Labor-management partnerships said to thrive on trust

Mutual trust is the foundation of successful partnerships between labor and management, according to federal managers and union leaders attending the Excellence in Government 2000 conference Tuesday.

Participants in the conference discussed how strong relationships between federal management and labor unions are created and sustained. The consensus was that both sides need to trust and respect each other to reach agreements.

Robert Wilkerson, assistant commissioner for customer service at the Internal Revenue Service, said mutual respect between the IRS and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) has been crucial in negotiating successfully.

"The key is building trust and building a relationship. We have tried very hard to listen to each other," he said.

NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley praised the strong partnership between the two organizations, saying it was the result of hard work and compromise on both sides. She also said the good national partnership between the IRS and NTEU was not necessarily indicative of strong relationship at the local level around the country.

Wilkerson said keeping all stakeholders informed during negotiations is key to a successful resolution. Participants need to feel they have a voice in the process, and that the final outcome is a result of a collaborative effort, he said.

The current reorganization underway at the IRS has made the agency's relationship with labor even more crucial, Wilkerson said. The agency's effort to improve customer satisfaction depends on employee satisfaction, he said.

Kelley said labor and management generally have the same objective-in the case of the IRS and NTEU, customer service-but that their approach is often very different. She said when the IRS wanted to make its telephone service available around the clock to taxpayers, employees didn't want to change their shifts, and expected management to hire more workers to handle the greater workload. The IRS and NTEU eventually reached a compromise by providing employees with incentives to change their work schedules.

The Excellence in Government 2000 conference started Tuesday and runs through Thursday at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington.

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