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Key points:

  • Great savings ideas can come from anywhere
  • Make sure employee feedback doesn’t get lost
  • Be creative in the issues your labor-management forum can address

By Dave Kittross, cyber FEDS® Washington Bureau

IN FOCUS: Union leaders recently told Congress that the effectiveness of labor-management forums has varied widely among agencies. But the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations recently heard one major success story at the Navy.

Vice Admiral Kevin McCoy, a member of the Naval Sea Systems Command’s labor-management council, said the forum has been an important tool in bringing together representatives from the six unions that represent workers at the shipyard and creating specific productivity goals, while at the same time ensuring that employee feedback plays a key role in helping the agency meet its mission.

McCoy said the forum decided early on to promote pre-decisional involvement on “big picture” strategic issues rather than conducting negotiations at the individual shipyard level. This way there is a “collaborative approach to identify problems and find solutions,” said McCoy.

Budget constraints require added efficiency

McCoy said the Navy has to get “more bang for the buck” at its shipyards, so it brought the issue to the forum, emphasizing the need for union involvement in finding solutions to current budget constraints. Because of the trust the forum had established, and its emphasis on promoting union and employee feedback, labor was willing to pledge it would come up with an hour-a-day more productivity on shipyard repairs, and NAVSEA adopted the “hour-a-day” policy as part of its official FY 2012 and FY 2013 goals.
“Men and women doing the work are the ones who know best how to improve the worksite,” said McCoy. Ron Ault, president of the NAVSEA Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, added that while “your workforce might not know how to save money, it does know how to save time.”

So after the policy was adopted by the forum, headquarters and field labor-management workgroups began to develop plans to realize the goal. This included the willingness of management to use some strategies to promote employee input, including:

The “Bright Ideas” process to encourage and support employee-based suggestions. Bright Ideas must be realistic, cite a specific area for improvement, and include a brief explanation of the intended results, and any recommendations for potential implementation. A key is providing quick feedback by the agency, which will immediately acknowledge the submission and express appreciation that the employee took the time to submit it. Suggestions can even be submitted anonymously.

The “Moonshine” process, which emphasizes low-cost solutions with low risk that can be implemented quickly and shows employees their ideas are being taken seriously.

Employee recommendations began to roll in, and quickly began to improve efficiency. For example, by changing the process for signing out needed equipment, shipyards have been able to complete projects weeks ahead of schedule, and produce cost reductions by almost 50 percent, said McCoy, due to improvements in tools and training facilities.

While the process is still ongoing, when the goal of “added time [working on repairs] is fully realized, we can achieve billions of dollars in savings, literally billions of dollars,” said Ault.
Both sides continue to use the forum to look at other key issues, said McCoy. For example, labor and the Navy have also discussed how to find new assignments for workers whose jobs would be phased out due to the change in shipyard operations.