Can unions and businesses collaborate? On some issues, they do
More from the series
Missouri Influencer Series
When it comes to organized labor, a panel of The Star’s readers wanted to know: How can unions and businesses work together to drive economic growth?
Here’s how members of The Star’s Missouri Influencer panel answered the question, with several mentioning fostering better communication and collaboration withing companies and better living wages:
Kay Barnes, former mayor of Kansas City, senior director for university engagement at Park University: “It’s all built on relationships. As a result, both union and business leaders need to make every effort to stay in dialogue even when disagreeing on some issues.”
Michael Barrett, Missouri State Public Defender director: “When workers have disposable income, they spend money. They do home repairs, buy a motorcycle, take their family out for dinner. In other words, they generate revenue for every other employer in the area. Businesses should embrace higher wages and improved working conditions, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense.”
Mark Bedell, superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools: “They need to develop a stronger partnership around advocacy for the workers. There also needs to be collaboration on legislative agenda items that will create more opportunities for employment. I believe we all have the same interests around wanting employees to feel valued and appreciated. If we are not being portrayed as enemies, then I believe that economic growth can take off. That’s the approach I have taken with the bargaining units I interface with.”
Jean Paul Bradshaw, lawyer and former U.S. attorney: “It will require them understanding that they need each other in order to be successful. Winning a particular position in a negotiation that results in a non-competitive position results in both sides losing.”
Mark Bryant, lawyer, former Kansas City Council member: “Unions and businesses have a mutual interest in success of the enterprise. Businesses should recognize an organized workforce adds immeasurable value to the enterprise and make it an integral part of decision-making. If businesses share the wealth, organized labor will help increase productivity and together they will drive economic growth.”
Mike Burke, lawyer and former Kansas City Council member: “It is in everyone’s best interest to resolve issues as efficiently as possible. Labor stoppages rarely benefit both sides. This is especially true in times of tight labor markets and rising interest rates.”
Alissia Canady, Kansas City Council member: “Work together in recruitment and training and retention of skilled labor jobs to develop a reliable workforce. Negotiate living wages. Good-paying jobs stabilize families, encourage homeownership and boost the overall economy when workers have discretionary income.”
Scott Charton, CEO of Charton Communications: “A prime example is already happening across Missouri: Business and labor are part of the enthusiastic SaferMO.com coalition backing Proposition D on the Nov. 6 ballot. (Full disclosure: I am communications director for SaferMO.com, but the example is valid, ongoing and on-point).
“Prop D allows Missouri voters to decide on gradually raising the current 17 cents per gallon state motor fuels user tax — unchanged since 1996, a generation ago — by 2.5 cents per year over four years starting next July 1.
“Each 2.5-cent increase would cost the average motorist about $1.25 per month, until the total increase equaling a dime per gallon is eventually phased in.
“When Prop D is fully implemented, it is estimated to bring in about $412 million per year in funding statewide. This will allow the Missouri Department of TransportatIon to regain lost purchasing power, as the current 17 cents state motor fuels user tax is worth about 7 cents.
“This funding will enable MoDOT and local governments to accelerate priority road and bridge projects and match billions in federal funding. Business leaders recognize the immense value of good roads and bridges in marketing Missouri and transporting goods to national and international markets. Unions recognize that the massive infusion of infrastructure funding will create thousands of good-paying jobs. For business and unions, Prop D is a solid win-win.”
Luis Cordoba, Kansas City Public Schools’ chief student support and intervention officer: “I believe that unions and businesses can work together to drive economic growth. We begin by having the right ingredients for promoting respectful and professional conversations.
“For the employer, they can begin by asking their employees through an online survey to rate the organization and leaders on their progress or lack thereof to improve workers’ pay and working conditions. This process promotes employees with an opportunity to become more engaged on issues that are important to them.
“The organization and union may also consider a process that may help to develop partnerships that nurture employee engagement through the selecting of the right employees to be ambassadors or spokesperson for their peers. Not all employers are manipulators that can’t be trusted.
“Unions should expose organizations that frequently exploit, and who violate basic labor standards, and who treat workers poorly. The uneducated, immigrant and other low-wage workers usually stay in toxic working conditions because they have nowhere else to go. We drive economic growth by making sure all workers in any position are treated fairly with dignity, respect, and abide by basic labor standards. If you treat your employees fairly at the beginning, you would not need unions.”
Woody Cozad, lobbyist and former state GOP chairman: “When I was a young man, there were almost what seemed like constant strikes, and the best example I know of is the automobile industry … since there were just three companies, between them the competition was all about market share.
“That was great until foreign automobile companies showed up and all of a sudden these three companies that had been very badly managed … those three companies were in no position to compete.
