Profiles In Collaboration:
|Union Co-Chair:||Michael Schoen|
|Management Co-Chair:||Ernie Huff|
Extra cooks in the kitchen can make just the right broth
In the best cases, a Joint Departmental Committee starts by concentrating on specific projects but establishes the trust and communication necessary for union and management leaders to tackle other concerns that pop up.
The Dining Services JDC is a good illustration of that. Since it formed four years ago, it has evolved from trying to build positive relationships by working on “quick win” projects to tackling complicated and contentious issues to establishing “mini JDCs” in each of the dining halls.
Dining Services is responsible for all the dining halls on campus and employees over 400 people working as chefs, pantry workers, G.S.A.'s, administrative assistants, and supervisors scattered over nineteen units. When the Dining Services JDC came together in 2004, it was seen as a good test site for the union-management partnership because there had been a history of tension between managers and staff.
According to Mike Schoen, a First Cook at Berkeley College Dining Hall and a co-chair of the JDC, staff there already had some experience with consensus-building approaches from when Berkeley started the sustainable food project several years before. “But it hadn’t really spread outside of that dining hall,” he said."‘So when we formed the JDC we said, ‘let’s start with little victories.’ It was things like getting lockers for staff in Stiles-Morris Dining Hall and getting safety shoes for everybody.
“In the old days the union would say we needed to get safety shoes, and the University would look at what it cost and then say no, and then we’d go to arbitration. This time we just agreed to work it out without going through all the procedures.”
Schoen said those projects were successful, and they made important improvements, but they didn’t change the day-to-day work environment very much in Dining Services. So the JDC started to turn their attention to bigger issues. They tackled several significant points of contention in the union-management relationship, such as scheduling, open grievances, and filling open positions.
One specific concern was the use of “casual employees.” When the University needs to fill in a staff shortage temporarily, it can hire someone on a casual basis; that person doesn’t earn the benefits of a permanent position, and they are scheduled for fewer than twenty hours per week.
The unions prefer to see casual employees used as little as possible because it means fewer hours going to union members. And managers, though they want the flexibility of casual employees when regular staff aren’t available, often prefer not to use them because they are difficult to schedule and keep trained. Casual employees also have a higher turnover rate because they are on the look-out for positions with benefits and more hours.
Scheduling is still the responsibility of managers, but by having lots of people involved in studying the schedules and forming recommendations, “You get different ways of looking at things,” Schoen said. “In this case, too many cooks don ’t spoil the broth.”
But the real benefits of the complicated scheduling project and other projects are just beginning to be seen, according to Ernst Huff, Associate Vice President of Student Financial and Administrative Services and the other co-chair of the JDC. “We’re establishing relationships with our employees and getting a greater appreciation for the issues they face day-to-day,” Huff says. “For example, there’s the freedom the other JDC members feel in just ringing me up. We talk all the time. So we see the mutual collaboration we developed spilling over in other areas.”
That enabled another important improvement that came up and got resolved so quickly that it hardly had time to become an official project of the JDC. Because the dining halls often have short work weeks when the dormitories are closed, employees have to use their paid time off to patch together a full paycheck.
“That’s a problem for some staff,” Huff says. “Historically, the University says, ‘Too bad. That’s the way it is.’ But we had a couple meetings to see if we could find a way to mitigate this, and we came up with some solutions that we put in place very quickly.
“When we made these changes, a letter came out from administrations explaining it, and it was endorsed by the union. We worked collaboratively to find a solution and we communicated it together.
“None of that would have been possible without the groundwork laid by the JDC. Our experience is that the payoff has been incredible. We’re all there to provide a better service to the university and we all want to contribute to that. This is an opportunity for the University to become sensitive to someone else’s perspective and vice versa.”
The co-chairs acknowledge that union-management partnership is always a work in progress, but they are excited about the next phase for their JDC, which is establishing work groups within each of the dining halls—“Like mini-JDCs,” Schoen calls them.
Last Updated: March 3, 2010 (map).