Progress Report-Chapter 2


Progress Report

CHAPTER TWO: Empowering Employees to Get Results

Don't you miss the fighting?

Vice President Gore

We don't even remember how to do it well.[1]

Nancy Fisher
President, Ogden (Utah) chapter
National Treasury Employees Union

At the IRS's office in Ogden, Utah, labor and management discovered that good relations between them was more than an end in itself. It also would help the two sides solve problems, such as the office's reputation for writing confusing letters to taxpayers. Working together, they have moved a long way toward licking the problem.

It was the same lesson that Colonel Thomas A. Dunn learned in 1992 as he prepared to take command of the Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas. Red River, which has one of the Defense Department's largest maintenance missions, had a tradition of labor-management strife. But Dunn was determined to change things. On his trip to Texarkana, he had seen the benefits of labor-management cooperation by stopping off at the Saturn Corporation in Tennessee and at other innovative companies. Local union chiefs also had reasons to try something new: Before Dunn's arrival, the depot had launched a downsizing effort that, to date, has reduced the number of employees from 3,300 to 2,700.

Dunn went to work. He reached out to the six unions that represent depot employees. He convinced management and union officials to visit Saturn in October 1992 and learn its way of doing business. (He even hired a couple of Saturn executives as consultants.) Management and union officials then went to work on a model for organizational change that, by December, became known as HEARTS (an acronym for Honesty, Ethics, Accountability, Respect, Trust, and Support).

The HEARTS process, which 3,000 depot employees have gone through, involves training in personal breakthrough, partnership, team building, and communication. The process reinforces the shared labor-management vision of a competitive industrial complex and excellence in quality products and services. The training occurs in both a classroom setting and in outdoor exercises.

As a result, the depot reorganized late last year, creating self-managed work teams, of which it now has 40. Management and unions work daily to share not only decision making but also ideas on how to further improve productivity. Meanwhile, management and labor have agreed to employee awards, similar to gain sharing, of either $500 or $1,000, based on a measure that they call the "net operating result." [2] Employees are appealing much less frequently to the Merit Systems Protection Board, and they are filing fewer unfair labor practice charges and grievances.

Productivity is up, costs are down. On the productivity front, the depot produced the same number of vehicles in March 1994--110--as it did in March 1992 when it had a much larger workforce. Cost-wise, both sides estimate that, because grievances in the Ammunition Directorate have dropped to zero, the depot has saved over $200,000.

In From Red Tape to Results , NPR defined the "basic ingredients of a healthy, productive work environment" as "managers who innovate and motivate, and workers who are free to improvise and make decisions."[3] And, as illustrated by Red River, a key step to finding those managers and workers is transforming the labor-management relationship from adversarial to cooperative. On this front and others, NPR has launched a burst of activity that has begun to change the essential nature of federal work.


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