Do sweat the small stuff:

September 2, 2009 / Comments (0)


Every workplace has them: the little tensions and annoyances that can morph into major problems if left unresolved.


In a state agency like Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services, with its 3,000 staff in wildly diverse jobs spread all across the state, small irritations can escalate on a spectacular scale.

With the right training and commitment, however, managers and union members can head many problems off at the pass.


MEA-MFT has been working with DPPHS and union members to provide the right training. MEA-MFT has 585 members who work in the department. That’s 585 good reasons to help improve labor-management relations.


MEA-MFT Field Consultant Brian Ehli recently collaborated with DPHHS management and other unions with members in the agency to hold a “labor-management summit.”


Held in Helena May 12-13, the summit involved management and union members, including 10 MEA-MFT members from DPHHS offices across the state—staff from disability services, technology services, child support and enforcement, Boulder registered nurses, and Boulder’s Professional Interdisciplinary Federation.


Two federal mediators provided training in labor-management problem solving. Several members of labor-management committees from other state agencies shared their success stories.

“I think it was a success,” said Ehli. “Most people left thinking we should look into establishing labor-management committees, at least one per division. Hopefully this is a way to develop leaders and help them acquire skills to solve problems before they become grievances.”


Ideally, Ehli would like to see a labor-management committee at each work site.


“I was very hopeful going into it [the summit], and I’m hopeful coming out of it,” said MEA-MFT member Jill Cohenour, president of her local union, the Federation of Public Health and Human Services. Labor-management committees can provide “a forum for employees to talk with management about issues in their work areas,” Cohenour said.


“That’s going to be a huge thing. Our members often feel like they don’t have a say in workplace issues. The ability to talk with each other and come up with solutions is good for effective and efficient work.”


According to Ehli, the next step is for summit participants to talk to others in their workplaces about starting a labor-management committee.

The success of these committees will depend on having people on both sides of the table with the training and commitment to make the work site a better place, he said. “If you have people who want it to work, it’ll work.”

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