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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

Managing with unions

Question: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin continues to demand an end to collective bargaining rights for state employees even after winning their agreement on the benefit reductions he sought. These are the same state employees he must rely on to operate state government and implement his policies. How should he strike the balance between the urgent need to restore the state's fiscal health and his longer-term challenge of leading a large governmental enterprise?

Workers join unions to gain protection from arbitrary authority and to gain fair pay and voice at work. Unions give workers power and dignity, but they also want their organizations to succeed. They will support leaders who collaborate with managers who respect the union's role. Recent examples of collaboration have strengthened GM's competitiveness and improved test scores in school districts in Connecticut, Maryland, California and elsewhere.

But collaboration requires competent and collaborative leaders on both sides. When managers give unions higher wages and benefits than a company or government agency can afford, productivity suffers or government becomes soaked in red ink. When managers try to crush unions, their leaders fight back, damaging relationships and organizational effectiveness. Where unions exist in business and government, leaders should be working together to make their organizations more productive and fiscally sound.

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By Michael Maccoby

 |  March 1, 2011; 1:57 PM ET
Category:  Economic crisis , Government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Unions are simply government mandated labor monopolies, and they routinely provide what all monopolies provide; some combination of lower quality and higher prices to their customers. In the case of public sector unions those customers are the taxpayers.

Public sector workers already benefit from civil service protections, and much greater job security. I do not see why they deserve yet another advantage over private sector employees. Nor do I have any more sympathy for union political activities than I do for any other interest group that bribes its way into the public treasury.

Good, far-sighted management would seek to un-encumber the organization from an unwanted "partner" who by definition only looks out for itself. Unions care for their "partners" as any other parasite cares for its host. Take as much as you can without immediately killing the host if it can be helped. They cannot have the same goals as the host because inevitably any organization is healthier without an unwanted "partner" whose goal is to increase labor costs. Thus the governor is moving in the right direction here, though he should simply outlaw public sector unions entirely at the state level.

Posted by: robert17 | March 4, 2011 5:59 PM
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