Labor Unrest? Time to Break Out The Crayons.

Shawn Casemore • No Comment
Posted: November 9, 2011

The City of Toronto is preparing for labor unrest according to a recent article in the Globe and Mail. The issues appear to be the desire on behalf of the company to make significant changes to the collective agreement, a situation not unlike the recently publicized labor disruptions at Air Canada.

I am neither for nor against labor unions, however there is an underlying issue that is not being discussed. Most collective agreements in place are archaic in nature, and do not reflect the best interests of the union’s members or management in today’s business environment, be it in the public or private sector. The reality both parties must face is that if unions and those organizations that support them are to continue to co-exist, labor agreements must be rewritten in their entirety, in a collaborative and transparent fashion.

I recall while managing a team of 14 unionized staff, I was attempting to address a concern that had come from a member of my team. The request for additional time off was not clearly addressed in the collective agreement, and approving such did not make any sense relative to what any employee should expect. When I discussed the issue with the chief steward, he commented that he agreed with my perception, and that the collective agreement was too far out of date to be considered realistic, but “those are the rules so we have to play by them.”

Here in lies the problem. Virtually everyone on both sides of the preverbal fence would agree that the majority of collective agreements require a significant re-write to align them with the true desires of members and management, however unions specifically are not willing to entertain such a venture for fear they may loose ground on what has taken decades to accomplish (despite being out of date and possibly unrealistic).

So then, what are companies like Toyota and Magna, high performing organizations with excellent benefits, pay and vacations, operating in highly unionized sector, doing that no one else can? It seems to me it begins with trust, something which has historically been lacking in highly unionized environments, mostly due to a lack of communication.

It’s time to break the mould and rebuild agreements if unions, and the organizations within which they function, are to progress and profit during the decades to come. Why can’t we all just play nice in the sandbox?

© Shawn Casemore 2011. All rights reserved.

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