Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Manufacturers Report Worker Shortage

From the LA Times:

WASHINGTON — More than 80% of U.S. manufacturers say they cannot find enough qualified workers to meet customer demands, according to an industry study released Tuesday.

After losing 3.4 million factory jobs since 1998, employers are struggling to find enough high-skilled machinists, technicians and engineers to keep production lines humming, the National Assn. of Manufacturers said.

Of more than 800 manufacturers surveyed, 13% reported a severe shortage of qualified workers and 68% said they experienced a moderate shortage.

"The survey exposes a widening gap between the dwindling supply of skilled workers in America and the growing technical demands of the modern
manufacturing workplace," said association President John Engler.

The report, released by the association, the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Consulting, found 83% of manufacturers were struggling to serve customers because there were not enough qualified workers.

Some struggled to produce enough to meet customer demand, whereas others could not meet targets for productivity or customer service.

The exodus of baby boomers from the U.S. workforce, a negative stereotype of manufacturing and a drop in the number of American students pursuing technical or engineering degrees are fueling the problem, Engler said.

The news Monday that General Motors Corp. would be cutting 30,000 jobs does not help the industry's image, but Engler said the United States remained a manufacturing powerhouse — especially in innovative and high value-added production.

Lowering costs, as foreign automakers have managed to do, will ensure even labor-intensive products can be built here, he said.

"There will be a lot of people building cars in America for a long time," Engler said. When manufacturers struggle to find enough qualified workers, Jeffrey Owens, president of Peoria, Ill.-based Advanced Technology Services, helps fill the gap.

"It's a pretty significant problem," said Owens, whose 1,500 workers provide factory maintenance for heavy machinery maker Caterpillar Inc. and industrial and aerospace conglomerate Honeywell International Inc., among others.

"A lot of people are retiring who are extremely talented, good people, and there's nobody coming in behind them…. The younger generation doesn't consider manufacturing a viable career alternative," Owens said.

Although the image of backbreaking labor in steel plants or on assembly lines may be what most Americans still think of when they imagine factory work, Owens said the modern workplace was often more about computers.

"You really use your brain a lot more than you use your back," he said. "There are some guys that can really work magic with the machinery to keep it running. Sometimes it's more of an art than a science."

"If the pink slip doesn't fit,
get redressed!"
Click to see my wardrobe of remedies.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Keep on Truckin'

Five truck drivers sued their former employer for violations related to meal breaks, rest breaks, and itemized wage statements.

Although the drivers' collective bargaining agreement provided the drivers with a 30-minute meal break every five hours and two 15-minute rest periods for every 8- and 10-hour shift, the employer neither scheduled meal breaks nor included rest breaks as part of the drivers' acceptable delays.

Because the employer did not schedule meal breaks, most drivers ate their meals while driving or entirely skipped their meal nearly every working day. The Court held that by pressuring the drivers to make more than one daily trip, the employer discouraged the drivers from stopping for lunch. The Court also stated that the employer could not assume that the drivers would take their meal breaks since employers had "an affirmative obligation to ensure that workers are actually relieved of all duty."

Although rest breaks did not have to be recorded, the Court held that drivers would not take rest breaks because employers did not include them in the list of acceptable delays (such as construction).

California Labor Code requires that employers who intentionally do not provide itemized wage statements to their employees, including hours worked, are subject to monetary penalties and guilty of a misdemeanor. While the drivers manually inputed the hours that they actually worked, the itemized statements always listed the drivers' hours as 40 hours per week.

The Court concluded that the employer failed to prove that it provided the drivers with adequately itemized wage statements and required rest and meal breaks.

Case: Cicairos v. Summit Logistics, Inc., C048133 (October 27, 2005)

"If the pink slip doesn't fit,
get redressed!"
Click to see my wardrobe of remedies.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Conflict Resolution - Part 2 -


Conflict Resolution Steps

You've decided resolving the conflict is more important than all of the reasons why people avoid conflict. Here are tips to help you practice less scary, less intimidating, more effective and successful conflict resolution, with an individual or a team.

