Monday, May 18, 2009

My philosophy on labour relations.

My philosophy, and the philosophy of the IBEW, is to seek out partners we can work with and then build good relationships. I look at our employers as partners, people that we can hopefully have a good relationship with in order to achieve the things our members are looking for.

This is different than the approach employed by some unions that look at management as the enemy. I know that a good relationship is not always possible – both parties need to want it, and if management doesn’t want to play ball, fine – I can do it the old way.

What about when a difficult issue arises, a potential source of conflict? I don’t run away from it – in fact with a good working relationship, it’s often easier to resolve problems. There is an effective approach I like – it’s to “be hard on the issue, but soft on the people”. By focusing on the real issues, and not taking (or accepting!) personal or “cheap” shots, I can achieve better results for my members.

The photo is of me talking to Gaëtan Thomas, the Vice President of Nuclear. I ran into him at the airport when we were both returning home from some out of town meetings. Because we’ve both worked to build a good relationship, we can discuss issues in a frank and open manner. It saves a lot of time, and often allows better solutions.

A great example of this is from several years ago. We had a number of long-term temporary employees and we had been working to achieve regular status for them. One night I happened to end up at a dinner, sitting next to Gaëtan. We ended up talking about the temporaries, and I was able to put forth the business case for changing their status. Gaëtan was interested in the points I raised and followed up by having his people look into it.

To make a long story short, that informal conversation started the ball rolling and many of those temporaries ended up gaining regular status. If I had tried to achieve that goal the old way – threatening grievances, work slow-downs, or writing nasty letters, I know I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. But by valuing the relationship, and treating the issue as a joint problem that we could work on together to find a solution, we achieved real results. A win-win result.

And that’s what it’s all about.

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