Labor Day epilogue: partnering for Success

A few years ago on Labor Day, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee presented a compelling commentary on the need for employers and employees to set aside their differences and partner. That very same message should be heeded by our elected officials today.

Easier said than done, especially in a vitriolic and politically charged atmosphere punctuated by an absence of listening and a profusion of people shouting at one another.

Huckabee bashed those who detest unions and those who trash employers – and rightly so. Success today hinges on a balance between the “job creators” and the “job holders” based on mutual respect, fair treatment and job satisfaction. The same goes for Congress and the President.

If American companies are to thrive, both sides must pull together. Think of a rowing crew: Without a competitive scull – the employer – there would be no boat to row; and, without a talented well-trained crew – the employees – the scull would remain dockside.

When Alan Mulally became CEO of Ford Motor Company, he worked with the United Auto Workers (UAW) on an agreement that averted the carmaker’s demise, trading new product commitments from Ford for competitive labor contracts.

It was a high-stakes play that paid off in 2013 when healthy profits allowed Ford to pay all hourly factory workers a record profit-sharing $8,800 bonus. It was a win-win and Ford returned to prosperity without a government bailout.

Good political, labor and business leaders have the ability to bury the hatchet and find ways to work together.

For example, in 1978 a bitter strike closed the aging Crown Zellerbach pulp and paper mill in Camas for nine months. After the new contract was signed, the union teamed with management to persuade the legislature to reinstate critical tax incentives it had promised to the company as part of its $425 million upgrade of the mill. Without them that 140-year old mill, now owned by Georgia Pacific, would have completely closed 40 years ago. With that modernization, parts of the mill still produce paper.

The partnership between Crown Zellerbach and the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers was largely responsible for the project’s completion despite a time of double-digit interest rates, inflation and unemployment.

The relationship developed further to solve technical problems in the plant. In fact, 25 years ago when the state was debating ergonomics rules, regulators found that some of the most innovative equipment designed to prevent back injuries and muscle strains was developed at the Camas mill.

Unions and employers can co-exist. In fact, our family experienced a unique management-labor relationship from both sides.

We were raised in Montana in a union family and in a union town. Dad was a journeyman electrician and an officer in IBEW Local 623. Mom was a secretary in Butte’s public schools and a member of the support staff union. After high school, I joined the miner’s union, which was required to work in the underground copper mines.

For more than 30 years, our family owned and operated the non-union Walkerville Garbage Service. Dad and an uncle collected the trash, mom handled the bookkeeping, and my brothers, sister and I went door-to-door each month to collect the payments.

The most valuable lessons we learned growing up were the value of hard work, customer service and the difference between income and profit. To our surprise, there were months when the expenses exceeded the money we collected. Being in business doesn’t guarantee profitability.

There always will be differences in workplaces and political arenas, just as there are in families. However, as long as there is respect, appreciation and partnering, we will thrive.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

More in Opinion

A U.S. Marine sniper on station. COURTESY PHOTO, Don Dinsmore
See veterans as they really are

When we arrived back in the states, we were told to shed… Continue reading

Post-election, new battles loom over Eyman’s car-tab measure

OLYMPIA — Most ballots are counted, but the fight over Initiative 976… Continue reading

Impeachment aside: there’s work to be done

Now that President Trump’s impeachment process is formally underway, Democrats and Republicans… Continue reading

November is a great month to participate

November is the month when the public and media focus attention on… Continue reading

Here are 6 numbers to help decipher this election

There’s no cost to voting, but millions of dollars are getting spent to influence how ballots are cast

Let’s keep Friday nights in the fall for high school football

By Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS executive director Some of the top… Continue reading

Does Sound Transit realize the consequences of this do-over?

Pass or fail, Initiative 976 is a reminder of what critics most dislike about the regional agency

High costs drive people to move

Too often, elected officials overlook the cumulative costs of regulations, taxes and… Continue reading

A look at the races for the state’s 9 top jobs

Nine of the most powerful political jobs in Washington state will be… Continue reading

Amateurism must be maintained to preserve education-based sports

While we addressed a number of important issues with our member state… Continue reading

King County Library System explores the artificial intelligence frontier

If asked for a show of hands in tech-savvy King County, many… Continue reading

Gov. Jay Inslee. REPORTER FILE PHOTO
Lawmakers to governor: How dare you mess with our budget

They want Jay Inslee to halt his planned $175 million reallocation of state transportation dollars