I wholeheartedly believe in the purpose of unions and am grateful for the safety and security they provide for their members, regardless of industry. I was a member of a union for many years and benefited from their work and advocacy in policy, procedures, benefits, and contracts. Now I find myself on the “other side” and learning a great deal about the “behind the scenes” politics and relationships.
I consider myself an optimistic realist and wear that badge proudly. I focus on the facts and then work towards the best possible outcome for most, do the most we can for the most at hand. It is impossible to make everybody happy all of the time. There will always be somebody that is not happy with your decision, somebody that feels they are not getting what they want or feels they had to sacrifice too much. It’s an unfortunate reality.
Administrative leadership in local government with union employees is complicated. First and foremost, you serve your community, the people that pay taxes and depend on your operations to meet their needs, the purpose for your existence. You also serve your elected officials placed by your community members to be advocates and stewards of their funds and priorities. Equally as important, you serve your employees, those that actually get the work done. Union leadership, like your elected officials, have been placed by your employees to be advocates and stewards of their funds and priorities. Administration is stuck in the middle, constantly being pulled in at least two directions.
Ideally, the priorities and resources of the elected officials and the people they represent could be those that the union leadership and employees understand and support. Enough resources and funding to get the job done safely and efficiently would be ever-present. This would make the work of administration effortless, simply responsible for the execution of a consensually agreed upon and amply funded strategic plan. Easy (I think, I’m not sure it’s ever happened).
The hard part is working between these two parties when they don’t align. The strategic plan of the elected officials has unfunded expectations and union leadership pushes back to protect the interests of their members. Sometimes, I feel like what I assume a marriage and family therapist might feel like when the parents in a broken home cannot get along and put the children in the middle. The children are given half-truths and biased versions of the truth, start to lose trust in one or both of their parents. The focus shifts from feeling blessed for what they have to lamenting what they have-not. The parents focus more on bickering and arguing than on co-parenting, and lose the focus of putting the children first. Like a broken home, it feels like broken leadership.
Here is my optimism, not sure why it can’t be a reality, perhaps it’s my naiveté. I’ll sour with time, I suppose. Why can’t we all just get along…for the benefit of the community and our members? Let’s come together and work this out, keeping our focus on our unified purpose. Let’s start with complete transparency rather than hidden agendas, they are a complete waste of time. Hours of debate seeking compromise, only to be surprised by an ulterior motive or additional information not immediately available. Let’s start with trust and a commitment to co-leading, it’s what the community and the members want and deserve. How do you resolve the feeling of being stuck in the middle? How do you improve the morale of your people when they are working in an environment with broken leadership?