While class warriors continue to trumpet the virtue of waging the battle on behalf of the oppressed working class, some employers and their workers are busy building bridges and successful workplaces.
The 1988 awards for Labour-Management Cooperation, handed out by the Federal Department of Industry, Science and Technology, are proof that cooperation does take place and that it works to the mutual benefit of all parties. Three companies and their employees were singled out for a gold, silver and bronze award in connection with their success in overcoming difficulties by teamwork and ingenuity.
Triple E Canada Limited and its Employees Association in Winkler, Manitoba, received a gold trophy. This company, producing recreational vehicles, faced hard times in the early 1980s which saw the disappearance of many similar businesses. The company and its employees cooperated in improving the quality and efficiency of its vehicles. The management agreed to a full-time employment policy, and die union agreed to cooperate in bringing about the necessary technical changes. Certain product lines were dropped, others were added, and production processes were overhauled. Employees underwent training and were encouraged to make suggestions for change. The problems were tackled by a task force approach that became very successful because it challenged all the workers to contribute to the best of their abilities. The result is that, while other companies experienced decline or even bankruptcy, Triple E hired another 100 employees (to a total of 217) and increased its production more than threefold. Triple E is now the largest producer of motor homes in Canada.
Waltec Sinkware of Midland, Ontario and Local 540 of the Sheet Metalworkers International Union received the silver award for 1988. This company too was faced with hard times during the early 1980s, which necessitated work reduction and layoffs. A survival plan was agreed on by the two parties, which included a gain sharing and quality circle program. Consequently, the energy and ability of employees were tapped to the fullest in an effort to bring about a turnaround of the company. Maximum use was made of employees’ suggestions for improvements, aided by greatly improved communication between management and workers, extensive training programs and the establishment of a productivity council with six members from both union and management. This council assumed major decision making responsibility for putting the new plan in place. Other tasks were taken on by a total of twelve committees, which dealt with specific areas such as pensions, safety and gain sharing.
The result was that all of the goals were achieved and even surpassed. Employee satisfaction increased dramatically and collective bargaining took place without serious difficulties and without any strikes. The return on investment also improved similarly. More new products were developed in the last five years than in the previous fifteen. In 1987, a total of $900,000 was paid out in gain sharing, quality circle and achievement award bonuses to its 179 employees.
The bronze Labour and Management Cooperation category award went to Shermag Inc. of Sherbrooke, Quebec, and the United Steelworkers of America, Local 8974.
This company, the fifth largest home furniture manufacturing enterprise in Canada, enjoyed remarkable growth as a result of many improvements in labour-management relations. Only a few short years ago employee dissatisfaction was high. A ten-week strike by the 90 employees in 1985 led to a deterioration in attitudes and relations. Both sides agreed that a fresh start was needed, especially in the form of better communications and new management practices.
The two parties adopted a statement about employee participation in managing the enterprise, which helped to create a spirit of cooperation during the initial period of change. As in all successful experiments, the new approach was based on ongoing communications, the establishment of employee committees, close ties between the union and plant worker representatives, and cooperation in special initiatives.
The result was heartening. Production increased while costs per product fell. Consequently, quality insurance rates dropped and the rate of returned merchandise declined from 2 per cent to 0.6 per cent. (“Joint Problems Spur Joint Efforts,” The Worklife Report, Vol. 6, No. 5, 1989, pp.2,3.)
Four companies were the recipients of special awards in the 1988 Canada Awards for Business Excellence in the Productivity category. The experience of these companies and their employees confirms that productivity is dependent on good labour-management relations and teamwork.
Du Pont Canada received the gold trophy. Faced with stiff international competition in the early 1980s, Du Pont was hit by declining sales and financial losses. It decided to invest in high value-added specialty products that could become internationally competitive without depending on tariffs. Facilities were modernized and customer consultation was improved.
The company also turned its attention to management and its relations with the employees. It decided to eliminate half of the management levels between the chairman of the board and the line employees. Employees are now challenged to take on more responsibility on the basis of a better understanding of company goals and procedures. Du Pont instituted an extensive training program in such areas as computer skills, customer/marketing orientation, quality leadership, self-management by objectives, business team functioning, and communication skills. The result is that the employees have more challenging and interesting jobs, business is more successful, and productivity is much enhanced. While improved productivity and treatment of employees led to a reduction in the number of employees, all adjustments were made with the full cooperation of the employees and layoffs were avoided through transfers in assignments or locations.
Other companies recognized for similar improvements in productivity were General Electric Canada, Dow Chemical Canada and National Life of Canada. Productivity improvements in all cases resulted from an improved labour-management relationship, and especially from much greater involvement in decision making by the employees.
These and other experiments in cooperative labour-management relations have demonstrated again that when labour and management learn to trust and respect each other, everyone benefits. While the benefits can be measured in monetary terms, the non-financial benefits, in terms of an enhanced personal sense of achievement and a stronger sense of community, go much beyond the financial benefits. (“Productivity Awards Show Importance of Employee Involvement,” The Worklife Report, Vol. 6, No. 5, 1989, pp.4,5.)
For a more detailed description of better labour-management relations and management practices, see Peter E. Larson, Winning Strategies: Organizational Effectiveness through Better Management of People, Conference Board of Canada, January, 1989.