The voicemail came from a labor relations manager who told me that he was calling on behalf of both his company and a local union that he negotiates with every three years. The two parties were beginning to schedule their first days of talks and were starting to outline the subjects they plan to negotiate.
"We both want to explore adding mediation into our grievance and arbitration article. We are not quite sure where to start. Since this is your area of expertise do you have any ideas?"
This was a call to assist with moving labor and management into the future. It was not a call to mediate, although I suppose it could have been viewed that way. The request struck me as an opportunity to help -- not to help my business grow, not to help the parties resolve a disagreement, but to improve a working relationship at the macro level.
I have developed draft mediation language into collective bargaining agreements before -- language that establishes mediation either as an option, or as a requirement. While only a few people are doing this, it is a growing number.
I have agreed to offer my free time to listen to the hopes and concerns of these two dependent groups. Union leadership and the employee relations pros will write the language. I won't. But I love the idea of "flip charting" their intentions, exploring their common ground, determining their mutual interests, and sharing the details of how to mediate a grievance before it collapses into a long, costly, and unnecessary battle.
Thornton Mason is a national dispute resolution consultant and human relations mediator with 25 years of experience resolving over 1200 employee matters. His 60 Second Updates have a current reach of over 400,000 readers. He and Mediation Resolves focus on eliminating formal employee complaints, avoiding internal relationship disputes, preventing grievance backlogs, and restarting stalled labor negotiations.