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Union-management cooperation: structure, process, and impact.

Professor Michael H. Schuster examines six different forms of cooperative arrangements designed to improve productivity: quality circles, quality of worklife (QWL) programs, labor-management committees, and three " gainsharing" programs: Scanlon, Rucker, and Improshare. He systematically studied and evaluated these efforts and their outcomes over a 5-year period.

A recent study by the New York Stock Exchange reveals that 1 in 7 companies with 100 employees or more has some form of quality of worklife program. Of the companies surveyed with more than 500 employees, 25 percent had labor-management committees. Despite the continuing proliferation of these programs, most of what has been written about union-management cooperative efforts has neither focused on actual performance measures nor attempted longitudinal design methods to measure impacts over time. Schuster has done much to remedy this situation.

At least 50 percent of the text discusses gainsharing. There is considerable and rising interest in this topic, and these programs to provide inducements to employees to cooperate with management. Their most exciting application, however, is not as mechanistic formulas but as part of a comprehensive, holistic approach to changing the culture of the organization to one of high commitment.

The author's overall typology of programs is limited. Many of the cooperative efforts overlap the specified categories or defy categorization entirely. Readers may find the six divisions expansive in terms of three gainsharing plans but somewhat limited in other respects.

Missing altogether are program types whereby employees at the lower levels influence policies decided at higher levels through either board representation or some more limited form of input at the strategic decisionmaking level. Research done by Professors Thomas A. Kochan, Robert B. McKersie, and Harry C. Katz at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology establishes that union-management cooperation can occur at three levels: (1) shop-floor; (2) collective bargaining level; and (3) the strategic or corporate level. The book would have been strengthened had this third level, which may be the essential stage for sustaining and diffusing labor-management cooperation, been included. Similarly, there is no mention of employee ownership in an organized firm. Participation in the equity should warrant as much space as any of the more mechanistic approaches to gainsharing.

Conceding that "quality of worklife projects are more amorphous" and "more difficult to define," Schuster sidesteps thw challenge and defines by example: cafeteria improvements, work rule changes, flexible work hours, autonomous work groups, and job redesign and restructuring. Guided by this limited definition, he concludes that "some QWL prijects will have no participation, while others might have informal participation or ad hoc committees to work on a particular project." Later we are told, "In Improshare Plans and other forms of Quality of Worklife projects, supervision has no direct role in the operation of the program." The essence of the quality of worklife is participation. Its goal is to foster human development through work which is more effectively done as a result. Irving H. Siegel and Edgar Weinberg in their book Labor Management Cooperation have this to say about QWL, ". . . it ought to be confined to joint ventures that in the first instance aim at satisfying worker's desires or needs for restructuring of the workplace. This restructuring should allow greater participation in decisionmaking on the job, constructive interaction with one's fellows, and opportunity for personal development and self-realization." QWL without full and meaningful participation is a sham! Supervisors are very much involved but more so in a resource/facilitative role and less so in the traditional authoritarian sense.

This book is written in a style which will appeal more to academics than practitioners. Unfortunately, both the second chapter, "Models of Change," and the third, "Research Design," are so replete with the handiwork of the academician, that only a very few practitioners would likely persevere. The persistent few who survive will be rewarded with less arduous and more rewarding reading.

On the whole, Schuster has produced a useful addition to the limited literature in this field. The book makes a significant contribution in advancing the principle that programs must be tailored to the particular circumstances which exist and to the needs and aspirations of the parties. Too often, labor and management, without sufficient introspection or diagnosis, adopt a prepackaged program that turns out to be ill-suited for their needs. Schuster's book drives home the message that different forms of intervention vary significantly in their underlying philosophy, impact, and effect.
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Author:Stepp, John R.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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