For Better Labor Relations, Try Employee Engagement

John Commins, January 10, 2011

Amid the volumes of stories written lately about the GOP takeover of the U.S. House, one item captured the pettiness of the political classes and special interests that claim to be working in our best interests.

The Hill reports that one of the first acts of the newly empowered House Republicans was to remove the word "Labor" from the committee formerly known as the House Education and Labor Committee. For the next two years that committee will be known as the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Labor relations remain one of the most contentious issues in healthcare, affecting the lives of millions of people who work in this nation's hospitals and other provider settings. The search for common ground is a daily battle that is critical to successful healthcare delivery. In the larger economy, there are about 15 million unemployed people in the United States – many of them jobless for several months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These people are hurting. And the first action by a key House committee that is supposed to address relations between management and labor, and the plight of the unemployed is to remove the word "labor" from the committee name. Wow! That'll fix 'em!

In what could be interpreted as just a wee bit of hyperbole, Chuck Loveless, director of legislation at the American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees, told The Hill "this name change is symbolic of the new majority's hostility toward the rights of everyday working Americans."

No, Mr. Loveless. It's just politics — returning favors to the people who donated money to get you elected. Both sides do it.

Alexa Marrero, a spokeswoman for the House Education and the Workforce Committee, coyly feigned bewilderment at labor's objections to the name change when she told The Hill that the unions' claim that the name change reflected hostility toward workers was "bizarre" because union members are part of the workforce. She said Republicans changed the panel's name to reflect its "broad jurisdiction over polices that affect American students, workers, and retirees."

Not exactly Kumbaya. And this is just the first week.

We could go back and forth about which side started this hostility. It wouldn't settle anything. For every point or past grievance one side brings up, no doubt, the other side will have a counterpoint. This has been going on for decades and it's not going to change. President Obama used recess appointments to stack the National Labor Relations Board with union cronies, for example, but only after the board was run for years by management-friendly appointees under President Bush. 

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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