Contrary to popular belief it is possible for management and unions to get along. The relationship between the two doesn’t always have to be contentious. The most important thing in this relationship is respect. If management and union leaders have respect for each other the rest is downhill, theoretically.
Management and unions don’t innately distrust each other. However there is always a level of distrust until one side earns the trust of the other. The only way the management-union relationship can be healthy is if everyone in leadership is willing to listen to what the other side has to say. Regardless of how important an issue may be if you’re not willing to listen then there’s no use in the other person talking.
This is where respect comes in. No one is going to take you seriously if they don’t respect you. In the workplace respect is the only collateral you have. Once you’ve lost the respect of someone it’s difficult to regain it. The management-union relationship is one of those relationships where a lack of respect can have long-lasting repercussions.
If management doesn’t respect union leadership the day-to-day issues of rank-and-file union members could be very difficult. Simple things like taking lunch, using leave, working overtime etc. can be problematic. On the other hand union leadership needs to be clear that obtaining the trust of management should be one of their top priorities. Many union members don’t understand or care that their actions can affect the management-union relationship.
Over the years I’ve watched management make decisions that were not favorable to unions. When union representatives clamored about the decision, management cited the actions of certain union members. I’ve talked to union representatives and they’ve said some of their members don’t care how management views them.
This attitude is fine if these employees weren’t affecting the lives of others. As with any group of people you always have those that only care about themselves. Likewise, management has to deal with some managers putting a strain on the management-union relationship. There are some managers that don’t care if the management-union is contentious or not.
Trying to obtain or maintain a good management-union relationship and keeping selfish employees in line is a balancing act. This balancing act can be accomplished when both sides respect each other and keep the lines of communication open.