Managing with Workforce Culture in Transition
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Jan 1, 2004
BACKGROUND The steel and iron ore industry has had a long history of an adversarial relationship with its union and workforce. The Empire Mine during its first 40 years of existence was no exception. The "we-they" mentality went hand-in-hand with the normal by-product of an adversarial relationship, grievances and arbitration. This relationship was considered the norm and it was not until the late 1970s that consideration was given to changing this relationship. At this time the industry was involved in a fight for existence and the economic pressure demanded increasing productivity to lower cost. The challenge to survive highlighted the fact that an adversarial relationship was not conducive to attaining the needed gains in productivity. The first formal attempt to change the way we worked came in the 1980 Labor Agreement which provided for the opportunity to utilize Labor Management Participation Teams (LMPTs). LMPTs were established at the Empire Mine and they functioned for a couple of years. The teams spent most of their time working on creature-comfort issues and steered clear of dealing with productivity issues. Mine shutdowns had occurred in Michigan resulting in large layoffs, and the union was trying to add jobs and was not supporting teams that could increase productivity and eliminate jobs. When the 1986 labor negotiations began, the local union pulled their support of the LMPT process. Other initiatives were negotiated over the years to foster a change in the culture but, as with the LMPT program, they did not produce the desired culture change. It became abundantly clear: you cannot negotiate a culture change.