Every dispute I have in the private sector, two issues come up, job security and contracting out, and flexibility. On the basis that you are not unique in terms of wanting flexibility; the unions are not unique in wanting some protection against management being aggressive and draconian in the measures it wants to introduce.
The union is also saying, those guys have been there for eons, that are in their fifties, maybe we can't condition them into this changing and changed work environment. Let's give them some pension money. I criticize the unions, every time I get into a private sector dispute. One thing the public sector unions did over the years, when there wasn't much money around for the public sector, the union placed emphasis on pension plans. When there was lots of money around, however, in the private sector, did they take an extra dime or an extra fifty cents and throw it to the pension plan - No, they never did. Then, guess what happens in the 1990's, the union says the pension plans are inferior. So, then they come and say to management, in cost conscious times, "you are responsible for keeping our pension plans at inferior levels". And I say "hold it now, you didn't think about the pension plan being the key element to change in the future".
What is the union also looking for? They are looking for early retirement provisions. Early retirement provisions for the same reason. To get the older workers out of there; let them leave with dignity. The unions also want to slow the pace in which job flexibility and trade jurisdiction lines are being broken down.
Speaking again from someone who has sat at both sides of the table and worked as a neutral over the last 30 years, as a rule, collective bargaining has become a much more orderly exercise and truly disfunctional relationships are the exception. There are very few relationships out there in which the people are married together, the union and the management. I don't see as many disfunctional relationships in which there is a hate environment. There used to be in the early 80's where there were battles royal every single day at the work place. Now I see that there is the odd little spat, that there is the odd little disagreement, but I see it blown into illegal work stoppages, I don't see it being blown into the shop floor every single day. In every organization, of course, you have good supervisors, good managers and you have bad supervisors and bad managers, the same way you have some problem employees and some good employees. Management is slowly but surely sifting out its problems because management does have some problems too. In the past, management would criticize the union for the operation of a given work unit not thinking that maybe it is not the workers that are at fault, maybe the people who are trying to run them need some fine tuning in terms of the skill sets they have.
With respect to the day to day relationship between local management and union representors, I am encouraged with the degree of cooperation and consultation that has been fostered in recent years. Maybe not as quick as people want, but I think it has been a marked change from no change in the past.