Turnabout Is Fair Play
A Fresh Squeeze On Labor
"Like comparing apples to oranges." An old cliché, but for Tropicana, that cliché became a reality.
But instead of apples it was "management." And instead of oranges it was "union." If Tropicana couldn't find a common ground between these two there would be no oranges, and nobody liked those apples.
At the beginning of this decade Tropicana was plagued with labor-management relations issues that left the company in almost constant negotiations and arbitration. Labor and management at Tropicana consistently entered into negotiations that resulted in mistrust, poor relations and required immense arbitration.
"In 1995 we had a ratification but no
agreement on what the contract actually meant. We went
two yeas without actually signing the contract," states
Harry Litzell, director of HR at Tropicana. "We also had
three pending arbitration as a result of that
Overall, the contract talks at Tropicana produced broad mistrust and there was no process in place to ensure that future negotiations would be improved.
It soon became clear to the company that there had to be a better way to address labor-management contract talks. Too much time, money and resources were being absorbed establishing work agreements. So, in 1996 the company reexamined its negotiation practices, redesigned its human resource function and appointed Litzell as the position of Operations HR Director to address labor relations.
A Ripening of
"We had a significant opportunity to
do things better," Litzell adds.
Then in late '96 a Labor-Management Committee (LMC) was established with a primary focus to change labor relations at Tropicana. The LMC consisted of the Union Executive Board and members of Operations and HR.
In the fall of '97 the LMC concluded that they needed outside guidance to facilitate their labor relation improvement efforts. The LMC jointly selected a labor management consultant, Odyssey Consulting Group, Syracuse, N.Y., to spearhead the improvement process. Then the bargaining committee attended a workshop on interest-based negotiations. After the workshop, neither party was committed to abandoning the traditional labor negotiation model, but everyone agreed that several principles of interest-based negotiation needed to be included in Tropicana's bargaining model.
In this hybrid model economics were held until the end of the bargaining process (a traditional approach), but subcommittees trained in interest-based negotiations were brought in to provide a fresh perspective. Many subcommittee members had not participated in past negotiations and they were from various company disciplines - pension, payroll, engineering, etc.
"We wanted to inject some new blood - people who had no idea what traditional bargaining looked like. We also wanted to bring in subject matter experts," states Theresa Flynn of the Odyssey Consulting Group. "We used this subcommittee model where the subcommittee data fed into a more traditional model," Flynn adds.
The subcommittees' focus was to develop a list of all possible solutions for each issue in the negation. The overall outcome from the subcommittees was to find solutions that would please both management and labor. These committee members were not considered to be from labor or management - they were instructed to work impartially and to present all ideas considered in their meeting to the main bargaining committee.
Then in may of '98 the subcommittees presented all of their ideas to the bargaining committee in an unbiased process by identifying the problem, possible solutions and whose interest each solution met. In June of that year the bargaining committee met at a series of off-site retreats with the goal of reaching an agreement.
"In addition we involved numerous union leaders, stewards, mangers, supervisors and subject matter experts in the process. We worked toward a common understanding of agreements to avoid future grievances and arbitration," states Bill Woolston, vice president of labor relations. "We truly bargained in good faith."
It was not a perfect process, but the new model worked better than any past attempt. With a lot of determination and participation, Tropicana and Teamsters 173 were able to blur the lines between what is an apple and what is an orange.