Guest Commentary

We all win when employers and labor work together collaboratively

Patrick A. “Duke” Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO
Patrick A. “Duke” Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO c. alison barnes martin

One of the things that makes Kansas City such a great place to live is the large number of employers we have who truly believe their employees are the best. Effective business leaders not only take the time to listen to what the people working for them say about how they perform their jobs — they actively want to hear workers’ voices on important matters.

That’s because good bosses know that their own success is dependent on developing three key attributes: leadership, customers and an engaged, productive workforce to make it all fall into place. All three of these are absolutely essential and should be valued equally.

I know from experience that partnerships between labor and management can work if they are managed with care.

Years ago, I was lucky enough to be involved in the formation of a labor/management partnership within the Kansas City Fire Department. It taught me a number of important lessons that I’ve carried with me since then.

Coming up with the right balance for all the stakeholders took a lot of hard work by the fire command staff and the International Association of Firefighters Locals 42 and 3808. Everyone involved ended up devoting themselves to many hours of brainstorming and training. But in the final result, all entities involved — and ultimately every resident of Kansas City dependent on a professional and capable firefighting force — reaped the benefits.

My biggest takeaway from that experience: Together, we found that leading any organization, especially when it is implementing major change, is considerably easier when management makes sure to include employees from the beginning, getting their buy-in along the way. And the best way to do that is have everyone involved at the planning stage of all major workplace initiatives.

In any profession, the people who do the actual work are the ones who see and know details that outsiders may miss, or may fail to put into the bigger context.

Think about your own workplace: I’m sure you have observed wasteful policies and practices that have simply become “the way we’ve always done it.” Your familiarity with the details of how you do your job lets you think of new ways of doing things that could yield cost savings, increased safety or reduced risks for your company.

So speak up. Great leaders have learned to listen to these workers’ insights. It works best when it’s a two-way street.

I have found that these types of partnerships work best in places where there is a union presence and a collective bargaining agreement or a contract. Codifying a labor/management partnership can and should always become a crucial part of how the contract is structured — and the union is the ideal resource to match the best person to each job, based on the experiences that each worker has.

Many of us believe so strongly in the labor/management process that we founded the Labor Management Council of Greater Kansas City, which is led by Bob Jacobi Jr. The council’s guiding principle — to enhance collaboration by solidifying trust and communication among labor, management and the community — aims to keep Kansas City working, today and into the future.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that we work best together when everyone has a voice.

Patrick “Duke” Dujakovich is president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO and a member of The Star’s Missouri Influencers panel.