Tobias Touts Partnership

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A federal labor union president yesterday said both union leaders and federal managers must stop resisting labor-management partnerships if they expect their agencies to be successful in the coming years.

Speaking at the Reinvention Revolution Conference in Bethesda, Md., National Treasury Employees Union President Robert Tobias conceded that resistance from labor officials is just as detrimental to partnerships as resistance from management.

"Union leaders used to be able to say, 'Well, you go ahead and do what you were going to do because you were going to do it anyway,'" Tobias said. But the structure of labor-management partnerships scares some union leaders, because they can no longer put all the blame on management for bad decisions. "With the union leaders in the room participating pre-decisionally, some union leaders are interested in running out of the room."

Tobias said, however, that there is also significant resistance from mid-level managers who up until now did not have to be involved in partnerships.

"There's been much talk about partnerships and creating partnerships, but basically it's been at the top. The supervisors at the first and second level have said, 'Oh let those folks do it,'" Tobias said. Now, everyone must be involved in actually implementing partnership agreements.

Tobias told conference participants that agencies must dismantle "command and control" structures and replace them with empowered workforces. He said federal employees in command and control organizations are isolated from one another, do not communicate, are regularly and unfairly derided in the press and by politicians and are not safe from workplace violence.

"The key to success in reinvention, the key to success in improving workplace efficiency and effectiveness is improving how employees work," Tobias said.

Tobias cited three ways to improve efficiency in the federal workplace:

  • Employees must understand their roles in pursuing an agency's mission.
  • They must be sufficiently empowered so they can meet performance goals.
  • They must be excited about their jobs so they willingly expend their "discretionary energy" to meet or exceed managers' expectations.
Tobias said a survey of IRS employees showed that employees are satisfied with their jobs and perform well when they feel their knowledge, skills and abilities are being effectively utilized by their agencies.

Both Tobias and mediation specialist Christina Merchant said outside mediators should be brought in to facilitate labor-management partnerships.

Merchant said facilitators hold up a mirror to labor leaders to see "how their actions or inactions, behaviors or absence of intervention are affecting" managers.

"Then we ask you to turn the mirror around and see what you are doing and own what you are doing," Merchant said.

Peter Hedrick, a computer system programmer at the Navy Fleet Materiel Support Office in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and vice president of his local union, said there is little guidance on many of the issues agencies confront when working out partnerships, so it is difficult to work out disagreements outside the realm of traditional negotiating areas.

"I'd like to see if anybody has any experience on how you bridge the gap and what kind of support in facilitating there is for that," Hedrick said.

Merchant said agencies with successful labor-management partnerships need to let other agencies know about what they're doing right.

"We need to share the stories more," Merchant said.

For continued coverage of the Reinvention Revolution Conference, check govexec.com tomorrow.

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