What Does a “Collaborative Labor/Management Relationship” Look Like?
By Joe Clure, PLEA President
This was the question asked of me recently by Assistant City Manager Ed Zuercher. It was a follow-up to my expressing my complete disappointment and frustration in the total lack of meaningful communication or engagement between the Chief and PLEA.
It’s a fair question and I am going to attempt to answer it in this article as well as explain what it does NOT look like.
As recent history has shown, we know all too well what a lack of “collaborative labor relations” can lead to. This is one of the reasons the City went in search of a Police Chief. In their national advertisement, the City placed considerable emphasis on management/employee relationships. In promotional material sent out to prospective candidates for the job one of the quotes on the topic stated the following: Management/Employee Relationship: “The city of Phoenix places a high value on cooperative relationships between management and employees. The police department has two sworn and two civilian unions and associations representing its employees. The Police Chief needs to have a collaborative relationship with employee unions and associations.” (City of Phoenix national advertisement for the position of Police Chief – circa Sept. 2011). Notice it did not say, “it would be nice if… or we would prefer…or if you would like to have…” it says, “The police chief NEEDS to have a collaborative relationship with the employee unions and associations.”
Some of the points the City also listed under “Desired Professional and Personal Attributes” were:
- Proven ability to work collaboratively with employee unions (First bullet point).
- Utilizes outstanding human relations and communication skills to engage and communicate effectively with all stakeholders-someone who is approachable with good listening skills.
- Visionary who uses consensus-building skills to resolve complex problems and issues.
- Be visible within police organization and foster atmosphere of positive employee relations.
- Ensure that personnel actions are fair and consistent.
The City of Phoenix recognized the importance of having a Chief who is able to work with labor groups to effectively manage the department. I was placed on the selection committee for the new Police Chief. I can tell you that Chief Garcia had all the correct answers for the questions posed by the selection committee. In response to one of the questions Chief Garcia essentially stated: Labor relations is important, I can and have worked well with labor groups in Dallas, etc.
What is interesting is that before and just after Mr. Garcia was selected as the new Phoenix Police Chief, I/PLEA had a great deal of very positive and frequent communication with him. However, soon after he received the job, communication between us became infrequent and very superficial. Since being appointed as the new Chief, there has not been one inclusionary discussion at the front end of any issue, only the after the fact report of his decisions. This does not equate to any of the aforementioned qualities expressed in the pre-hire selection literature and I can assure you, this is NOT what a collaborative relationship looks like.
Furthermore, since Chief Garcia’s arrival we have all heard of “Policing with a Purpose” and the book The Nobility of Policing. I am also aware that soon after the Chief’s arrival that he encouraged many supervisors to read the book, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. It was not until I read the book for myself that the relationship with the Chief or lack thereof began to come into sharper focus and make sense to me.
Attila was a barbaric leader of the Huns, a group of roaming nomads in Europe that raped, robbed, and pillaged as a matter of surviving. What you need to know about this book is the context in which it is written. It is tailored for a corporate private sector style of management. This is a night and day difference when compared to not for profit governmental entities such as the City of Phoenix which is primarily funded by tax revenues and whose purpose is to provide services to the citizens. In addition, most cities have to operate within the confines of a meet and confer ordinance, a constraint not found in private sector organizations. In other words, it is a great book to read if you work for a Fortune 500 company and your goal is to crush, annihilate, or take over any competitor who gets in your way. In fact one of the first to purchase and disseminate the book was famed Texas billionaire and business CEO H. Ross Perot.
Leadership Secrets of Attila The Hun talks about the enemy, the Roman Empire, and how to lead your troops in the battle to overthrow them. One of the chapters in the book is titled: “Aetius: Picking Your Enemies Wisely.” What is of great concern to me is who would the “enemy” be from the police perspective? Is it the citizens we are here to protect? Is it the community blockwatch? Is it other police departments? Is it the employees? Or is it PLEA? Perhaps it is all of them. Right now, it looks like the answer is clearly the employees and PLEA. I ask these questions because if you look at the history of how the Chief has conducted himself thus far, he has taken a page right out of Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun with regard to his dealings with us. Take a look at the following excerpts from the chapter titled “Picking Your Enemies Wisely”:
- “Do not waste stamina trying to negotiate with implacable, uncooperative, enemies-conquer them by more effective means.”
- “Do not let your enemy have the advantage in any situation.”
- “Do not neglect the opportunity to DECEIVE your enemy. Make him think of you as a friend. Let him think of you as weak. Let him act prematurely. U.”
This seems to be the exact blueprint the Chief has used in his dealings with PLEA. From what I have heard, other employees have experienced the same thing, particularly with regard to the last bullet point.
