Productivity Impact of Joint Federal Labor-Management Committees

Gao ID: FPCD-81-17 January 13, 1981

Selected federal experiments with joint labor-management committees were reviewed to ascertain their impact on federal work force productivity. At four locations, GAO reviewed available records and reports applicable to the experiments and interviewed agency officials, committee participants, union officials, and the consultants who were involved in establishing the committees and assisting in their operations. All four committees were structured similarly with union and management co-chairpersons and six to eight other members. They were established on a nonadversarial basis with a neutral third-party consultant. They were initiated under memorandums of agreements between the unions and the federal agency management. Initially, the committees were to represent only a small part of the organization and to focus on developing procedures and credibility. Later, they were to expand to larger segments of the organization. The first committee operated for about a year, was terminated by the union, and was later reorganized by management into a different format. A similar committee operated for about a year, was expanded to include a much larger part of the agency, and then was terminated by the union. Another committee was started and operated for about a year and a half, when it was terminated in order to expand it. The only currently operating committee has decreased its level of activity.

Available data did not show significant productivity improvements resulting from the committees' activities. In part, this was due to the limited data available to evaluate the committees' impact on productivity and the difficulty in attributing productivity change directly to committee activities. It was also due to the fact that the committees tended to focus on noncontroversial issues which had little measurable effect on productivity. They were not able to sustain themselves or progress to the point where they could openly address and resolve significant productivity issues. A long-term growth period is required to develop mature labor-management committees capable of addressing significant productivity issues. These committees do represent a relatively low-cost attempt to get union and management to jointly address common concerns. Some of the changes suggested by the committees have likely had some positive effects on organizational effectiveness, even though they were not directly measurable. Further experimentation with, and evaluation of, federal labor-management committees should be encouraged.

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