Time to Recalibrate Labor Partnerships

October 30, 2011

President Obama waded into the frayed relationship between agency managers and unions in 2009, determined to make repairs. He resurrected labor-management partnerships and relations are indeed improved.

But the payoff in terms of improved performance and effectiveness, so far, has yet to materialize.

More time is needed, say champions of the partnerships, including Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry and the union leaders. That may be true since it has taken considerable time simply to rebuild the trust and respect lost between the two sides from the many bitter labor-management fights that marked the previous administration.

But Obama's labor-management partnerships must be recalibrated to ensure they are more effective and so that expectations of all sides involved are honestly managed. First, career front-line managers need to be represented in the hundreds of labor-management forums created at agencies and operational units across government. Currently, some do not include them because either unions or top managers — such as at the Social Security Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration — objected to their presence. 

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