Collaboration Does Not Equal Pushover

I had the opportunity to listen to an awesome attorney speak to our supervisors about labor management relations this week. During each of the two sessions, we went back to the basics. Federal labor relations is governed by statute so we spent the morning getting acquainted (or reacquainted) with the Federal Labor Management Statute. One portion of the statute of particular interest to management is section 7106 (a), Management Rights.

Management rights. We have them. We give them away. We have got to stop doing that.  We must be able to recognize a management right when we see it and when asked to give it away, we need to respond appropriately. When we take an action protected by 7106 (a) and the Union's response is, "No, you can't do it," a proper and correct response is, "Your request is not an appropriate arrangement."

Appropriate arrangement is a new phrase I learned this week.  It really does sound better than,  "What, are you freaking crazy?!" What other phrases and terms did I pick up? Reasonably foreseeable, anti-union animus, status quo ante, bifurcate and the "vitally effects" test.  I was reacquainted with the "covered by" doctrine and the Hillen factors, the supervisors were introduced to Douglas and his factors and we worked through past practices and duty to bargain.

Duty to bargain. We have it. We must abide by it. We must do it right. Management is not necessarily the king and queen of the hill when we change working conditions and conditions of employment for bargaining unit members. Supervisors can huff and puff all they want but it will not change the statute. Huff and puff, do it quickly, and then get over it.

The topic that resulted in the most heads on the table or hands through the hair was union misconduct. Bottom line, unless the union's behavior is physically threatening or qualifies as sexual harassment, there is not much management can do in terms of formal repercussions. History and case law continues to clearly support the union's "freedom of expression." It is what it is and it won't change anytime soon so take the high road, end contentious meetings, disengage when you need to. Your meeting, your sandbox, your rules. 

The desire of some supervisors to want to live by the letter of the statute did get me a little anxious. Remember the phrase  about living in glass houses and not throwing rocks? Labor management relations is not purely procedural. It is not black and white. It is, at least at this medical center, based on relationships. It is a complex system of give and take, of compromise, and of agreements to disagree. The supervisors saw very quickly that the union does not operate by the letter of the statute. What they did not see as readily was that neither does management. I am all for tightening up the system in some areas.  Knowing that stressing or changing one part of the system will affect others it must be done thoughtfully and plan fully, and we must anticipate the benefits and repercussions of doing so.   

I get heat for being "too collaborative" at times. Walk a mile in my shoes then let's talk.  I will always try to work it out collaboratively first and this works right now. I am not one to keep putting my hand out without reciprocation and I can stand my ground when I need to. We have had 3 ULPs in 4 years, 2 arbitrations and less then 15 requests for information. Our grievances are primarily filed only in response to issued discipline and our exposure to MSPB has been limited to probationary removals. Do we cave? No, we talk, we discuss issues and we resolve them informally when we can. We collaborate.

When I think of the energy wasted in filings, fights and positioning, I get tired. Just think of what else the parties in the situations could be doing instead. What processes could they be improving? What employees they could be recognizing? What working conditions could they enhance?