“But that kind of thing mostly hasn’t gone on in a long time. The unions have lost so much power. They are such a small portion of the marketplace they don’t have the clout to destroy an industry anymore and you don’t see a lot of strikes. So I’m not sure there’s much they can do together.
“In the private sector, I tell you what, the balance of labor and management is pretty good, and if I were labor the thing I’d be worrying about is the huge companies that are emerging, the Amazons and the Googles and what not.”
Thomas Curran, president of Rockhurst University: “When labor and management engage in constructive conversation, our whole community benefits. The fruits of this conversation includes economic development and living wages for our laborers.
“Several decades ago, Rockhurst University established a Labor Management Council that meets regularly on our campus. With Bob Jacobi as its executive director, this group of leaders in management and the workforce meets on our campus to discuss and plan how to promote the human dignity of all workers and seek the common good.
“This group is to be credited for more than just its aspirations. Collectively, they are enhancing the quality of life for our workforce and the community for which we are all responsible. Rockhurst is delighted to be the place where such conversations are held and promoted.”
John Danforth, former U.S. senator: “As a place to do business, Missouri is and will continue to be in competition with other states. So the objective should be to create an atmosphere of labor/management cooperation that produces the attraction of job opportunities to our state. That means, among other things, a competent, well-trained and productive workforce.”
Jane Dueker, lawyer, radio host and former political adviser: “Most importantly, they can develop a productive line of communication to address issues before they become contentious. That ability to communicate has been unnecessarily frustrated by politicians pushing legislation year after year to advance politics and pit labor against management.
“One need only look to the Neighborhoods Built by their Neighbors program — a joint venture between the Building Trades and the home building industry to provide financial incentives to prospective home buyers during the aftermath of the 2008 market crash.
“The program was only one of many positive results of meetings between labor leaders and homebuilders to advance their mutual interest in stabilizing the industry to benefit both their interests. The program has continued, as has the positive communication upon which it was based.”
John Fierro, Kansas City Public Schools board member: “Both employers and unions can drive economic growth if they improve their working relationship. It starts with cooperation followed by the mutual aim of improving organizational performance and sustainability, resulting in benefits for both the employer and employees.”
Gwen Grant, Urban League of Greater Kansas City president and CEO: “Simply stated, unions and businesses must work together to foster economic growth because the economy cannot thrive without a highly skilled workforce. Therefore, it is in the best interest of employers and unions to enter into workforce development partnerships and work collaboratively to create and sustain highly skilled talent pools. They must focus on wage growth that enables them to pay salaries that are commensurate with employees’ skills and productivity; and, they must implement talent retention strategies that foster career growth and profit sharing.
“Typically, well-trained, well-paid employees with opportunities for growth and opportunities to share in the fruits of their labor are more productive. These workforce development priorities are essential to drive and sustain economic growth. To get them done, businesses and unions must create shared visions and common goals.”
Jason Grill, media, public affairs and crisis communications consultant: “The forward thinker would put resources into new training programs, new technologies, new revenue sectors and new business verticals utilizing both strong labor assets and executive skill sets. Businesses’ leadership teams and union workers provide value to each other and need to work together to drive economic growth instead of division. Leaders on both ends of this spectrum must find continued common ground and move forward not backwards. With evolution of our economy comes change, both businesses and unions need to respect this and each other.”
John Hancock, consultant and former chair of the Missouri Republican Party: “They need to compromise on issues where they can, such as prevailing wage in non-urban areas.”
James Harris, political strategist: “I believe that when unions focus on job training and working with businesses productively, it can help attract manufacturing to Missouri. However, taking a needlessly aggressive approach – such as sitting outside of businesses with boycott signs and inflatable rats, as I have seen in the past – sends the wrong message to companies that might be considering Missouri as an option.
“The simple truth of the matter is there are valid reasons that some businesses might prefer a union workforce (such as training), while some may prefer non-union workers. Site selection companies have said many manufacturers prefer non-union workers.”
Deb Hermann, CEO of Northland Neighborhoods Inc. and former Kansas City Council member: “Workers can be given a bigger voice in their work environment. Unions can provide daycare, training, and family counseling.”
Vernon Howard, pastor and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City: “Our position is that there are basically two economies — one for the well-to-do, and there’s another economy for the not-so-well-to-do. The problem is that the measures for economic growth do not always consider sustainability for the working poor.
“Case in point, right here in Kansas City we are seeing one of — this is what I am told by economists and researchers — one of the greatest economic booms and economic development upward trends that we’ve seen in for quite some time but still just less than half ... of Kansas City workers make less than $15 per hour. That’s amid a booming and expanding downtown.”
