Company Officer Leadership: Labor-Management Relations – Building Our Teams

Labor and management. Two groups of people who don’t always agree, but must come together to meet the overall goals and mission of the organization.

How do you view labor and management?

Are they a unified team, working towards common goals? Are they two different teams, working independently?

How should they communicate? Should management involve labor in their planning and strategy? To what extent?

All of these questions, and many others, are what challenge organizations and threaten their ability to achieve their goals and meet the mission. Unified labor-management teams can make for an enjoyable atmosphere for the employees and improve productivity and efficiency.

Many people compare the labor-management relationship to that of parent and child. Challenging, dysfunctional at times, but necessary to the overall success. So how do we get there?

Most organizations have an employee or personnel board. This group may be formally or informally organized; it may or may not be recognized by leadership and government.

Some agencies have a mandatory contract-negotiation process between management and union representatives. This process results in a contract that usually lasts for 2-4 years and is then revisited.

Tensions can rise and conflict can erupt during a contract year, often spilling over into the headlines of the local newspaper or evening news. Management must recognize and foster the team approach to avoid a bloody mess and having their dirty laundry aired for the entire community to see.

There are many ways we can work together, depending on the set-up and type of organizations we’re involved with. Overall, the goal should be the same: to be united for a common goal.

This process can’t happen just during the budget crunch or during contract years. It must be done throughout the years and on many different levels.

Much of the labor-management work is done behind the scenes. Meetings between the chief’s office and labor representatives, contract negotiations with government leaders and volunteer meetings are just a few examples. These are those things that must occur, the times we all dread and put off, but that are vital to a successful working relationship of the team.

However, more important to our successful relationships are the events and programs that have a direct, outward impact on our communities.

Rolling out programs jointly, such as the MDA’s Fill the Boot Campaign, community paramedicine programs and smoke-detector and fire-prevention initiatives, provides excellent team building as well as opportunities to spread the joint message to our community members.

Working together to develop and institute these programs will foster relationship building, trust and teamwork that will aid us during labor-management negotiations. Presenting our shared goals to the community instead of attacking the problems as two separate entities will help to solidify the message.

Management must take seriously the information and contributions of the labor force. Providing operational and budgetary information to the leadership of the labor force, remaining open-minded and having an understanding that morale, work ethic and enthusiasm are all impacted by these negotiations and decisions will help to maintain the organization’s health.

Labor and management must get along. It’s like the brother or sister you never liked, then grew to love. The parents you couldn’t stand as a teenager, then moved back home to live near after you graduated college.

We need to understand that it’s a two-way street and we must work together for the safety and survivability of the workforce, organizations and communities we serve. Frank discussion, openness, trust and honesty must be carried out on both sides of the table.

Remember, labor can’t exist without management and management is not needed without the labor force.


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