Roles and Responsibilities of Union Leaders in HPWO Partnerships


This document outlines the IAM position regarding the role of union leaders in High Performance Work Organization Partnerships. When implementing HPWO Partnerships, labor and management define a new approach to the way employees design, build, and deliver products and services, and, ultimately, the way employees do their jobs. These changes are made to achieve mutually-defined goals, such as business growth, good secure jobs, improved living standards for employees, and to benefit all stakeholders. 

Once the employees at an IAM-represented worksite decide to create a full-partnership HPWO, union leaders play a critical role in the success of the new work system. In this document the term union leaders refers to individuals who are assigned, credentialed and/or elected to a position of responsibility in carrying out activities on behalf of the union membership, whether employed by the represented firm or the union. Union leaders include full-time union representatives, officers, Local and District executive board members, stewards, committee members, or anyone coordinating or delivering a specific service to the membership on behalf of the union. Duties and responsibilities of union leaders include advising, assisting, motivating, counseling and providing compelling reasons for union member participation in implementing and maintaining a fully operational HPWO Partnership. 

Both incumbents and new union leaders must understand the IAM’s key components and ten steps in developing an HPWO Partnership as well as the current environment and the goals and objectives of the union and the employer. In an HPWO Partnership, union leaders need to define carefully what traditional roles and responsibilities will continue, while detailing and embracing the new duties required by the Partnership. 

In a traditional workplace, where labor-management relations is centered on conflict, labor leaders, from the steward to the full-time representative, see their role as responding to unilateral actions by management. Management traditionally sees its role as defining the problems of the workplace, developing solutions to those problems, and then implementing those solutions. These solutions may circumvent or ignore the collective bargaining agreement and disregard the valuable insight, input, or judgement of employees. Inevitably, a conflict emerges. In many cases, upholding traditional adversarial roles has sapped the ingenuity and creative drive of employees, thereby putting their workplaces at risk. In today”s highly competitive global economy, many workplaces that have continued this adversarial relationship have not survived. 

Recognizing the need for change in the workplace, many labor leaders have attempted to develop a more cooperative relationship with management, but without a clear vision of what their new role should be, or how they fulfill their responsibilities to the membership. When labor leaders neglect their responsibility as advocates for the membership, they often lose their union position and workplace transformation efforts frequently fail. The question then becomes how do union leaders take on new roles, successfully lead change efforts, and ensure the long-term survival of their workplaces. 

Roles of Union Leaders in HPWO Partnerships 

Roles that Continue in Partnerships 

The High Performance Work Organization Partnership requires that union leaders meet the challenges of both representation and partnership. Union leaders continue to uphold the terms of the Collective Agreement, the IAM Constitution and the Local Lodge Bylaws. Many duties which they performed in a traditional system will continue in the partnership. Listed below are examples of roles and responsibilities which will continue in an HPWO Partnership: 

  • Fulfill the duty of fair representation.
  • Promote union objectives, values and goals.
  • Explain legislative and political action programs.
  • Organize new members, both internally and externally.
  • Keep members informed about union policies, activities, and proposals.
  • Detect and stop rumors by communicating quickly and factually with members.
  • Keep members informed about employer proposals and policies.
  • Work to prevent discrimination from becoming a part of the workplace or its practices.
  • Use several ways to communicate with members, such as face-to-face, surveys, meetings, newsletter, etc.
  • Urge attendance and participation at union meetings.
  • Investigate and process grievances.
  • Promote workplace Health and Safety.
  • Ensure consistent and uniform application of the collective bargaining agreement.
  • Listen as well as communicate to respond to members concerns.
  • Review management decisions regarding conduct at the workplace and the administration of any discipline and/or discharge.

New Roles and Responsibilities 

In addition to other duties, union leaders communicate and lead the change process, uphold partnership principles and advance and maintain the elements of shared decision-making. In addition, union leaders educate employees about HPWO principles and the fences or boundaries around partnership decisions, and much more. Listed below are some examples of roles and responsibilities that union leaders need to accept and perform in an HPWO Partnership: 

