Labor Relations & Strategic Human Resources in the Public Sector
The labor relations manager fulfills a wide spectrum of needs within an organization. These managers are often dealing with labor issues, unions, and human resources development issues. The labor relations manager deals with these issues in both the private and public sector, but within the public sector there are additional concerns of legalities and bureaucratic mechanisms. The combination of bureaucratic processes and organizational needs give a clear picture of the role of the human relations manager in the public sector.
The labor relations manager has evolved out of the human resources division as the mediator for labor issues. However, the labor relations manager provides a variety of other functions such as developing the hiring requirements as a function of strategic management. The traditional human resource role in government was viewed in a negative light because the hiring of personnel was fraught with issues concerning ineffective hiring practices, inefficient workers, and negative organizational cultures. The inefficiencies of public HR practices became an increasing concern throughout the latter part of the twentieth century because of the increasing demand for public services (Condrey, 2005). This factor led to an expanded role for the labor relations manager as a vital part of the strategic management process.
In 1993 the Government Performance and Results Act’s (GPRA) was passed in order to address and bring accountability to public human resource management. The National Performance Review also known as the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, began initiatives, such as downsizing, reorganizing, streamlining, and delegating HR authorities. The delegating of those HR authorities was intended to improve HR’s ability to focus on organizational issues such as mission and bringing efficiency back into the public sector.
This change was focused in this manner such that HR could focus on aligning human resources management with agency mission. However, the disconnection between management and HR soon became apparent as project planning and inefficiencies continued to plague the public sector. The disconnection was soon recognized as a separation of ideology that strikes at the purpose of HR in the public sector. Management views of HR were as administrative and clerical in nature, whereas HR considered itself an integral part of supporting basic company functions. This view would have to change and in order to accomplish this HR would have to strategically partner with management in order to achieve the results demanded by GPRA (U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 1999). This change was the catalyst for the new role and primary function of the labor relations manager.
As the primary function of the labor relations manager, the advising of operations managers and the development of human resources would become paramount to organizational success. The labor relations manager would begin conferring with management and advising them with hiring practices and developing job descriptions.
Labor Relations and Hiring in the Public Sector
Human resource strategies for hiring are key components for any organization in today’s competitive business environment. This fact was the same within the public as well as the private sector. Hiring strategies allow for an organization to find the best people for particular jobs, giving the organization or company a competitive advantage over others. Many different strategies exist for recruiting the right people including the use of placement consultants, internal job postings, employee referrals, campus recruitment, or using online job portals.
Dealing with Union Challenges
Another important function of the labor relations manager in the public sector is dealing with union challenges. Dealing with this challenge takes the form of communication between union and management. This relationship takes the broad form of collective bargaining, negotiating, discipline, and benefits management. Human resources personnel will handle different points of this communications process with the labor relations manager handling grievances and negotiations. This makes the communication process more efficient. In union situations there are union representatives whom advocate for employees and the labor relations manager will represent the company’s interest. This is a difficult area of human resources because the relationship between employer and union is a delicate balance. For instance, the issues that arise with unions can be controlled and kept at a minimum if the organization provides levels of advocacy for employees. In a sense, the union should be the last stop on the grievance or dispute process. In order to maintain this level of cooperation, an integrative negotiation approach is required. This form of negotiation is utilized when both parties desire to build or maintain an ongoing relationship. This form of negotiation differs from distributive bargaining because it works for the benefit of both parties, not just one.
In most instances, by providing programs and channels for employees to utilize for problem solving, the issues presented by unions are kept at a minimum. The problem with integrative bargaining in this fashion is that it is time consuming and expensive. However, the cost associated with loss of productivity from strikes or work slowing is still much more expensive then the time and effort that is placed into negotiation and advocacy programs.
The highest volume of labor issues today result from the use of Project Labor Agreements. These agreements demand the use of labor which is unionized. This can be a problem because this type of agreement automatically increases costs for projects. For instance, if an agency is currently building new facilities, these projects are generally awarded through a bidding process. This makes projects open to union and nonunion companies. This can lead to many issues such as undocumented workers on job sites. These issues can be managed using labor managers and Project Labor Agreements and to mitigate costs of union wages.
While labor issues within public entities are normally moderate in nature, the external labor issues can be costly and time consuming. The hiring of companies and laborers for projects has consistently been a troubled area for the labor relations manager. Even when small companies or contractors are hired for temporary or small projects, unions are often there to raise issue. This is the largest labor issue that public entities seem to deal with.
Labor relations managers in the public sector deal with a variety of issues consisting of both internal and external labor hiring practices. At the same time, labor relations managers find themselves playing a key role in strategic management with building human resources. As the public sector continues to grow in size and diversity, the necessity for labor relations managers will continue to equally grow.
Condrey, S.E. (2005). Radical civil service reform: ideology, politics, and policy. University of Phoenix: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Bajpai, Vimhar. “Innovative Hiring Strategies.” Dare. July 7, 2008. Retrieved on September 17, 2012 from http://www.dare.co.in/strategy/human-resources-recruitment/innovative-hiring-strategies.htm
“Hiring Strategies followed by Organizations”. Management Study Guide. Retrieved on September 17, 2012 from http://www.managementstudyguide.com/hiring-strategies.htm
U.S. Office of Personnel Management. (1999, September). Strategic human resources management: aligning with the mission. Retrieved from http://www.opm.gov/studies/alignnet.pdf