On Friday June 15th, I along with PLEA Vice President Ken Crane met with Chief Garcia over breakfast and questioned him directly about the rumors swirling around the department over Class D uniforms going away. We recognized that this would be a significant issue with our officers and we had already fielded numerous calls of concern from the membership. We asked the chief if there was any truth to them. He responded by telling us that uniform issues were so low on the priority list (waving his hand about one foot from the floor while seated at the table) that we should not even worry about that. Two weeks later, while meeting with PLEA Board members Ken Crane and Jerry Gannon on unrelated issues the Chief explained that he had arrived at a decision on Class D’s and that effective October 1st they could no longer be worn. This decision came without prior warning or discussion with PLEA. Sure looks and feels a lot like the last bullet point to me, “deceive your enemy, make them think of you as their friend, never tell them anything.” This is not what a “collaborative” labor /management relationship looks like!
Just last month (August), I met the Chief for breakfast and one of the topics of discussion was uniforms. I asked about cargo pockets on Class C pants as well as allowing officers to carry the Taser and Radio on the Class C outer vest carrier. All indications from the Chief to me during this conversation were that this would not be a problem. Although there is an approved authorized version of Class C pants with cargo pocket, apparently the direction of management is that officers will not be allowed to carry Tasers and radios on the outer vest carrier despite what the Chief had previously stated to me.
There are all kinds of issues with the Chief’s arbitrary decision to eliminate the Class D uniforms. Over 100 grievances filed by the officers as well as an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) over the failure to negotiate on an issue in the MOU. This unilateral decision could possibly cost the City over a million dollars not to mention the adverse impact on morale it has caused. I do not believe in any way this style of management coincides with the bullet points of the “Desired professional and personal attributes” in the City’s national advertisement for Police Chief, “…work collaboratively with employee unions,” “visionary who uses consensus-building skills to resolve complex problems and issues,” “…foster atmosphere of positive employee relations.”
I don’t know how on God’s green earth the leadership methods prescribed in Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun square with the points mentioned in the City’s national recruitment publication, not to mention the principles expressed in The Nobility of Policing. How is being deceitful noble? This is NOT what a collaborative labor/management relationship looks like!
What should have happened in a true collaborative relationship would have involved the Chief calling PLEA and letting us know he is thinking of changing the uniforms and explaining his thoughts on it, we could have then had real dialogue on the front end reference the pros and cons and perhaps been able to resolve and address concerns in a manner mutually benefitting all involved. We most likely could have come to some form of consensus that would have avoided the destructive effect on the morale of the officers that are out there doing the hard work on a day to day basis.
This was the exact process used in the labor – management committee to bring about the Class D uniform in 1998! PLEA (the officers) had a desire for a more comfortable and functional uniform and the department had a desire to address those concerns as well as increase the wearing of ballistic body armor. As a result, there were months of true dialogue. There was some great interpersonal interaction, communication and listening skills that occurred between PLEA and the Chief’s office. This resulted in achieving resolution to a complex issue that both sides were able to agree with. This resolution came about through a true collaborative, consensus-building approach that fostered an atmosphere of positive employee relations. If that last sentence sounds familiar it’s because those are the traits and characteristics from the City’s national advertisement for police chief! That is what a true collaborative labor – management relationship looks like!
I must say, I am very concerned about our future. In looking at the direction the Chief is leading us, I see us going back instead of forward. For example, look no further than the current Lieutenant’s assignment process the Chief wants to implement. He essentially wants to abolish seniority as a factor in work assignments allowing him to assign LT’s where he alone feels they belong. This is nothing more than a veiled way of setting up a good ol’ boys network where those who line up to kiss the emperor’s ring will get the plumb assignments.
Regardless of their seniority, career ambitions, or personal circumstances, the Chief will now have total control over the career paths of Lt’s. If a Lt. dares to voice comment or opinion regarding anything said or done by the Chief, the thought lingering in the in the back of their mind now becomes; “Will I be banned to shift three?” “Will I be given crappy days off?” “Will I lose my specialty assignment that I worked so hard to prepare myself for?” We had a good ol’ boy system when I first came on. I can think of no better way to ensure that mid-level managers are kept in check and are afraid to voice concerns than to have the ability to jack with their work schedule. If you want to be surrounded by “yes men,” this is how you set the system up. Ironically, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun also covers this point, “A king with chieftains who always agree with him reaps the counsel of mediocrity.”
I along with other PLEA Board members have had conversations with the Chief to let him know that we are committed to his success and want to see him succeed.
If we don’t have a committed partner who has a like desire and understands how a true labor – management relationship is supposed to work, all I can say is…Here we go again.
CLICK HERE to view the advertising packet for the position of Phoenix Police Chief.
CLICK HERE to view the resumé Chief Garcia submitted to the City including his answers to critical questions.
CLICK HERE to read various correspondence regarding Labor-Management dialogue between PLEA and the Phoenix Police Department from 1998-1999.
CLICK HERE to read the agenda for the 1998 Labor Management Retreat showing Uniforms as a topic of discussion.