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:
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:
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.