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These letters are in response to Puzzling Out Union Impact.

Friday, April 8, 2011
Write To The Editor Reprints

Great story by Peter Cappelli -- captured both sides nicely, many thanks!

Steve Keyes

Vice President, Associate Relations & Human Resources Policy


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I think Peter missed a key point in his analysis.

The NFL players and owners can squabble all they want about how their billions in revenues are going to be split up -- but at the end of the day if the deal they reach causes ticket prices to rise too high, fans can -- and will -- "vote with their feet" and take their wallets elsewhere. 

As with so many private-sector union-management relationships, both parties have to be sensitive to the market and the customer. Not so in the private sector.

Taxpayers don't have the alternative to "buy" government services from another source. In effect, government at all levels enjoys a captive market.

As others like Thomas Sowell have observed, elected government officials don't have to worry about the long-term effects of decisions and actions they take vis a vis union-bargaining demands -- they'll be dead and gone long before those chickens come home to roost.

The private-sector feedback loop -- customer sensitivity to price, product and quality -- just doesn't exist in the public sector.

Kevin J. Smart, SPHR

Director/Employee Relations

Central Michigan University

Mount Pleasant, Mich.

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Cappelli raises some good points, and his analysis seems right on the mark. However, he did not offer HR/Labor Relations professionals any remedy or alternate methods of dealing with similar situations.

Having had success with Interest-based Bargaining/Negotiations (IBB/IBN, also referred to as "integrative" bargaining) where both parties, union and management, gain though but not at the expense of each other, I feel he could have offered this fine alternative to the tug of war more characteristic of traditional labor contract negotiations.

Bill Van Lente, MBA, PsyD

Adjunct Faculty, CSPP/AIU

Van Lente Associates Consulting (VLA)

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No need to forward my message to anyone submitting a contrary response -- I would simply like to point out that you may be missing the intent of the actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Governor Walker's true motivation is education reform, as explained in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. Mr. Walker wants to remove from collective bargaining the imposition of constraints on improving teacher performance.

The purpose is to avoid the situation faced by education administrators in New York, where incompetent teachers who enjoy "seniority" are paid to sit in a rubber room, while better qualified junior teachers are laid off.

All the nonsense about denying teachers and other government employees the "right" to bargain collectively is beside the point. The governor is trying to improve education in his state, and current contractual mandates deny him the opportunity to promote effective teachers and get rid of the bums.  

By the way, the above also provides clarification of your apparent confusion as to why Governor Walker's proposal excluded police and fire fighters.

Your cynical view that it might have to do with political support is off base; consider instead that the true reason is the police and fire fighters have nothing to do with education reform. (In any event, if the police and Walker "owed" each other for prior support, the policemen and women assigned to guard the capitol building failed miserably to hold up their end of the bargain --allowing the protesters and union thugs to despoil the Wisconsin Capital was shameful.)  

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Ken Weigand

Vice President, Human Resources

CM Packaging, Inc. 

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Here are several thoughts regarding the article:

1. Though I agree with your "broader lesson," it is more valid in large, high-profile labor-management negotiations -- as compared to more normal, low profile negotiations -- where the media can be used to influence public opinion.

2. The NFL-NFLPA negotiations are truly unique in so many ways that we must be careful not to draw any "specific lessons" that can be applied to normal labor-management negotiations.

3. You are correct that the owners would much prefer to keep the union from dissolving because they have more strength if this conflict is a labor-law matter rather than an anti-trust law matter. That being said, as a labor-law matter, the underlying legal problem for the owners is that they do not want to open up their financial books to the union in labor negotiations because once they relinquish that right through bargaining, they must open up those books in all subsequent negotiations.

4. I believe that the underlying legal problem stated in No. 3 above is the primary reason that the owners placed their final proposal on the bargaining table on the last day of bargaining which, on the surface, seemed like a reasonable offer to all the major issues being addressed that could have led to a settlement or at least another extension. Communicating that offer to all players, retirees and the media has helped cement their more favorable viewpoint in the public's eye.

Jack Bucalo

Retired CHRO

For a Fortune 500 company

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