Progress Report-Chapter 2


The National Partnership Council: Launching a New Era of Cooperation

"The federal labor-management relations program is not working well," the General Accounting Office reported in 1991. Specifically, GAO said, bargaining was too legalistic and adversarial; dispute resolution processes were too slow and complex; and the Federal Labor Relations Authority was managing the program ineffectively. [8]

In moving toward labor-management cooperation, the federal government is mirroring the trend that has spread throughout the private sector. As global economic competition forces employers to cut costs, managers and workers are learning that adversarial relationships help no one. In fact, they could mean the demise of their employers, putting managers and workers out on the street. Managers and workers are learning that their relationships with one another do not constitute a zero-sum game: One need not lose if the other wins; both can win at the same time.

Government's leaders have taken notice. So it's not surprising that Red River's Colonel Dunn looked to the Saturn Corporation for inspiration. Nor is it surprising that the newly created National Partnership Council sought guidance from the private sector.

In From Red Tape to Results, Vice President Gore called for a National Partnership Council to implement labor-management partnership throughout the executive branch. Its creation, through President Clinton's executive order of October 1, 1993, came 30 years after President Kennedy laid the foundation for such partnerships by allowing labor unions to organize in agencies. At the time, President Kennedy quoted Eric Sevareid in saying: "It doesn't make sense when two people are sitting in a boat for one of them to point a finger accusingly at the other and say, "Your end of the boat is sinking."" As labor and management increasingly realize, they are in the same boat, needing one another to survive and prosper.

At its first meeting last November 19, the council of federal officials and union leaders heard from officials at Corning, a company of about 30,000 people that has business in optical fiber, laboratory products, and general materials. Facing stiff competition from Asia, Europe, and South America, company officials decided they need to change their approach to employees. "We decided to go back into the organization and really listen," said David Luther, then Corning's senior vice president for quality. "We came out deciding we needed a new way to structure work." [9]

Specifically, Corning established union-management "communities"--teams that decide how to manage parts of the organization. They even can implement decisions without the prior review of top company officials. They set their own training schedules and hours of work, and they hire and fire their own members.

With the lessons of Corning and others in mind, the council last January submitted its Report to the President on Implementing Recommendations of the National Performance Review. In it, the council outlined "a range of consensus proposals" to form labor-management partnerships for success, create a flexible and responsive hiring system, reform the General Schedule classification system, and improve individual and organizational performance.


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