Relations between Labor and Management in some American companies

Stability in negotiations processes is a major concern of union leaders and their management counterparts because their relationship is one that they usually anticipate will continue into the future indefinitely. It is also a concern because, generally speaking across industries in the United States and over many decades, stability has been elusive in labor-management relations. Four contemporary cases of ongoing labor-management relationships can give you a flavor of the communication difficulties such as working through different perceptions and values and the communications opportunities that attend a negotiations process.

Negotiations at Xerox: Joseph W Laymon, Xerox’s director of corporate industrial relations, introduced an alternative bargaining approach he learned at the University of Wisconsin while he was earning a master’s degree in economics ands doing the course work for a master’s degree in labor relations. The previous approach at Xerox tended to involve four months of sessions every 3 years with 40 representatives from each side “dueling it out.”

Shortly after the 1989 round, Laymon approached the union leadership with a plan for smaller negotiating teams, training courses for both management and union negotiators benchmarking best practices, ending position bargaining and discussing and implementing focused factories. Representatives of both labor and management spent nine months in training on statistics, interpersonal skills, negotiation methods, quality measures, employee involvement and problem solving.

The result was that the 1992 negotiations took only five weeks, without long weekend hours. In addition, 4,000 Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union (ACTWU) members approved the contract overwhelmingly. Instead of 75 to 200 demands being presented by the two sides, this time the company presented 7 and the union only 12. This eliminated endless hours wasted in determining the legitimate needs of both sides.

Negotiations at Chevron: In 1990, when Chevron’s Salt lake Refinery management attempted negotiations with the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers’ Union (OCAW), the company attempted to use a take-it-or-leave it approach to implement a random drug testing program. Because of the bitterness that resulted, Jim Edmisson, operations superintendent and the chief management negotiator in 1990 pursued a better process. There has to be a better mechanism for resolving issues than we used in 1990. We got a signed contract, but we have paid for it in many ways since then he pointed out.

Julie Holzer, OCAW international representative for District 2, described a new process called mutual gains bargaining in a monthly Union-management communications meeting. Wayne Murakami, chairman of the Workers’ Committee, added his support and the company began developing its own mutual gains strategy. For three months, 40 employees broken into seven teams discussed 56 issues identified the problems for either management or labor (though they were not designated as to which). Finally recommendations were finalized, 24 days before the contract expired and a near unanimous union ratification vote followed finalizing the agreement.

Negotiations at GM: In the summer of 1993, the negotiation process between GM management and its workers was of particular importance, because GM simply could not afford a strike at the time. Thus successful negotiations between the United Auto Workers union (UAW) leaders and GM management were critical. Our biggest concern, said GM Executive Vice President William E Hoglund, is to get a contract that gives us the opportunity to continue the improvement in our process and productivity.

The issue at the forefront involved the level of staffing, work rules, and total labor costs in the assembly plants and factories responsible for 60 percent of components used in completed vehicles. On the economic issues that affect individuals, the union understands the issues well, remarked Hoglund. Of course the attitude of workers is, don’t take anything out of my paycheck.

The problem was that GM executives doubted whether GM products could remain competitive with the current wage rates. GM employees earned $ 42.21 an hour (including fringe benefits). This was almost twice what employees of many competitive outside parts suppliers earned. The UAW negotiators would not agree to lowering wage rates. According to UAW President Owen Bieber, we don’t see lower wages as the solution to the problem. That’s not a wise thing for an upward moving society.

GM management and UAW leaders also disagreed with regard to staffing levels. The UAW sought guarantees for continued employment (even so far as the guarantee of filling positions of retired employees with new employees), while GM managers felt the need particularly as the company faces the increasingly competitive global environment to decrease the payroll. They wanted to cut the hourly workforce of 272,000 by about a third. What was happening was that GM management was trying to improve its manufacturing process and decrease the labor time needed, but this worked against employees’ interests; if the time was decreased, it would mean that less labor was needed (i.e. more staff reductions).