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Labor-Management Partnerships Poised to Revive

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By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

From the Federal Diary's personals section:

ISO -- Older, yet vibrant, colorfully dressed male, with top hat, in search of partners for meaningful relationships. Marriage not necessary, but a civil union would be nice.

Uncle Sam, after eight years of emotional separation, is ready to rekindle affairs with his employees. This isn't the kind of workplace dalliance that could get him sued; it is the kind that could make the federal workplace work better.

Sam, under President Obama's guidance, and federal employee unions are working to get back together in the form of labor-management partnerships.

The partnerships were created in 1993 by President Bill Clinton's Executive Order 12871 but withered during the Bush years. Clinton's goal was to build a more cooperative relationship at the workplace between management and employees, which could reduce tensions and formal complaints, including grievances and charges of unfair labor practices. Unions also saw partnerships as an opportunity to gain a greater voice in workplace decisions traditionally left to management.

But President George W. Bush issued his own order revoking Clinton's less than a month after taking office. Now, union leaders say the Obama administration is considering an order to establish a new and improved version of the partnerships.

But even without that order, there is movement within the Obama administration on the partnership front, notably at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tomorrow the executive board of the EPA's National Partnership Council will hold its first meeting in years, said Mark Coryell, a co-chairman of the council who is also the president of the American Federation of Government Employees local in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"We're trying to get it back together again," he said. "Right now we see some good signs."

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said she met with union leaders shortly after taking office and agreed to reestablish the partnerships at her agency. "I'm excited about it," she said in a conference call with the Trotter Group, an organization of black columnists. "They asked, and I was thrilled that they wanted to be part of a partnership again."

Partnership meetings are not the same as labor negotiations. The focus, which is more broadly defined, is on how workers and bosses can cooperate to improve agency services. Coryell expects that the EPA panel, which has six members from labor and management each, eventually will discuss such general workplace issues as getting managers to allow regular telework schedules.

A Clinton administration document explained the rationale for partnerships: "Traditional union-employer relations are not well-suited to handle a culture change that asks workers and managers to think first about the customer and to work hand-in-hand to improve quality. We can only transform government if we transform the adversarial relationship that dominates federal union-management interaction into a partnership for reinvention and change."


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