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Labor-management relations are the policies and practices affecting the relationship between employees and employers. These policies include such areas as compensation, employment security, collective bargaining, job safety, training, health insurance, and pensions. In addition, labor-management relations encompasses the relationship between an organization's employer and employees, a relationship that may vary anywhere from a traditional one to one that promotes employee involvement as a method of problem solving.
Labor-management relations are heavily regulated in the areas of hiring, wages, and pensions. However, the relationship existing between labor and management in a workplace is completely unregulated.
Small and mid-sized companies need information and services on the changing relationship between labor and management. Companies' demand for this information is just beginning, and will be increasing over time. As companies adopt new technologies, they find it difficult to fit these new technologies and new ways of doing work into a very inflexible work structure. Whether companies are union or nonunion, strict supervision structures, departmentalized responsibilities, and restrictive job titles tied into rigid compensation systems can impede their flexibility.
At present, there are few mechanisms for communicating and disseminating information on labor-management issues. There is a network of nearly one hundred area labor-management committees, with limited funding, that are offering services in their communities. There are also some community colleges offering services. Some states, such as Minnesota, have mediation departments that offer services.
States that have economic development or technology programs are slowly beginning to look at addressing employment practices as part of their efforts to help existing companies upgrade their technologies. Labor and management are beginning to realize that putting money into capital expansion and new technology is going to be less effective if there is a bad relationship or a lack of cooperation between the employer and employees.
As in any situation where supply and demand are in flux, there are many people with questionable skills who have set themselves up as labor-management consultants and experts. Unfortunately, these unskilled consultants have left some companies with only "part one" of the game plan the companies need. These companies have come to realize that the organizations they hired to assist them did not fully understand the uniqueness of their situations. Many times, this has caused more problems than if the company had done nothing at all. We must ensure that services provided in the labor-management relations field meet a certain standard of quality if we are to successfully serve employers and employees.
PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
Workshops and training sessions offered by various consultants are the primary means of providing information on employee involvement and labor-management cooperation. Again, the primary service providers for this information are consultants, area labor-management committees, colleges, and universities. State governments that provide economic development
and other state departments of labor also offer training programs for labor-management cooperation.
Many small and mid-sized companies have difficulty accessing these services. Most employers, and even groups of small employers working with an area committee or local economic development department, have limited resources. Many companies are also unsure about who the quality service providers are. They can't distinguish between the providers that can give them usable information and those that will just offer a lot of theory. In addition, once a consultant comes in and provides a picture of the process change needed in a company, both the employer and the employees realize that other areas beyond labor-management relations also need to be changed, and they may be faced with having to find additional consultants.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Labor-management cooperation is a very inexact science. In fact, it is a very inexact art. It is much easier to conduct research on new technology, and take that technology and apply it to the development of machinery and equipment, than it is to conduct research on work systems and new relationships between employers and employees. The difficulty in conducting labor-
management relations research stems from researchers' inability to quantify the problems with work systems, the relationships between employers and employees, and the methods companies can employ to become more efficient organizations.
Research in the labor-management relations arena has been spotty. In most instances, research has consisted of developing case studies on very large companies that have turned themselves around. While these studies are valuable, small and mid-sized companies have found it difficult to relate to the successes of these large companies.
The Collaborative and its counterpart, the National Center for the Workplace, must look at both the successes and failures of labor-management cooperative programs and employee involvement in a wide cross section of companies and public sector entities in this country -including small and mid-sized companies. This research could be of tremendous value to
organizations that are looking to make changes, but need direct contact with those that have gone through workplace changes in organizations similar to their own.
Research into the development of human resource software dealing with workplace change could lead to cost effective methods of sharing information on labor-management issues. Presently, most human resource software programs cover such topics as job descriptions, the legalities surrounding employee hiring and discipline, and other more traditional human resource problems. More is certainly needed.
ORGANIZATION AND MANAGEMENT
There is no system for developing knowledge on labor-management relations at any level of government. The issue of workplace change, as it relates to labor-management cooperation and employee involvement, was not a high priority in Washington, D.C. during the last 12 years.
The Bureau of Labor Management Cooperative Programs in the Department of Labor (DOL) was subsumed under a new DOL office. The grants program operated by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), which promotes and funds labor-management cooperation on either an area-wide, industry-wide or, plant level, has operated at less than $800,000 per year.
The present administration has made the development of high performance workplaces a cornerstone of its efforts in the Department of Labor. However, the Office of the American Workplace, the new unit with responsibility in this area, has only limited resources. Although the Office of the American Workplace shows a lot of promise, it is still in its start up phase, trying to determine what kind of organization it will be and what level of services it can offer.
Over the past ten years, approximately 11 states have developed grant programs to promote labor-management cooperation. sustained. These efforts, based on the FMCS, have not always been
As state administrations have changed, many of the programs have been de-
emphasized. Other states have had to dramatically reduce funding for these programs because of the recession.
State governments have acknowledged the need to help industries develop new technologies. Economic development departments have focused this assistance on helping companies finance the purchase of new technology or upgrade their present technology. Very little time or effort has been expended looking at the problems of the work systems where these technologies will be placed.
There really is no systematic approach to labor-management cooperation, employee involvement, and other human resource issues that will help companies become highperformance workplaces. Numerous public policy questions will have significant impact on the issue of labor-management relations. The future directions of health care, pensions, job
retraining, and labor law reform will all affect the change process in labor-management relations.
One of the biggest problems in the labor-management relations area is financing. Many of the companies that need services and information most are unable to afford the prices that are charged for quality training and consulting services. In addition, there is virtually no public money available for labor-management cooperation and employee involvement efforts. Because many do not consider labor-management relations to be a high priority issue, as public resources become more scarce, funding in the labor-management arena becomes even more strained. The country's present financial situation makes it unlikely that more federal revenue is going to be made available in this arena.
Perhaps a concerted effort should be made by the National Workforce Assistance Collaborative to seek funding from corporations, organized labor, and larger national foundations for the development of a systematic approach to underwriting some of the costs of making quality services available to small employers on a local and regional basis. This effort might include designating quality providers, and seeking out public or private foundation financing and/or state, local, and federal government financing.
The integration of labor-management relations with workplace changes, technology upgrades, and skills development has been very uneven. When some companies begin to adopt
organizational changes, institute cross training, and develop more flexible workforces, they realize they must alter various labor-management policies (e.g., compensation systems) that do not fit with their new directions.
In some states, financial assistance in the areas of technology upgrading and training is only available to companies that provide for substantive employee input into the proposed changes. However, this is not the norm, it is the exception. In addition, few existing technology centers have been successful in reaching out to other organizations involved in workplace change issues in order to provide comprehensive services to companies.
There are a few issues to take note of in the labor-management relations arena. First, for a great number of people, any time you mention labor-management, it is automatically assumed that you are referring to organized labor. The Collaborative must be careful while it is working in this
arena that it does not give the impression it is using public funds to further the organizing efforts of labor unions.
Second, information on improving the relationships between labor and management and improving employee involvement is needed in spheres beyond those usually associated with labor-management relations. It is needed in the public sector, especially small city and county governments; public education; the medical and service industries; and also the educational industry. The Collaborative needs to make the resources it gathers together available to as many people as possible.
Third, the emergence of new communication technology could make a vast difference in how information is delivered and services are provided to small and mid-sized companies. The development of teleconferencing and other advanced communication services may facilitate the provision of services to small and mid-sized companies in various parts of the country.
Finally, the development of more user-friendly software in this area is just in its infancy. If these resources could be further developed, we would be able to get quality information to more people at reduced costs.
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