In 2010, there was witnessed one of the biggest labor conflicts in history. Public school teachers and support staff of public schools in Illinois state, the city of Danville went on strike. The conflict was between the Danville Education Association (DEA) and the Danville Consolidated School District 118 Board of Education. The main reason for the strike was that the mediation efforts led by the federal government to resolve the problems between the teachers and the employer did not yield any fruits.
The teachers had made demands to the Danville Consolidated School District Board of Education that their wages be increased and rehiring of their colleagues who had been fired for budgetary reasons. The school had laid off some teachers and school nurses in an attempt to cut down on costs. The strike received total support from the members of DEA and it is said to be one of the greatest strikes in Danville since the strike of 1977.
Negotiations to try and resolve the differences had been going on for some months and they were led by the federal government. The strike came when a deadlock on the negotiations was reached after an extensive consultation and negotiation session with the two parties.
The session took more than ten hours and the two parties did not come up with a way to resolve the differences. This led to the strike where more than 600 schoolteachers and staff were involved. The teachers walked in protest in the city. The president of the Danville Local National Education Association (NEA) blamed the Board of Education for the strike saying that the stand of the negotiators of the board made the teachers to resort to strike (International Committee of the Fourth International, 2011).
One of the main issues that led to the stand off between the two parties during the negotiation was that the negotiators of the Board of Education insisted on pay freeze. The negotiator also ruled out the possibility of the schools rehiring employees who had been laid off in order to reduce expenditure in schools.
On the other hand, the District Education Association insisted that the board should rehire the laid off teachers and school nurse instead of hiring uncertified nurses and they also insisted on a two year salary schedule freeze.
In criticizing the boards proposals, the president of the Danville local of the National Education Association termed the proposals made by the board unfair and urged them to reconsider their stand. On the other hand, the board had the support of the Superintendent of Schools who said that the demands made by DEA were not realistic and that the Board of Education in Illinois had done exactly what the other district boards were doing.
Although the Danville Education Association and the school board made attempts to make the conflict appear like a local issue, it is observed that the education system in America is undergoing changes brought by the Obama regime. The Obama administration is seen as the root cause of the conflicts in the education sector since it encourages competition among school districts and states in terms of funding.
The regime also encourages competitive testing criteria for all the students across all the states and districts. The strike was also seen as a political tool by some democrats who wanted the class-based system of education in US (International Labor Organization, 1997).
It is universally agreed that human resources or labor is an integral part of an organization (Clarke & Niland, 1991). A lot of theories have been formulated to ensure that organizations attract top talent, maintain the employees and keep them motivated. This is all in an effort to increase the competitiveness of organizations.
In an attempt to make employees comfortable and enable ways for them to channel there concerns, most organizations have come up with employee unions which help to fight for and protect the interests of employees. This is because employers are known to have misused and used employees for their personal interests in history.
The attempts by the employee unions to fight for the rights of employees has always led to conflicts which lead to industrial actions such as strikes, go-slow, among others (Handy, 1990). Industrial relations or labor relations refer to the relationship between employers and employees in the employment.
Labor relations are built on three main foundations which are science base, problem solving and ethics in the work place. The scientific base implies that labour relations is a social science and it needs a good understanding of behavioral theories, law, psychology, economic as well as other theories (Lorenz, 1992).
The problem solving base implies that the labor relations is aimed t finding potential causes of conflicts and looking for solutions to the problems. In the ethical base, it is the aim of the labor relations to ensure that employees and employers display some normal behavior in the course of their work.
According to Drucker (1993), the main assumption behind labor relations is that the employers have greater bargaining power than employees and therefore there is need for the employees to protect themselves through unions. Another assumption is that there are many unavoidable and circumstantial conflicts between employers and employees because of small misunderstandings and unexpected changes.
In fact, labor relations founders agreed that existence of conflicts is a natural occurrence in any organization. The forces behind labor relations in any organization depends on the organization culture, organization structure, public policy and labor laws, power structure in an organization among other factors (Drucker,1993).
