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Unions: Odd Man Out?

Fortnightly Magazine - June 1 1996

is there's a real dark side to that. And one of the dark sides is reengineering is a failure in 80 percent of the cases because you need the employees working with you. When you set your workforce in a turmoil, it will affect the quality of your product, whether you call it reliability, whether you call it customer service.

"There's no way we'll consider a massive downsizing. The only way we'll do that is through partnership with the union, through attrition, job retraining. . . . The day is gone when management will say 'another 300 out of the door.'"

s Harmony

"Let's take the IBEW, the electrical workers. They may be union, but they're super-professional. They live that job, they'll do anything to serve the customer, and they're incredibly knowledgeable. So when you sit around the table with the union and get their field knowledge, front-line knowledge, and you mix that with the technical knowledge that the professional engineer brings, you get a much better result."

s Working It Out

"We see eye to eye on system reliability. It's something you've got to maintain and actually improve. Customer expectations are going up all the time. . . . There's a lot less tolerance for 'momentaries' and outages, [also] infrastructure integrity. Union and management are very much aligned on those issues, and on serving the customer.

"Parting ways is solvable though a partnership. A classic one we had: automatic meter reading. Meter readers, of which we have 700, why would they help you do that? Because that's their job. So if you leave it there, you're going to part ways. Technology is good from management's perspective. It's not good from the union's perspective because it's jobs. You have to make the commitment that you'll retrain. . . . These are solvable things."

s The Future

"It could be absolutely horrendous. And I say if you haven't got a partnership with a union, you're in big trouble. . . . To the degree that you have a civil war with your own employees, your own union, you're just going to be incredibly vulnerable to being cherry picked. You have to learn how to talk to each other. We have actually brought in mutual bargaining training. . . . We make mistakes. You've got to fess up to them and say that was not right. Ask for forgiveness. Both sides. And if there's a genuine understanding and commitment, there's forgiveness. I tell you, it's not that different from a marriage." t

Robert J. Haywood is senior vice president and general manager of customer energy services at Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a 21,000-employee utility in San Francisco, CA. About 60 percent of the employees are union, mostly in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. In customer energy services, as many as 80 percent of workers are bargaining unit employees.

s Downsizing

"It has [threatened reliability]

. . . . Some people have told me the new trend is 'You don't fix something unless it's broken.' So, consequently, preventative maintenance care, I believe, is