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Issue 10: 8/6/2013

Effective Labor-Management Committees improve state services for everyone

Effective Labor-Management Committees improve state services for everyone

At an Ohio Civil Rights Commission Statewide Labor-Management Committee meeting this winter, the discussion started to go off track, a common challenge in any type of meeting. But this committee has just been through the Union Education Trust’s Labor-Management Training.

Brian Coston, a Columbus Civil Rights investigator and chief steward, said he thought to himself: “You have the tools. Use the tools.” And he spoke up: “Aren’t we going down the old road? Shouldn’t we use the problem solving model?”

Problem solving is what effective Labor-Management committees (LMC) do best. And when they do, everyone benefits: the employees, the agency and the citizens of Ohio who are served by the agency. There are many examples of this over the last several decades: Strategic planning, tackling issues effectively and resolving problems with the Ohio Veterans’ Home’s LPN training, the Ohio Department of Mental Health’s Direct Care program, and the Ohio Lottery Commission’s sales representative position redesign, to name a few.

In that spirit, the Union Education Trust has introduced “Let’s Get Ready!” a new one-day training program designed specifically for elected union leaders as well as activists serving on LMCs. The training will help establish the union’s vision for the committee and prepare the members for effective participation in the LMC. A clear vision and an effective agenda help improve the quality of work life for bargaining unit employees and enhance agency performance while improving labor-management relationships.

The tools that the OCRC LMC learned through the training it took in the fall of 2012 have made all the difference, Coston said.

“What it really did for our agency is it brought us a little closer together,” he said. “When you’re in training and you have a breakout session with someone you’ve been working with for years, you’re trying to evaluate situations together: It made us closer.”

“Now we move meetings better: We plan better and problem solve better.”

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission’s LMC has been in existence for several decades, but it had never been through training. Coston explained that meetings were haphazardly scheduled and not fruitful. OCSEA Staff Representative Lynn Belcher suggested the UET Labor-Management Training and OCRC’s Executive Director Michael Payton asked for more information and where to sign up. As a result, stewards and management from each region came together for the three-day training.

One example of how the training has impacted the LMC and as a result the agency, employees and citizens is how case assignments are handled. But there was no uniform way of assigning these cases to investigators, so each had a different level of inventory of cases.

 “We said, ‘Let’s reevaluate this,’” Coston said. “We have a new online process rolling out in May, so let’s address this issue now.”

Through the problem-solving, the committee found out that more and more responsibility had been given to the office support person who did not have access to an assignment sheet for investigators. This created conflict in each of the regions.

The committee’s decision: It’s more efficient for managers to monitor assignments weekly.

“So something that’s been going on for years, we changed after going through the process in a few hours,” Coston said.


APA Committee born from a grievance

The Adult Parole Authority’s LMC is a much newer group. It was formed four years ago as the result of a grievance settlement over the now-obsolete word processing specialist title. The APA is part of Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, but didn’t have a voice. The Labor-Management Committee gave them that voice.

As with many agencies, the need for the LMC became evident during layoffs. The word processing specialists weren’t able to bump or have recall rights because of the title being obsolete in other agencies.

The LMC decided to perform a survey of what work was being done. The information is being used in a manual to explain the work and to ensure that processes are uniform across offices.

Because the committee has done this work, it has helped other agencies that were also leaving out office assistants. And the committee has improved communication between labor and management in the APA.

“It’s given us avenues that we wouldn’t have had, if the committee wasn’t developed,” said Brenda Custer, an administrative professional 1 out of Marietta and co-chair of the APA LMC.  “At times we felt like we didn’t have a voice. I think we have that now.”

“It may not always be what we want to hear, but I think they are listening to what we have to say.”


Health and Safety first in DR&C

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Statewide Health & Safety LMC has been conducting worksite trainings to ensure that institutional committees are working effectively. After last summer’s trainings, statewide committee members have been partnered as liaisons to local committees in the field.

“Working them in pairs seems to take the edge off, for both parties,” said OCSEA Staff Representative Dave Justice. “They are used to working together and share equal responsibility.”

This process keeps the flow of communication moving, because often an issue may be dealt with at one institution, but not communicated to other institutions. And at times, it may require the statewide committee to work on a resolution.

Justice, a member of the statewide committee, serves with OCSEA bargaining unit state employees as well as a cross-section of management, including a warden, a labor-relations officer, and management from central office, policy and procedures, and healthcare.

“We try to cover all the basics the contract says,” Justice said. “Committee members are often able to provide the answers, but if not, they can go back to their own worksite and get the answer.”

Trust is a major factor for the committee. Without it, the committee won’t function.

“It’s not something that came easy,” Justice said. “It’s developed over the years.”

Fellow committee member Charlie Williamson added that the subject matter the committee deals with helps with the tone of the meetings.

“People on the committee really take to heart their role: The health and safety of all employees,” Williamson said.

The role of the statewide Health & Safety LMC is to give support to the local committees. Some of the issues it has addressed are TB testing and Hepatitis vaccinations as well as the alarm system at the institutions, which came out of the recommendation of a local committee.

“If something percolates up to us and if we think it’s important, we look at it,” Williamson said. “There are global issues we look at and make recommendations to the director of the department.”

“I don’t ever recall a recommendation not being taken and used,” he added.

Williamson also praises the Labor-Management training: “It gives you tools to look at other ways to resolve things,” he said.

Fellow OCSEA member Coston agreed: “The training is phenomenal and the follow-up with the trainers is very appreciated.”

“I’m always talking and sharing with other reps across the state. Now this is something that I’m able to promote. I promote it without question.”

Successful LMCs ensure effective state services. When union leaders are prepared to engage in the LMC work, the more successful the committee will be. The new “Let’s Get Ready!” training will enable members to establish the union vision for the LMC and create an effective LMC.


For more information about the UET Labor-Management Training program, go to https://www.uedtrust.org/UetPrograms/LaborTraining.