Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
It’s often said that to understand another person’s point of view, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. In the case of SMART and SMACNA, if you try one another’s shoes, you might find they fit better than expected.
Guy Gast, president of the Des Moines division of the Waldinger Corporation, believes that, on some level, the unions, the business managers or agents, and the contractors are all doing the same job. “Most of us are doing the same thing every day—trying to figure out how to get work and put people to work.” (Read more about what Gast had to say about understanding what makes your labor-management counterpart tick at the last Partners in Progress Conference at bit.ly/pinpshoes.)
Ray Reasons, business manager for Local 36 in Missouri, values the relationship they have with their contractors and knows they need them to be successful. “Anybody who thinks Local 36 is going to do it without the contractors is sadly mistaken,” Reasons says. “That is a distinct partnership. It’s like a marriage, really. Everybody knows a marriage takes work, and you have to be receptive to the other person’s needs and wants.” He believes open dialogue is the key to a successful working relationship. “You have to listen to the good and the bad that other people have to say about you,” he says. “And you can’t just focus on the good. The good gets us by every day, but it’s the things that we need to work on, that take the time and the effort, that you have to exert hours on to make better.”
Local 36 has shown they’re listening by improving the ability of union members to meet contractors’ requirements. When contractors have expressed a need for union members with certain skills, the Local has organized training for their members, which allows the contractors to confidently bid on the work knowing they’ll have the qualified workforce to do it.
Reasons adds, “We value the partnership, so we nurture that relationship every chance we get. Typically, when it comes to contract negotiations, we’re hammering out the dollars because if we’ve got issues in the CBA prior to that, we like to get those addressed at the time—not brush them under the table and worry about them when the contract is up.”
Reasons is confident that both organizations know they’re in it together. “I think Local 36 and the local SMACNA chapter are very good at realizing what affects the other,” he says. “Their fight is our fight and our fight is their fight.”
Gast insists it’s important to stay focused on what truly matters. “Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that a high priority for us is making sure that we have something for people to do every day. It gets obscured by other perceived agendas, perhaps the thought that I want them to do work for less or that I want more production without paying for it. We’re naturally reminded of our different perspectives.
“Most of the time when I have been involved with any kind of issue where the union has one position on something and I have another position, if our relationship fractured, it is because we have so much self interest that we have forgotten about the real interest: the customer.”
Gast encourages people to “put on a different pair of glasses. Don’t put on mine. Don’t put on yours,” he says. “Put on the customer’s and say, ‘What do I see? Do I like what I see?’ If you can honestly say, ‘This would be really good for you,’ then we’re probably on the right page. Sometimes we have to admit that what we’re debating or arguing about would not be of much interest to our customer.”
Lauri Rollings, former executive director of Plumbing, Mechanical, Sheet Metal Contractors Alliance in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, believes labor and management aren’t that different. “When you really break it down, both have the same goal, which is to maintain strong union market share and make sure the folks who are actually doing the work have a safe working environment, come home from work every day with no incidents on the job site, and have a living wage and benefits that allow them to provide for themselves and their families.
“Each side needs to keep in mind that we have goals in common that are stronger than our differences,” she says. “In any relationship, the parties are not always going to agree, but it’s much easier to disagree respectfully and try to work our way through those differences if we realize we’re both working towards a common goal and we’re just taking different routes to get there.”
In other words, by occasionally trying on and walking in each other’s shoes, our journey in the industry is bound to be more pleasant and successful for everyone. ▪