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Working Together for Public Service

A study of 50 public workplaces found that labor-management cooperation and employee participation in the public sector leads to dramatic improvements in quality, costs and delivery of service.

The report, entitled "Working Together for Public Service," details specific service improvements and cost savings that result from cooperation and participation, as well as methods that can be used to bring workplace cooperation to many government services and jurisdictions.

The report was issued in May 1996 by the Task Force on Excellence in State and Local Government Through Labor-Management Cooperation. It was comprised of 14 elected officials, labor leaders and academics and was appointed by Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich and co-chaired by former Governor Jim Florio of New Jersey and Mayor Jerry Abramson of Louisville, Kentucky. The task force was unanimous in the view that public workplaces must change from traditional ways of doing business and move towards workplace cooperation, participation and quality improvement. Further, the task force believes that the public sector offers significant opportunity--far more than is commonly believed--for employee participation and labor-management cooperation.

"It is evident from these findings that employee involvement and labor-management cooperation represent a high-potential strategy for meeting the demands on state and local government," said Reich.

Mayor Abramson agreed, stating that by "working together, we can cut red tape that contributes to the public's low opinion of government today. Citizens are our customers, and they deserve the best service we can provide. ."

Noting that many traditional ways of planning and performing public services are antiquated and not responsive to the needs of communities, Governor Florio commented that, "cumbersome procurement, accounting and civil service rules, authoritarian organizational relationships and labor-management confrontation are often part of the landscape, but surely won't serve our communities well anymore. These findings suggest how to break old molds and use some approaches that can actually produce better service."

Also among the report findings: Absenteeism, time loss injuries, and overtime were often reduced significantly. Work schedules and procedures were changed to save time and money and to provide better service. School performance improved, public safety services increased, and vehicle readiness and equipment purchasing were improved to save overtime and other costs and improve the quality of service.

The report includes examples and detailed discussion of ingredients to creating cooperative workplace arrangements. The appendix lists contacts so that parties interested in pursuing their own improvements can get peer assistance.

The complete history of the task force is available at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University.

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