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Labor, supervisors meet in effort to find common ground

A recent series of sessions brought nearly 300 AFSCME stewards and university supervisors together again to work toward solutions to common problems.

The meetings, conducted throughout May, continued an initiative called the "Joint Education Program" that began in January.

The two-hour sessions on May 12, 14, 21 and 22, took the next step toward reaching the program's goals: to improve relationships, to improve local problem solving, and to build capacity for continuous improvement around efficiency and customer satisfaction.

"We can do better. We can be better partners," says Tom Peterson, associate director for Operations and Support Services at U-M Hospital.

The program was conceived in the fall of 2008 and designed collaboratively by AFSCME leaders and management.

Angela Dameron, AFSCME Local 1583 bargaining chair, expressed her hope: "This is a very good beginning, and if each of us continues to invest in the relationship, it will grow into a more trusting and viable one."

Each discussion group consisted of supervisors from across campus along with one union steward, who brought another perspective to the table. Participants learned they experienced many of the same issues, and all shared a desire for improved communication.

"It is important that we continue to enhance communication between labor and management," said Gloria Peterson, president of AFSCME Local 1583.

The goal is to preserve employment by making sure the university continues to thrive in these uncertain times. By solving problems before they become grievances, the university saves time.

"It's more important now than ever that we learn how to work together in how to air our mutual interests and to deal with dissent and disagreement in a constructive way so we can keep this university strong," says Rich Robben, executive director for Plant Operations.

While the overall atmosphere was encouraging, some participants suggested the old, sometimes conflict-ridden relationship between management and bargained-for employees would never change. It is for those voices, and for those who expressed hope and excitement, that the program continues.

Linda Newman, interim director of University Housing, articulated the importance of moving forward. "Relationships develop over time and through shared experiences that are anchored in trust and respect," she says.

The program will continue in the fall with more sessions focused on consistent contract interpretation and continuing this effort.

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