-quality service to the community.

Occasionally, events will potentially distract from this goal, but no one in the fire service disputes that departments exist to provide the best possible service to their community members. To do so, the organization needs quality people, working in an environment that promotes this level of service. Clearly, the safety and wellbeing of the membership is essential.

Principle 2 – Work together to improve communications, enhance training, increase participative decision-making and promote a labor-management relationship based upon mutual trust, respect and understanding.

The need for better communication and training and more-participative decision making is a very basic premise and critical in establishing any relationship in someone's professional life. Organizations can't hope to become great if they don't also embrace these concepts.

These concepts play directly back to the first principle of delivering quality service to the community. There are various ways to begin and sustain: regular meetings, a commitment to training and implementation of specific committees to permit more involvement are a few simple things to consider.

Principle 3 – Create labor-management partnerships by forming labor-management committees at appropriate levels or adapting, as necessary, existing councils or committees if such groups exist.

This seems like an obvious idea to improve communications, but in organizations that don't currently have such a committee, both labor and management leadership will be essential in establishing a functioning committee.

If such a group already exists, an evaluation should be conducted to ascertain its effectiveness and its need to adapt. The relationship must be consensual and meaningful; there has to be total commitment to making this work and there must be a good start to the program.

Principle 4 – Provide systemic training to labor and management leaders on collaborative methods of dispute resolution, recognizing that this process allows management and union leaders to identify problems and craft solutions to better serve their members and the public.

There's no denying there will be disagreements between labor and management at some points; this doesn't mean the principles can be dismissed at the first sign of discontent. Each party must recognize there'll be differences in opinions and commit to resolving those differences, not quitting at the first sign of a problem.

To be better prepared to address differences, both labor and management should be trained in collaborative dispute resolution. These skills can be learned and improved upon. With training, participants can identify problems and develop solutions. The result can be beneficial to both the public being served and the membership of the organization.

Principle 5 – Promote these principles to our respective members at all levels of both organizations.

One of the first issues identified in the LMI program was the need to generate full participation of the organization. The fifth principle stipulates that everyone in both labor and management must promote the principles to realize the benefits of better labor-management relations.

There are many examples of departments where the fire chief and union president come to an agreement to promote cooperation, not confrontation. The benefits of doing this greatly improve if the entire management team of the organization and the leadership of the union are part of the process.

Cases can be cited where department staff officers (such as deputies and assistants) and union board members have acted to undermine the foundation of work done to create a strong bond. This emphasizes the need to be very inclusive of all the leadership, both labor and management, in the process and buy-in of the principles.

While the IAFC/IAFF Labor-Management Initiative Guiding Principles are simple, their importance has been reinforced in the cosigning of the document by the presidents of both organizations. The broad perspective and experience of these leaders led them to believe that the profession can only move forward through cooperation.

This isn't to be taken lightly, as this statement of guiding principles by both organizations demonstrates that through dialogue, differences can be resolved and progress can be made. There's no question that the economic challenges present in today's world require the entire organization to work together.

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