Rebuilding Relations?

A Canadian pacific locomotive at a road crossing near the town of red deer alberta in november 2016 after a recent snow fall. Railway crossings are a safety

One of the fundamental principles of labour relations is the focus on the relationship between labour and management. When this relationship is effective both parties are able to work through difficult issues in order to find constructive solutions that move the relationship and the organization forward. But when this relationship is ineffective both parties end up in polarized, oppositional positions that result in the stagnation of positive movement forward, possibly leading to organizational destruction.

Canadian Pacific (CP) Railways provides us with an excellent case study of the organizational turmoil caused by a difficult labour relations environment.

Click here to access a CBC report, which includes an extensive interview with the CEO of CP Railways.

As noted in this piece, the new CEO Keith Creel faces a significant challenge to repair the relationship with the union as a result of four years of layoffs, strikes and labour relations turmoil. On one hand, the CEO was able to achieve great success through organizational restructuring resulting in exceptional profits. On the other, the price of these profits came at the expense of serious damage to the labour relations environment and its workers.

Success for the future of this Canadian company seems to rest with the willingness of the CEO to acknowledge past labour relations mistakes and to put positive measures into place that are reflective of the need for change. The union, as noted in the article, has responded with cautious optimism depending on the continuing actions that will unfold as directed by this particular executive.

However, clearly if these measures continue to have a negative impact on this relationship, we will see this iconic Canadian railway juggernaut, once again, derailed.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the positional perspectives that the CEO is promoting in this piece?
  2. What are the positional perspectives that the union is defending in this piece?
  3. What message is the CEO sending by relaxing some of the policies noted in the article?
  4. Why is the CP Railway logo important?

Whose Job Is It Anyway?

The Role of Human Resources in Labour Relations.

One of the trickiest elements that Human Resources professionals face is the need for clarity of the Human Resources role when working with managers in a unionized environment.  Viki Scott, of Scott & Associates, provides excellent insight into the pro-active role the Human Resources professional should play with regard to conflict management and manager management in a labour relations setting. View her interview, below.

Human Resources has a unique role in walking the tightrope between management and union representation.  While it may be difficult at times, part of this unique role allows for the benefit of accumulating organizational knowledge from each particular situation in which the Human Resources professional is involved.  When the Human Resources professional works with managers on an individual basis, she or he is able to collect an inventory of situations that may or may not have had successful resolution.  This should allow the Human Resources professional to share that accrued insight with managers on a pro-active basis.  If the Human Resources professional is able to intervene pro-actively, they should be instrumental in preventing workplace situations from escalating, due to the breakdown of workplace relationships and the escalation of unwanted employee and management behaviours.

There is a saying, that past behaviour predicts future behaviour.  By relying on what is learned from working with the behaviours of others in the past, the Human Resources professional can and should play a critical role in shaping the best of management behaviours for future success.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why would managers benefit from coaching by the HR professional in any unionized organization?
  2. Why should HR professionals not take ownership for management roles?
  3. What impact does a negative relationship or behaviour issue have on the work environment?
  4. What is the difference between consensus bargaining and wage bargaining?
  5. Why is consensus bargaining more prevalent in this current economy?

Do We Need Unions in Order to Manage Effectively?

In our study of Industrial Relations, it is natural that we look at the management perspective within a unionized context.  The typical perspective in this setting is that the union represents the voice of the workers in the necessary fight for equality, transparency, and the breaking down of traditional hierarchical barriers.  Management, on the other hand, is represented as the ‘master’ in the ‘master-servant’ relationship.  In this type of traditional hierarchical paradigm, management is seen as unbending, unwilling to listen, and unable to connect with employees.

Source: Stankovic/Shutterstock
Source: Stankovic/Shutterstock

There is no doubt that these types of relationships continue in varying degrees in all of our Canadian workplaces.   There is, however, a significant shift in executive leadership and management style that is now starting to change this polarized perspective.

Peter Aceto is the CEO for Tangerine Banking Services in Canada.  In a recent interview, Mr. Aceto describes his non-traditional approach to effective leadership.

Click here to read the artcile.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Aceto’s approach to working with employees and breaking down hierarchical barriers seems more like that of a traditional union leader than that of the traditional CEO.  It presents a fundamental opportunity for change.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify two management practices that the CEO of Tangerine has implemented that would typically be fought for by a union.
  2. What benefits would a union bring to this type of a workplace environment?
  3. What are the risks to this type of management style in a non-unionized workplace?
  4. How does this non-traditional leadership style appeal to you?