The industrial revolution which is usually called the cold war led to several changes in the labour market and in the economy as a whole (Clegg, 1964). Some of the changes it brought were freedom of association which enabled employees to form trade unions; enhancement of labour rights; changes in working patterns and conditions; involvement of women in the work place; migration of people and changes in the human resource management (Drucker,1993).
These changes made it critical to look at ways in which labour conflicts would be addressed and this gave birth to labour relations or industrial relations (MyFox Chicago, 2011). Labor or industrial relations dates back to the age of industrial revolution when the free labor markets and large industrial organizations were replaced with many workers whose basic pay was wages.
Because of these changes that occurred during the industrial revolution, there emerged various conflicts due to the social and economic implications they had. Employees were facing low wages, boredom in the work place, long working hours, poor working conditions and undue pressure from their supervisors (Lorenz, 1992).
Due to these circumstances, there was high employee turnover in most organizations, strikes and other forms of industrial action. Industrial relations had to be formed to address the issue and in the 19th century, industrial relations had been officially born. This was as a balance between the classical economics and Marxism.
Later, the institutions of labor relations were created by developing programs to that effect in universities and other colleges. The main orientation of labor relations in the initial stages of formation was problem solving and thus the classical economists’ laissez faire methods of solving disputes were rejected.
Since the industrial revolution in the 19th century, labor relations has continued to evolve and today there are elaborate laws governing labor relations such as the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act in US.
There are three main theoretical frameworks that seek to give an analysis of the employer and employee relations in the work place (Lorenz, 1992). The three frameworks are the unitary view, pluralist view and the radical view. They all differ in the way they look at the employer and employee relations in the work place.
The unitary perspective perceives the organization to be a harmonious place of work where the employees and the employers coexist happily. This perspective views employees and employers as one thing working towards a similar goal. The employees and employers are cooperative and the employees are loyal to their managers. This view thus says that employee unions are not necessary as there are no conflicts in the work place.
The pluralist perspective has it that there are many opposing forces in the work place. This perspective assumes that the work place has different groups of people and each has its own interests, goals, and loyalties. The major groups in the organizational set up are the employee unions and the management. The management takes a controlling and dictating approach rather than a persuasive way of dealing with the employees.
There is thus the need of employee unions to help the employees and the employers to reach a balance in their interests. According to this view, bargaining power of employees is not a problem and it can benefit an organization if well managed. The radical perspective, which is also called the Marxist view, looks at organizations as capitalist forms of society.
This view assumes that the employees are less empowered economically than the employers and thus there will be conflict between the employees and employers. The employees will view the lower economic empowerment as oppression hence conflict will arise. Marxists thus believe that conflict is an automatic response to oppression hence labor relations are critical in any organization (Lorenz, 1992).
The current developments in labor relations theories depend much on changes in management practices and international factors (Schein, 1995). Today, the trend in industrial relations is to emphasize much on keeping the employee involved and enhancing a harmonious working environment.
Globalization has force organizations to be flexible hence, most organizations are seeking all available ways to ensure labor – management cooperation. It is worth noting that achieving labour-management cooperation does not necessarily mean dealing away with the labour unions.
The labor issue between the District Education Association (DEA) and the Danville Consolidated School 118 School Board is not something out of the ordinary. It can be viewed as a normal industrial action arising out of differences between the employer and the employee union. In every working environment, there must be such conflicts which are situational (Lorenz, 1992).
The strike in the Danville District was caused by the board’s decision to lay off some workers due to economical problems. This however did not go well with the teachers and other school staff. The labour dispute came at a time when US as a country had put laws and labour policies to avert such stand-offs.
Among the laws are the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act which regulate the relations between employees and employers. The strike came amid efforts of the Obama administration to cut down on spending which was also happening at the time when the labour market had become more liberalized especially in America.
It also followed decentralization of power of labour unions to ensure that they were effective in fighting for the rights of employees. Decentralization was effected by forming district labour associations which were seen to be more effective since they understood well the problems the employees were suffering.
The dispute also came at a time when the labour relations in enterprises had taken a national and industrial level of collective bargaining. This was the major reason why the District Education Association received support from national labour unions in the country and from all sectors of the economy.
