NLRB leader says unions and managers should drop the fear

National Labor Relations Board

For his entire career, Dennis Walsh, the new Philadelphia-area regional head of the National Labor Relations Board, has worked with unions and managers, adjudicating their disputes. It has given him a certain perspective on labor-management issues. What he sees is way too much fear.

"The other thing, I would say, and this is just very general, and I don't know purport to know the inner-workings of unions or management, is that they have to stop being afraid of the other side," he said. "I think that managers need to stop being afraid of unions. That seems to be the source of so much of the illegal activity that we see -- the fear of having a union in the workplace. It's not the end of the world.

Walsh's comments come from an interview I did with him the day before he was sworn in as the new head of Region 4 of the the National Labor Relations Board, which includes southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. You can read my story about him in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Most good managers who work with unions will tell you," he said, "`We can work with this, OK? It can actually help us manage our workplace.'

"If there were more managers on the private sector side who had the idea that this could actually help us, you know, to get the input of our employees through a representative, there wouldn't be this fear of having a union in the workplace," he said.

"And I think that unions have to not be so afraid of managers too. They have to be not so afraid of cooperating with management," he said. "There is a fear of [being co-opted], that we [unions] are here to be confrontational and that's our job.  I think there is history to support that." he said.

After all, Walsh points out, it is unions' ability to withhold labor is the basis of their power, an ability that is essentially confrontational.

"But unions need to understand too," he said, "that cooperation is not necessarily [being co-opted], and can be beneficial to their work forces as well."