Management collaborates with unions to improve working relationships
July 22, 2013
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - There is often the perception of an adversarial relationship between management and unions, as if supervisors and workers have diametrically opposed goals in the workplace, whether it's a private corporation or a government entity. This can be true when certain issues arise, but overall it's usually in the interest of both parties to communicate and collaborate with each other to achieve organizational goals.
Depending on job classification, not all federal GS civilians on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall belong to a union, but those who are, are protected by a collective bargaining unit, said Dietrick Glover, a labor relations specialist with the Army's National Capital Region Civilian Human Resources Agency.
Glover said the issues that come up between management and labor run the gamut, from employees getting reassigned to a different work area or the implementation of a new uniform policy to disputes over comp time, sick leave or other concerns. Issues arise anytime an employer wants to implement a new working condition, he said.
As a liaison between management and labor, Glover said he sees his job as "ensuring that management maintains its rights and that employees are treated fairly, all in one fell swoop," and to "ensure that employee X isn't treated any differently than employee Z..."
It's mostly about getting two sides to sit down and talk, the labor relations specialist said. "I don't do mediation [in the formal sense], but I try to sit down with people and find common ground."
Sometimes, however, even good will gestures can get misinterpreted. Glover cited one example of how management neglected to consult employees before it upgraded a break room with new furniture and modern appliances. It turns out some of the employees missed that "dusty old couch and TV," he said, explaining how the contretemps could have been avoided if management and workers had only communicated with each other.
"Before you do anything with a civilian employee, contact your labor relations specialist," Glover advised. "See me as the honest broker. Don't do anything that's contradictory of [labor] law."
Glover regularly sits down with joint base managers and union representatives to negotiate policy and personnel issues. JBM-HH holds quarterly labor management council meetings that include Col. Fern O. Sumpter, JBM-HH commander, and Debora Richert, senior advisor to the JBM-HH commander.
As the business manager for Local 572 of the Laborers International Union of North America, Larry Doggette represents civilian employees at the Army's Central Issue Facility, Transportation Motor Pool, Child Development Center and the Directorate of Public Works on JBM-HH.
"We get together to talk about the mission and what needs to be done," said Doggette. "When employees have input, things go a lot smoother. If we work together it shows we both have stake in the process. When [labor] is brought into the equation, [it] assumes ownership along with management.
"When Glover came on board it was the best thing that ever happened to [JBM-HH]," he said. "[Glover] brought a breath of fresh air to the overall relationship [between labor and management]."
Doggette also credited JBM-HH Commander Col. Fern O. Sumpter for "making sure everything runs smoothly" in meetings between unions and management.
Ron Quarles, LIUNA Local 572's chief steward, credited manager training Glover brought to JBM-HH for helping improve relations between management and unions. "Managers didn't always understand their role in the negotiating process," he explained. The goal in the two sides getting together is to "avoid misunderstandings," he added.
Quarles praised the labor management council and Richert for helping diffuse small issues before they became big ones.
"It's important for management and labor to come to the table and talk, to address concerns before they become an issue," Quarles said.
"Any changes in working conditions have to be negotiated," he added, taking into account "I&I" - a policy's impact and implementation on workers.
The union isn't just about protecting worker's rights, Quarles emphasized. "The union encourages good work ethics - making sure you're coming to work on time - it encourages responsible conduct. We're not here to tell [workers] they can do whatever they want."
Jeffrey Affolder, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters union Local 253, said bargaining between union and management works like it's supposed to do. "You have to know what to fight for and what to let slide," he said, adding that being in the middle of negotiations seeking compromise means "you sometimes get it from both sides."
"The union helps maintain relationships between firefighters and management," said Michael Jackson, IAFF union Local 253. "We're sort of the go-between for [issues] that otherwise could be overlooked."
Jackson explained that because the base fire station was already understaffed, it wasn't hit as hard by furloughs as other organizations on post. Given their compressed work schedules and role as emergency first responders, only two firefighters received furloughs - a safety inspector and a training director.
"We're not just looking out for [JBM-HH], we're going out into Arlington County as well," Jackson said, noting the reciprocal agreement among local jurisdictions to back each other up in emergency response calls.
"Even before the furlough began, we had to negotiate with the unions here," the joint base commander said. "The negotiation process resulted in an agreement between the management and the unions on how we would implement furloughs, [such as] how we would implement calling individuals back if they happened to be off on furlough and we needed them to come in. Procedures like that. I have to do what [the Department of Defense] tells me and then I have to do what [Installation Management Command] tells me and then using the IMCOM guidance, I also then have to negotiate and come to an agreement with my unions so I'm staying within my agreement with the unions during the furlough as well.
"The unions have been very cooperative," Sumpter continued. "Everybody understands, to include the union representatives, many of whom are government workers, this furlough is something that we're being directed to do. Where we don't agree on everything on how to implement the furlough, both management and the union representatives have done a great job coming to the table and trying to figure out how to best do this in the best interest of not only the employee, but the joint base and the U.S. government."
Cynthia Lee, who represents workers at Andrew Rader U.S. Army Health Clinic, civilian police officers at the Directorate of Emergency Services and other civilian workers on base under the American Federation of Government Employee's union Local 2, said there's sometimes the perception that union civilians are telling management how to run a business.
"Management has the right to make changes" in how business is conducted, she said, but workers also "need to have input" into working conditions. It's about, "How can we all reach the same goal," she emphasized. "The goal [for both] is the same; it's mission oriented."
Lee said the union always tries to resolve problems at the lowest possible level. "It's about allowing employees to voice their concerns," she said. "Unions are for those [workers] who can't speak for themselves."
Employees just want to feel that you recognize their situation, she continued. "They don't want to feel overlooked."
"It's important to have communications with all levels of management and all levels of employees," said Eduardo Bodmer, AFGE local 2's chief steward.
"Employees feel like they have a voice now," he said, explaining that previous commands weren't as open to listening to unions. "The colonel has been an enormous help. She's more open to communication and wants to create an environment between civilians, supervisors and the military. She wants it to work like a family."
Lee said Sumpter came to JBM-HH having had previous experience with unions. "You can tell that she is geared toward being a positive influence," she said.
"Colonel Sumpter believes in doing what's right," Glover said. "She supports me in my ability to do my job."
"Colonel Sumpter is the architect of a strategy or method ... of eliminating a wall that existed between labor and management," Quarles said. "There used to be a partition between labor and management. Now there is clarity of values and responsibilities.
"I look forward to continuing to improve the relationship between labor and management," Quarles said. "I think we're going in the right direction."
Glover, who comes to JBM-HH two days a week from his station at Fort Belvoir, is available for consultation with employees and management Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. He can be reached at 703-696-6728.