Also, during this time the labour unions were viewed by governments as methods of avoiding strikes and industrial action. The government assumed that through the use of labour unions, it could convince the employees easily and manipulate them. The strike in Danville district however proved the government wrong.
A good measure to manage labour relations between the DEA and the Board would be to adopt the international labour relations system. This system would keep the board on toes to perform well and have competitive advantage over other districts in terms of provision of education.
The board could also consider on making changes on the organization structure to ensure that the management is closer to the employees such that the employees can air their grievances easily. The board should also work on communication and involvement of the employees in decision making especially on decisions that touch on the welfare of the employees.
The other issue about labour relations that is brought out by the Danville strike is the involvement of political and national issues in labour relations. It is clear that there were political differences between the labour union and the district board and the administrative regime (Clarke & Niland, 1991).
Good labour relations should ensure that conflicts that might arise between a labour union and the state or country are eliminated and also ensure that conflicts between the unions and management are minimized. The relations between the management and the country or state should also be eliminated thus a good labour relations method uses a triangular model of managing conflicts (Handy, 1990).
From relation of the strike of employees of the District Education Board and current developments in labour theory, it is clear that labour relations come as a result of conflicts between the employees and employers. The conflicts may be internal or external. External causes of conflicts are factors like economic changes and any other factors that the organization does not have control over.
Conflicts due to external factors pose a greater challenge to managers and this call for a big understanding of the human behavior and social studies in order to deal with the situation effectively. It is evident that the District Education Board of Danville had no prior major problems with the union for teachers and other staff. The problem that caused the conflict between the employer and employee was to a large extend external.
This is because it was an execution of a policy by the Obama administration to cut down on budgets that led to lay-off of some employees. The internal factor of the conflict came when the negotiators failed to reach an agreement with the union, behavior which was described as arrogance by the supporters of the strike.
There are various ways through which such conflicts can be resolved to avoid strikes and other form of industrial action. First and foremost, the board could have communicated effectively to the DEA on the policy to lower operating budgets.
It could have even sought ways on how to cut down the budget and how to go about the process of laying-off workers. It is clear that the employees were not dissatisfied with the lay-off only but also by the action to employ uncertified school nurses. It can however be concluded that a good understanding of human behavior is necessary in the labour relations.
Employers should learn to incorporate the ideas of the employees before implementing any big change because this will avert industrial action and improve on labour relations. Due to the fact that decentralization of power has taken its full effect, organizations should understand that this calls for individual understanding and individualized treatment of employees in various departments, organizations, districts, states and even countries (Kochan, Harry & Mower, 1984).
Organizations and other entities should not use the methods used by other entities since they may not work. This should however not override the necessity to formulate and pursue a common labour relations goal as a country or as a state.
Organizations should awaken to the fact that the labour unions are more organized and more networked hence they are able to mobilize employees to effect an industrial action. Employers should thus approach negotiations with caution and respect since the gone are the times when employees used to fear employers (Clarke & Niland, 1991).
It is not a matter in contention that human beings are important strategic assets of an organization (Schein, 1995). With the emergence of globalization, companies have been continuously looking for ways to gain competitive edge over the other competitors. This has been achieved through hiring top talent and keeping the talent motivated so as to ensure their productivity.
This has been done through motivational theories. However, this has not been enough to keep productivity in organizations high. There are external factors as well as internal factors that lead to disputes. Most of these disputes are unavoidable since they arise from factors that are out of control of the management. It is therefore the role of the labour unions and the management to negotiate and reach a compromise to avert an industrial action.
In order to be able to be effective in tackling organizational conflicts, there must be a good understanding and relationship between the employees and the employers. Employers and employees must therefore maintain a good relationship since this will be helpful in negotiation during conflict.
During negotiations, each party should be objective and realistic in their demands (Handy, 1990). Each should be willing to compromise as this will lead to a solution. A stand off will never lead to a solution to any problem. Labour relations should therefore be a continuous process that involves review of existing policies and finding ways to increase the cooperation between employees and employers.
A consultation economy is very important to the success of any economy. Policies and mechanisms should be put in lace to ensure that labour market forces are well regulated and controlled.
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