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Public Employee News - October 2003

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Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3
Alameda, California

Management, labor join forces in training course

By Dave Helm, business representative

Deputy Director Rick Ruiz and Human Relations Liaison Denise Fetty for Alameda County and the union had several meetings regarding problems with inter-departmental communications, daily operations, documentation of discipline and procedural issues during a series of joint labor management committee meetings. Nothing was unusual; problems were noted, problems were discussed and problems continued. Then something extraordinary happened. Management decided to deal with the problem.

Ruiz scheduled a training class for crew leaders, field supervisors, Human Resource personnel and other department managers. An outside consultant was scheduled to conduct the class regarding team building, effective communication, the chain of command, progressive discipline, proper documentation and fairness. On the surface, nothing seemed unusual about the subject matter or the composition of the group. But there was one notable exception: Operating Engineers Local 3 was invited to attend and was encouraged to participate. Imagine, management and the union, working together to resolve issues constructively.

And so the fateful day came. I was more than a little suspicious. I figured I'd be sitting there listening to some guy lecture. I'd fight to stay awake until lunch, and after lunch I'd lose the fight and someone would elbow me in the afternoon to tell me it was time to go home.

But in walked "Arky" the consultant, who had more than 20 years of experience working with state, federal and local governments, businesses, domestic and international corporations and high-dollar entrepreneurs seeking to foster a positive team environment for highly effective organizations. Highly effective organization and government—don't these terms seem mutually exclusive or an example of an oxymoron?

There were several frank discussions regarding past and continuing problems, and the group began processing the information and working to resolve issues that effect everyone, including management and labor. The class included exercises to strengthen communication skills, team building, commitment and respect.

As the class continued, progressive discipline was defined and specific procedures were outlined to ensure fairness, with strangely enough, input from the union that was actually adopted. Several new forms were discussed and are being put together, and a follow-up meeting has been scheduled for further discussion and follow through. (Arky is big on follow through.)

Aside from the fact that this entire episode occurred, an even stranger thing happened. The management folk and union members came together, seemingly as strangers, though most everyone in the room had been working together for years, and they left feeling like they were part of a team and could make a difference. With a little luck, some hard work and continued effort, there is a good chance that significant, positive changes will occur.

Arky did a good job; I guess that's why he gets paid the big bucks. But the fact that he was scheduled is an example of management and the union coming together to make things better for our members and the people we work for, the citizens who pay the bills.

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