–  James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA

I grew up in a union household. My father was a teacher in the Minneapolis Public School system for nearly thirty years. Once he finished his first probationary year and was certified, he joined the union, became the shop steward, and ran the building he was in for the next 29 years. In many ways, it was a very strange existence as I look back on it from age 73. What was going on in the Minneapolis school district every day is what energized my father. He was a band and choir teacher, also licensed to teach social studies, American history and Polish. He was a very educated man who spoke six languages, from Latin to Russian. In fact, I considered him to be a very learned man.

But when it came to unions and labor/management issues, he was of a one-track mind – that of being a victim of the system helping other system victims.

I lived at home for twenty years and every workday looked and sounded pretty much the same. When Dad returned from work at about 4:45 in the afternoon, Mom was fixing dinner and he was grousing about what a crappy day he and the teachers were forced to endure.

During the first course of supper, which we all ate together he described in vivid terms how the school superintendent had mucked it up for the school principals. During the second course, he would then extrapolate what the school principal had turned around and did to make the teacher’s day miserable.

By dessert, he was already explaining his plot and plan to get even with everyone the next day. This was five days a week for twenty years.

As a teacher, he did make an important impression on his students. Even fifteen years after he retired, if I were anywhere near north Minneapolis and my last name was mentioned out loud, someone would ask about “Mr. Luke,” always in a respectful and positive way.

In our dining room, for as long as I can remember, was an original, unabridged dictionary, a bound book approximately twelve inches thick. As a part of our dinner ritual, he would select a multi-syllabic word for me and each of my three sisters. Before we could leave the table, we had to use that word successfully in a sentence. At the time, it was kind of a pain, but the fact is, all four of us always had vocabulary levels several grades beyond where we actually were in school.

So dedicated to his union activities was my father that, on the day he died – we were with him at the time – he was no longer speaking, but my sisters and I agreed that had he been able to speak, he would have said the following once again:

“The greatest failure of my life is not having been arrested and jailed for leading an illegal teacher’s strike against the Minneapolis school board.”

He was the first I person ever heard who said they, “were giving management only what management really deserved.”

I got “the victim” part many years later because I was never a union member, which is mostly about being a victim. I was just living with one. My bedroom was on the first floor near the bathroom, and I could hear him every morning in front of the mirror rehearsing the arguments he was going to make to the principal and to his fellow union members about getting even that day for yesterday’s problems.

My career has become what Fred Garcia calls “Management Anthropology.” It’s taken me into a wide variety of contentious situations including labor disputes and negotiation. The labor management problem resolution process remains largely the way it was 50 years ago when my father was engaged. It is a form of combat. There is mindless denigration and disparaging of and on both sides, tough talk, bullying. All kinds of war-like analogies and metaphors tend to get into the conversation and the news, so war is always possible.

What I’ve learned is that peace beats war every time. War-like attitudes, language, metaphors and images, invariably lead to conflict. War creates victims at wholesale rates, wounded at wholesale rates, and survivors at wholesale rates. All of these victims suffer from extraordinary emotional stress from their victimization, and the exercise of trying to manage and mitigate these circumstances always becomes defensive, abusive and offensive.

The bottom line is, and I believe always has been, that unions are formed to fix grievances known only to employees but based on management behavior. I’ve never actually found the management war college that teaches these abusive and victimizing behaviors. If I could find it, I would tear it down and replace it with The Management Academy for Waging Peace.

My philosophy has, for decades, been one of waging peace at every opportunity, avoiding the production of critics, angry people, victims and enemies. These individuals live forever, lie in wait to make a perpetrator’s life deservedly miserable whenever the opportunity arises, and are always trying to recruit additional victims to their numbers.

High-profile labor trouble generates serious temporary harm and permanent enmity. Waging Peace must be driven by a management leadership strategy and mindset focused on the goal of getting a contract or a useful result through principled, honorable positive and peaceful communication. Here are Ten Steps to Successfully Wage Peace, Reduce Contention and Avoid War.

  1. Avoid Strikes: They are the most permanently destructive actions companies can have happen to them. Even a lousy contract arrived at peacefully is generally far better than protracted negotiations with a strike. Settle. Settle. Settle. Be or find better negotiators next time. There will always be another contract to negotiate.
  2. Get Real: The Company owns the jobs, work, assets, markets, and future. All workers really have is a piece of paper in their back pocket with some rules. Keep your testosterone in check.
  3. Zip Your Lip: Focus on getting a contract. Avoid doing or saying anything that gets in the way. If it’s constructive, say it or do it. If it’s combative or abusive, there will be combat and abuse.
  4. Focus on the Goal: No, it’s not the defining moment in American labor/management relations. No, the workers of America (fewer than one in 9 is a union member) are not ready to take to the streets. Stay at the table. Stop taking things personally. Either grow up or stay at 50,000 feet, or both.
  5. Prioritize Your Communication: Internal first; employees and victims first – customers, vendors, non-union workers, retirees, anyone directly affected. Yes, even those who oppose you will get your message from you, directly. News and new media will hear the news simultaneously.
  6. Communicate Intentionally: Talk and act with compassion and victim sensitivity. Act conclusively; make unchallengeable, fundamentally sound decisions. Act, plan, talk, behave, and succeed with everyone’s best interests in mind. Preserve your resources and conserve your energy. Act honorably and ethically at all times. Build trust, reduce fear.
  7. Work Against the Usual Negative Patterns: Always be positive; be constructive; focus on tomorrow. Fix things now. Stop counting everything every day.
  8. Reduce Your Defeat Potential, Practice Foolishness and Stupidity Reduction: Avoid the usual serious mistakes:
    • Begin with a “Final Offer.” (There is only one . . . at the end.)
    • Try to run the entire enterprise with supervisory people and managers. (Better to rest and stay alert.)
    • Call for Congressional action. They are no longer capable of answering.
    • Ask the President for help. (He never signs labor agreements.)
    • Claim your company will be irreparably harmed. It’s a lie.
    • Blame the other for delays, stalling and obstruction.
    • Buy big ads that “explain your position.” (Who cares?)
    • Let the media drive your actions. Why? Media always:
      • Over-alarm;
      • Over-analyze;
      • Over-sympathize;
      • Over-hyperbolize;
      • Over-symbolize;
      • Make stuff up
      • Generally conduct themselves well below the standard they set for others.
  9. Go direct to all audiences and constituents from the beginning, because you can.
  10. Manage Your Own Destiny from the beginning: Correct, clarify and comment immediately to keep the record straight. Fail to do it and someone else will. And you will suffer.
  11. (Bonus) Control Your Mouth: How about leaving unsaid at least three things you’re dying to or being urged by others to talk about. Long-term relationships are built on leaving three or four things unsaid that you would love to include, every day.

My father was right about one thing… Skip these eleven steps and you will deserve the union you get.