  • Become familiar with and support the IAM”s Partnership process, which includes the Key Components and the Ten Step change process.
  • Communicate with employees throughout the change process in order to build support for the new work system.
  • Design, with management and employees, the new work system, which includes the following:
    • A joint governing structure appropriate for the partnership.
    • A joint labor-management operating system where responsibilities are distributed to the appropriate groups so that decisions regarding the vital functions of the workplace are made by those at the appropriate level of production and/or service delivery.
    • A master responsibilities list which indicates at what level of the new work system decisions will be made and how those decisions will be shared between the groups involved and the fences around those decisions.
    • A method for tracking the change process and measuring progress and improvements.
    • An education program to communicate the above to all employees.
  • Identify union and business values and look for any conflicts as well as areas where they are consistent with and complement one another.
  • Participate in the development and communication of the Agreement to Partner.
  • Participate in the design, delivery, and evaluation of all training and education programs related to the new work system.
  • Identify and meet the institutional needs of the union and the facility involved in the change process.
  • Understand and communicate strategies to grow the business, to cost accurately the way work is done, and to improve the work process.
  • Participate in the drafting and communicating of the joint strategic business plan.
  • Assist all employees, both salaried and hourly, to accept and understand their part in the new work system, the decision-making process and the fulfillment of their partnership roles.
  • Partner with management to make joint decisions.
  • Promote the use of problem solving by employees.
  • Communicate the long-range aims of the Partnership, the fences around decisions and the effects of decisions.
  • Help all employees embrace and practice consensus decision-making.
  • Regularly review the status of work in each production and/or service delivery area and the business conditions of the industry.
  • Counsel anyone who engages in behavior which is not consistent with the partnership. Monitor and evaluate the progress of the partnership to be sure that the new work system is being implemented effectively.
  • Work to resolve workplace problems at the lowest possible level.
  • Coordinate and communicate HPWO workplace activities with the appropriate IAM District and Territory.
  • Promote, monitor, and maintain the independent identity of the union as the Partnership emerges.

The Institutional Role of the Union in an HPWO Partnership 

At its core, a union is a democratic, political organization that represents the interests of its members. It is the collective voice of the membership and the only form of worker representation legally sanctioned in Canada and the United States. The independence and authority with which a union speaks for the members is critical to the success of an HPWO Partnership. 

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Ray Marshall, has described the need for employees involved in workplace change to have a union—a source of power independent of management. According to Marshall, there can be no real partnership between parties of unequal power, and the only way that workers can have a power equal to management is if they are organized collectively. In the workplace, a union acts as a counter-balancing force to managers who, if left solely to their own devices and judgement calls, look out for the interests of the employer alone and end up subverting the partnership process. 

Marshall points out that even in the best relationships labor and management will not agree on everything. A union and a collective bargaining agreement provide protection for employees to challenge decisions made by management. A collective bargaining agreement also provides mechanisms to resolve disagreements, whether on the shop floor regarding how work should be done, or at the negotiating table to determine how the benefits of the Partnership should be shared between labor and management. 

A strong union is critical to the success of an HPWO Partnership. A strong and well-respected union establishes a mutually interdependent relationship with management, thereby creating the basis for a full-partnership High Performance Work Organization. The union is recognized as a valued and trusted partner by management. The institutional support and protection provided by the union for the Partnership helps employees accept new roles and explore new work methods. The parties therefore accomplish much more with a union present than could ever be accomplished in a workplace which does not have a strong union. 

The union”s independence is a key factor in the success of the new work system. When labor and management create a full-partnership HPWO, they ensure and enhance the visibility and independence of the union. Throughout this process of designing and implementing a new work system, labor and management need to be sure that the union remains an independent force at the workplace. The union plays a highly visible role in the Partnership and makes sure that the jointly-defined goals are being achieved and that the new work system is on track and moving toward a full-partnership HPWO. 


The relationship between labor and management is both adversarial and cooperative. In traditional work systems, labor and management are generally viewed as adversaries. There is an assumption that a fundamental conflict of interest exists between the two which cannot be bridged. This approach creates a labor-relations system and workplace culture primarily based on adversarialism. Many workplaces are still firmly rooted in this culture. 

The emergence of the global economy has changed dramatically the world in which we live. Many labor and management representatives are reviewing traditional work systems and their ability to survive in a highly competitive global marketplace. This review establishes the need for implementing HPWO Partnerships while maintaining the union”s independence. 

As HPWO Partnerships develop, union leaders perform traditional duties as well as accept new and expanded roles and responsibilities. When accepting these duties, union leaders drive workplace change efforts and make the partnership successful. Union leaders accept their roles as partners and work together with management to grow the business, increase profit levels, raise productivity, save and create jobs, improve wages and benefits, and reach other jointly-defined goals. At the same time, union leaders continue to represent individual employees as required by law and defined by the collective bargaining agreement. 

The process of creating an HPWO Partnership requires the active participation of union leaders in communicating the need for change as well as taking a leading role in the design and implementation of the new work system. In a partnership labor and management jointly define the problems of the workplace, design the solutions, and implement those solutions. Labor leaders can no longer simply react to or follow the dictates of management, but now play a vital role in making joint decisions in the workplace. Union leaders cannot distance themselves from partnership efforts. To do so is to abandon their responsibility to protect the interests of the membership and will prevent the Partnership from succeeding.

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