Unions and management have often been at odds — particularly general contractors with very tight profit margins and labor unions seeking to improve wages and benefits. However, the Great Recession has changed that dynamic, according to Douglas McCarron, general president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, and Vincent Giblin, general president of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Both spoke at the annual convention of the Associated General Contractors of America this week.
Their experiences offer conflict-negotiation lessons for all business leaders. Among them:
- Focus both sides on a shared problem and then work together to find a solution. In the case of contractors and organized labor, the problem is a shortage of work. Giblin suggests this could be solved by mutual dialogue to how best to upgrade infrastructure. “We have to take the problem outside of D.C.,” Giblin said. “We have to work together and then put pressure on them from the outside” in order to get more work.
- Communicate clearly with your supporters and help them understand the facts — rather than hard feelings — associated with the other side. As an example, McCarron cited the conversations he had over the ramifications of increasing wages. Membership needs to understand that if we hold the line, we lose more work hours, he said.
- Help workers and members get the right attitude. Let them know what’s in it for them. “If you improve attitude, you improve productivity and you can increase hours,” he said.
What are your tips for resolving conflicts between employers and unions?