Strike Three . . . You're Out!
/ Author: Dennis Perrin
/ Categories: Guide magazine /
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Strike Three . . . You're Out!

By Dennis Perrin, Prairies Director

The batter stands in disbelief. He cannot believe the call. There’s no way that was a strike!

He would have swung if it had been. It’s obviously not his fault, and he clearly knows more than the umpire!

I’ve been helping my son’s baseball team this year as an assistant coach. It’s amazing what we can learn about ourselves and human nature from watching these 10- and 11-year-olds. This stage in their emotional development is when their sense of justice starts to become evident. Their “rights” as they see them are very important, and they are quick to defend them.

We’re wired—often rightly so—to defend our rights. Organized labour has worked very hard for many years to defend workers’ rights, whether to a safe workplace; to fair pay; to a workplace free of bullying, harassment, and discrimination; and many others. The defense of these rights requires constant vigilance.

But what I find interesting is that most workplace disputes these days are not really about rights but about interests. They may be disguised as rights, but when we look more closely, we often see that it’s our interests that are at stake.

An interest-based approach to union representation looks very different than a rights-based approach. It acknowledges that the other party also has interests, and they may differ from our own. But if we work hard enough, we will find that we also have many common interests.

A rights-based approach tends to go in a very adversarial direction, and often pits workers’ rights at the expense of employers’ rights or vice versa. It often leads to unnecessary posturing, table pounding, labour disruptions, strikes and lockouts, and sometimes even violent protests.

At the end of it all, is either side any further ahead? The answer is almost always no. Workers don’t really gain anything. All they’re left with is a workplace scarred by unmet expectations and broken relationships. Employers often suffer irreparable harm to the business.

CLAC has taken an interest-based approach to negotiations for almost seven decades. We firmly represent our members’ interests but also seek to understand their employer’s interests. It takes more work—especially if the employer isn’t willing to play ball—but it always pays off in the long run.

I recall countless times where we ended up further ahead in wages, benefits, and terms and conditions because we rolled up our sleeves and did the hard work of negotiating from an interest-based approach. A former mentor and colleague once told me, “It’s easier to tell someone to go to hell and fight than it is to respect the dignity and integrity of everyone at the table.”

Labour relations is not a sport, and how we conduct ourselves is more important than winning or losing. We need to work with each other every day. What have we gained if we “win” but our workplace community is fractured as a result, where people are at constant odds with each other because they feel their “rights” have been trampled?

Team sports, including baseball, teach us that being part of a team is about working together to achieve our common interests. They teach us—win or lose—to hold our head high, knowing that even if the ump makes a bad strike three call, we will come back and play again tomorrow.


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