“From our perspective with SCLC as a civil rights organization dedicated to economic justice, we are just very concerned that the measures of economic growth include how the working poor are faring, and if there’s not an uplift of wages that’s commensurate to the economic growth measures such as (gross national product), such as manufacturing measures and such as investments (and) stock market analysis — all those are well and good — but if we don’t consider how are wages for the poorest of the poor doing in any kind of economic analysis then we are missing a whole strata of people who are vital to our economy.”
“I think also just the general spirit of cooperation and general welfare and goodwill — if there can be some kind of breakthrough where there’s not a kind of us-against-them mentality; that if we were to understand that all of us are a significant part of the same economic system and when we protect the welfare of business we protect the welfare of our community, and when we protect workers we protect the welfare of our community.”
Sly James, Kansas City mayor: “It’s important for labor to continue to strengthen and protect workers’ rights, but they must also continue to broaden their ranks to create a larger, more diverse membership base. Business should negotiate with labor to pay workers a fair, livable wage and provide benefits, while also seeking long-term solutions to ensure continued profitability.”
Gregg Keller, principal of Atlas Strategy Group: “Businesses should work with workers and working families, not overpaid special-interest union bosses. The data is in and resounding: Missouri’s neighboring, competing states that give their workers more freedom to decide where their paychecks get spent have outdistanced the Show-Me State by a country mile in recent years.”
Crosby Kemper, III, director of the Kansas City Public Library, co-founder of the Show-Me Institute: “Eliminate rule-based impediments.”
Jennifer Lowry, chief toxicologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital: “Clearly businesses that take care of hard-working employees benefit by better work ethics and productivity by those workers. Workers that are treated and paid fairly amongst their peers provide a better product and view of the company itself. Economic growth cannot occur if executives only take care of themselves at the cost of their employees and families. A better business model that values employees for a better product improves the lives of not only those who work for the company, but the community in which is based. That will improve the economic growth.”
Dianne Lynch, president of Stephens College: “Talk less, listen better, and get used to the fact that they’re in it together. That means it’s time to find common ground that nobody loves and everybody can live with — and to get on with meeting their shared goals of prosperity and growth.”
Richard Martin, director of government affairs at JE Dunn Construction: “First, by recognizing the voters overwhelmingly do not support Right to Work. Therefore, it behooves both to cooperate on issues and policies both benefit from. Kansas City is fortunate to have a strong Labor Management Council headed by Bob Jacobi.”
Christopher Maples, interim chancellor at Missouri University of Science and Technology: “Businesses and unions can work together to drive economic growth by committing to each other to decrease the pay gap between labor and executives.”
Jay Nixon, former governor: “They can join together to identify and promote a real and lasting investment in infrastructure.”
Cici Rojas, partner and president of Tico Productions and Tico Sports: “Workforce development is a key driver for many of the private sector growth opportunities. In most sectors, we are experiencing the need for skilled workers, especially in the construction, and technology industries, which leads to higher costs, project delays, and loss of attracting new companies to our region. Business and unions can work together to create pathways for unskilled workers to be trained to fill both construction and technology related jobs. Public incentives can be worked on in unison to create more opportunities for effective programs that can be part of the solution.”
Leland Shurin, lawyer and chairman of the Kansas City Police Board: “Market Missouri products and Missouri productivity/workmanship internationally; more joint ownership /investment and share of profits and losses by labor and management.”
Ryan Silvey, Missouri Public Service commissioner and former state senator: “By focusing on job training and workforce development.”
Jeff Simon, managing partner, Husch Blackwell: “By opening up opportunity for prosperity more broadly. Unions can provide critical skills training essential to developing the workforce of tomorrow, and businesses can invest in tomorrow’s workforce by hiring union labor.”
Phil Snowden, University of Missouri Board of Curators member, former state lawmaker: “I guess the thing I always come back to is that people need to communicate, and it never hurts to sit down and talk no matter what the subject is and try to listen to all sides … and I think if business and labor would do more of that — and maybe there is such a council set up right now where they have continual meetings every month or whatever — it might be helpful. But certainly there is no substitute for talking and trying to understand where the other one is coming from and what the issues are and how we can approach it so that everybody wins.
“I think the mindset maybe has been, ‘We got to win for our side, and what do we do to put ourselves in the best position?’ And you always want to be in the best position you can, but you also want to be fair and reasonable and come up with something (that), in the final analysis, is good for everybody and moves the city and the state forward.”
David Steelman, University of Missouri Board of Curators member, former state lawmaker, attorney: “Traditional unions and businesses have had no problem working together to create jobs and drive economic growth. Unfortunately, today’s kill-or-be-killed political environment has made that difficult.”
Scott Wagner, Kansas City mayor pro tem: “By developing talent and productivity. Both factors improve the competitiveness of the existing labor pool and attracts more firms to where that labor pool is.”