There is no divorce in labour relations

I have negotiated many collective agreements and mentored other negotiators.  I also frequently lecture on labour relations (LR) strategy and tactics as well as introductory courses for folks just beginning to practice in the field.  If there is one thing I have learned in my time in LR it is that divorce is not an option!

LR will always have an adversarial dynamic.  Employer versus union.  Affordable renewals of collective agreements versus employee windfalls.  Management rights versus union gains.  There is no denying that the whole system is based on two differing sides.  In fact neither side would exist without the other…who needs a union if there is no employer and who cares if the employer can do anything it wants when there are no employees.  Anyway, the point is that there are two different players with 2 separate agendas each trying to play their role to the best of their abilities.

However, at the end of the day both groups end up in the same environment ideally working towards the same organizational goals.  It is so unbelievably shortsighted of employers to think otherwise.  (Yes, I am referring to you in that group Government of Wisconsin!)  Behaving badly and doing everything you can to put it to your employees only leads to poor morale, a distrust of management, and lower productivity.  There is no cost savings!!

Employers need to be looking at the strategic situation and always remember the way in which they act during negotiations will impact the way employees behave post bargaining.  I understand that sometimes measures to cut costs and to reduce spending need to be taken for the future viability of the organization.   Fine.  Work with the union.  Explain the situation and ask for their help.  Work it out like adults not children.  The union members are your employees.  They are currently in the workforce and will return to the workforce after any labour disruptions.

As for the Wisconsin situation….how does a government get into this situation in the first place?  Who does not notice the financial situation is heading in the wrong direction until it is in a disastrous state?  There is a lot of blame to go around.

Maybe the union asked for excessive increases over the years, but management agreed.  Management gave into requests.  Blaming the union alone is like blaming the spoiled child and not the parents.  Treating the union as the scapegoat for all of the issues is not doing anyone any favours.  Threatening the employees with massive layoffs and legislation that will erode collective bargaining rights is a mistake.  These actions lead to mistrust and a decreased desire to work for the state.

I think if the government continues to act in this fashion many people will be forced to leave the state to find work.  Like any labour shortage the most skilled are the ones to leave and the ones with less skill and who are not able to leave are the ones who stay.  This leaves Wisconsin with a dramatically reduced pool of talent who is not engaged to work for the state.  And not just for the state, in the state!  This legislation negatively impacts all workers in the state, public and private sector.  Who are businesses and the government in the state going to hire?

What about in a few years when the economy has improved.  Is the state going to be forced to offer large sums of money to attract people back?

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