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These comments respond to EFCA's Significance to HR.

Thursday, March 12, 2009
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Thanks for the excellent article on the card-check legislation. As a person with 50 years of experience in HR, and several years in the auto industry, I know all too well the fact that most HR practitioners today know little of what the IR people (like me) experienced during the 50s, 60s and even the 70s. Your column did a good job of laying out the background of the labor movement and what the future would look like with IR back at the table. Should be some interesting times ahead.  

Ron Pilenzo, PhD, SPHR

Hobe Sound, Fla.

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You bring up many good points in your editorial and it's great to get a reiteration of the framework for how we got to where we are today. I don't know if I agree with the chances you place on the EFCA.

I've seen the propaganda and I believe this is the unions' one last gasp (that and Right to Work legislation) to turn the tables, and they're going for it. They contend in their commercials -- "CEOs are lying when they say EFCA withholds the right to secret ballot elections".

The political winds and the ability to vilify CEOs as a target will bring fruit, regardless of their truthfulness in advertising. And, by confusing the issue I believe they have a better than average chance of getting it through Congress and the President, without regard to the consequences.

Scott Rude

Vice President of Human Resources

CIVCO Medical Solutions

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While I do not disagree with Dr. Cappelli's basic premise for this article (that a rise in union activity could increase HR's prominence), I question the validity of one of his closing observations ("The highwater mark for HR generally in the United States was in the 1950s and '60s when unions were strongest, and the fact that both declined together is not coincidence.").

Dr. Cappelli has been in the workforce only since the early '80s, so his assessment of HR's position in the '50s and '60s can only be based on literature and anecdote, not actual experience. I wonder if any practitioners from those alleged "heydays" recall it in the same manner?

I remember a time when "HR" was "Personnel", and seldom if ever reported to the CEO of a company; most typically it was buried under the CFO (or controller, back then). Even if you go back further to the era when "Industrial Relations" was the flagship function for what we might now call "human capital management," its significance was episodic in terms of importance (i.e., contract renegotiation time); the rest of the time IR, like its little brother Personnel, seldom had the ear of the CEO, let alone the board.

Call me an optimist, but I'd not trade my current role, status, or (I would wager) ability to impact my organization for anything that existed in the '50s or '60s!

Bernard H. Becker, MA, SPHR

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Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer

Stormont-Vail HealthCare

Topeka, Kansas

Peter responds:

Dear Bernard,

Thanks for the message. As you might have guessed, the idea that HR was most powerful in the 1950s was not a conclusion based on my own experience but based on evidence about organizational structure and power in that period.

The labor relations people did indeed report directly to the CEO, and "personnel" reported to labor relations. A survey of executives in the 1950s reported that in their view the most glamorous function was human resources, broadly defined, not only because of union issues but because it controlled all aspects of careers.

There have been a number of serious studies of the role of HR power over the years, the first one written by Tom Kochan and me in 1982; the most famous is a book called Employment Bureaucracy by Sanford Jacoby.

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What a terrible way for HR to get a seat at the table!!!  If we want a seat at the table we become good business people and leaders -- not bullies who use the Union boogie man to justify our existence!!  EFCA is an awful piece of legislation which if enacted will cost business lots of lost time and money, and employees will end up with unions that represent their own interests vs. the employees. 

Mike Jack

Marble Falls, Texas

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