Creating Value Through Labor-Management Partnerships at Work

A supervisor holding a clipboard speaks with two workers in a factory environment. They all wear safety goggles and ear plugs. The text reads "Labor-Management Partnerships."


It is no secret that positive outcomes result when employers and unions join together to find solutions for complex workplace issues. The last few years have seen unprecedented disruptions to our labor market, from the supply-chain to staffing shortages. This was due in large part to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employers are now working with their union counterparts to find solutions that benefit everyone.

Employers and unions partnering together is not a new concept. Taking the approach that frontline employees can provide value and support in resolving operational obstacles makes for a more well-rounded and inclusive workplace. It can also lead to: 

  • More robust recruitment 
  • Less turnover 
  • Greater productivity 
  • More satisfied workers  

The cornerstone to any effective labor-management partnership is finding and creating value for both workers and their employing businesses from a single solution or set of solutions. But these mutually beneficial solutions are not always easy to come by. Here are three things to keep in mind:

Be prepared to share information.

Effective communication is essential. There must be a willingness to discuss your ideas clearly and candidly. If one side does not understand exactly what solution the other is proposing, it can lead to misunderstanding and mistrust. A good starting point is to schedule a series of brainstorming sessions and come prepared to discuss the principal issues broadly. Be receptive to multiple solutions and always keep the lines of communication open. Don’t be afraid to suggest the unconventional. Doing so will allow your counterpart to be motivated to reach a mutually beneficial outcome.

Understand your counterpart’s priorities.

Finding mutually beneficial solutions requires looking at problems from a different perspective. As with any multi-party relationship, employer and union representatives can take different approaches to fixing the same problem. Each side is accountable for different responsibilities within an organization, after all. Understanding another perspective allows for better decision-making and can remove hidden agendas. Maybe most importantly, when we understand each other's priorities, we also understand any solution benefiting one party doesn't have to harm the other.

Find common goals.

Where do the interests of the individual workers and the company overlap? Understanding this can add value. Consider the following example:

During a labor-management partnership meeting, the topic turns to addressing the company’s high turnover rate. The employer shares its goal of retaining employees to maximize efficient operations and to save money on recruitment and training costs. The union, which also has an interest in employee retention, explains how lower turnover leads to less burnout and higher morale. A common goal (lower turnover) has been acknowledged by both groups, and solutions can be explored based on this common understanding.

Though hypothetical, this situation is not uncommon in real workplaces. Identifying a common goal allows both sides, despite potentially competing interests, to build a framework that is focused on achieving the same objective. What results is a decision-making process geared toward outcomes that are mutually beneficial. Over time, adopting a joint labor-management framework and following Good Jobs Principles will both lift up workers and make business more competitive globally.


Andrew Hasty is a senior advisor on detail with the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.  

Darnice Marsh is the labor-management partnership coordinator in the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.