Labor and Management Leaders Come Together to Discuss Importance of Collaboration
Friday, July 26, 2013

Tuesday, July 23, marked an exceptional day in labor-management relations. Leaders from the FAA, NATCA, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) gathered on a panel to discuss labor-management relationships.

Each year, the Association of Labor Relations Agencies (ALRA) hosts Advocates’ Day at its annual conference. This year’s Advocates’ Day focused on transformational times in labor relations, including complex issues and best practices. Joining the panel discussion, moderated by Ernie DuBester, Chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), were:

• Trish Gilbert, NATCA Executive Vice President
• Michael Huerta, FAA Administrator
• Howard Friedman, NTEU Chapter 245 President
• Teresa Rea, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Acting Under Secretary of Commerce and Acting Director.

DuBester began the discussion by reviewing past labor-management relations issues and concerns that organizations continue to struggle with even today.

“The primary barriers we’re encountering are trust issues and effective communication,” he said.

Each panel member then had the opportunity to discuss what trust and communications issues they faced and how they consistently work to resolve them. They also focused on some excellent relationships between labor and management and how much organizations have been able to accomplish as a result of a good working relationship.

DuBester acknowledged the dynamic relationship between the FAA and NATCA throughout the years and how much more collaborative it has become in recent years.

“The FAA-NATCA relationship is both storied and complex,” he explained. “It went from one of the worst labor management relationships in the federal government to hopefully what they’re comfortable saying is a model relationship.”

Both Huerta and Gilbert acknowledged the past challenges, but focused more on how they’ve put procedures in place to continue to work in collaboration so as to never return to such a tumultuous time.

Gilbert specifically referenced the joint labor-management training on the collaborative process and the need to not only lead by example at the top of both organizations, but also to train local leaders on joint problem solving so they can engage in collaboration as part of their regular everyday interactions. 

“Another very positive result of improving relations with labor is that things just run better,” Huerta said. “Good labor relations make everything better.”  

The Administrator went into some detail about the improvements in the FAA’s ability to carry out its mission by involving NATCA early in projects and the marked difference compared to not involving controllers.  He highlighted ERAM and airspace redesign as programs that have worked better because the agency involved NATCA to solve problems before they occurred.

Gilbert recounted the successes of the Green Book years, the failures of the imposed work rules and the recent past under the Red Book, concluding that the labor-management relationship is even better now than during Green Book years.  She discussed all of the safety and technology advances that have been recently made due to collaboration between the agency and Union. 

Gilbert described the positive effects of professional standards and fatigue mitigation efforts as well as ATSAP. Huerta agreed that the effects of good labor-management relations have been widespread. 

“It’s a shared responsibility our whole industry has for safety,” Huerta said.  “We have to take the time to celebrate the successes.” 

“We have to work together to get the job done,” Gilbert said.  “We want to provide a better service to the users.”

The panelists from NTEU and the USPTO echoed those remarks.

Friedman described the procedure that NTEU uses called Pre-Decisional Involvement (PDI).  PDI positively impacts both parties, especially when it comes to decision-making.

“PDI goes far, far beyond what periodic labor forums can accomplish,” he said. “It is simply a supplement to the bargaining process so that the parties can avoid the adversary bargaining process.”

Rea agreed, stressing the importance of getting unions involved as early as possible when a decision has to be made.

“We really work with the unions,” she reiterated. “We engage them very, very, very early, even when we ‘don’t have to.’”

DuBester thanked all of the panelists for their remarks and agreed that early and frequent engagement leads to better outcomes.