Create an environment that is conducive to successful conflict resolution. Quiet, private settings work the best. Agree prior to sitting down together that the purpose of the meeting is to resolve the conflict. When you make this agreement, all parties arrive prepared.

Determine what outcomes you'd like to see as a result of the discussion. A better working relationship? A better solution to the problem? Increased alternatives for successful projects? A broadened understanding of each person's needs and wants? Thoughtful solutions and outcomes are infinite if you are creative.

Begin by allowing each party to express their point of view. The purpose of the exchange is to make sure both parties clearly understand the viewpoint of the other. Make sure each party ties their opinions to real performance data and other facts, where possible. This is not the time to discuss; it is the time to ask questions, clarify points for better understanding and truly hear the other's viewpoint.

Agree on the difference in the points of view. You must agree on the problem together to begin to search for a solution. Often problems are simply misunderstandings. Clarification can end the need for conflict resolution. Try to focus on the issues, not the personalities of the participants. Don't "you" each other as in, "You always ..."

Explore and discuss potential solutions and alternatives. Try to focus on both your individual needs and wants and those of the other party. After all, if one party "wins," that means the other party "loses." People who feel as if they have lost, are not effective coworkers. They harbor resentment and may even sabotage your project or relationship. Make sure you discuss the positive and negative possibilities of each suggestion, before you reject any suggested solutions. Build a discussion that is positive and powerful for all parties.

Agree on a plan that meets the needs of all parties and the organization. Agree on followup steps, as necessary, to make the plan work. Agree on what each person will do to solve the conflict. Set clear goals and know how you will measure success.

Do what you agreed to do. With more experience in conflict resolution, you will grow more comfortable with conflict resolution. That's a positive outcome for the workplace. It will foster idea generation, help people get along, minimize negative behaviors and promote the success of all in placing their attention where it belongs - on the customer.

"If the pink slip doesn't fit,
get redressed!"
Click to see my wardrobe of remedies.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Conflict Resolution - Part 1 -


Why People Avoid Conflict Resolution

Practicing personal courage is necessary if you want to really resolve conflicts at work. It is much easier and much safer to ignore the necessary conflict and play ostrich. Unfortunately, unresolved conflict tends to escalate. It never really disappears because it simmers just below the surface. Think of water that is coming to a boil. It bubbles up in the pot sporadically and then finally reaches the boiling temperature. At that point, a full blown rolling, constant boiling is seen on the surface of the water.

Conflict behaves similarly. The water may seem calm, but every once in awhile, usually at the worst possible times, the conflict bubbles up to the surface once again. Unresolved conflict does not go away; unresolved conflict can turn into a full boil at any time.

Many people are afraid of conflict resolution. They feel threatened by conflict resolution because they may not get what they want if the other party gets what they want. Even in the best circumstances, conflict resolution is uncomfortable because people are usually unskilled at conflict resolution. Finally, people can get hurt in a conflict and, at work, they are still expected to work together effectively every day.

The Benefits of Conflict Resolution

This century's workplace makes conflict resolution more important, but also, more difficult. Team or work cell environments create more conflict as people with different opinions must choose to work together, often in close quarters.

Empowering work environments, in which the traditional reliance on a manager to solve conflicts and make decisions, bring coworkers into more frequent conflict, as they must work issues out for themselves. Conflict resolution also:

  • Causes people to listen to and consider different ideas.
  • Enables people to increase their alternatives and potential paths.
  • Results in increased participation and more ownership of and commitment to
    the decisions and goals of the group or person.

The goal of the people or the team is not to eliminate conflict but to learn how to manage conflict constructively.

"If the pink slip doesn't fit,
get redressed!"
Click to see my wardrobe of remedies.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dignity vs. Harassment

When a jury awards $3 million dollars in compensatory damages (only) to a sexual harassment victim against Sav-On (American Drug Stores Inc., 2005 WL 2002376, Aug. 2, 2005), what is the jury trying to communicate by its verdict?

The case involved some alleged stalking of a store manager by her manager, some groping, some lewd comments, and threats against her if she participated in other investigations against him. The events occurred over about 3 years, (1994-1997) and occurred almost daily.

The harassed woman complained "informally" to management, consistently with company policy. Management told her to "work things out" on her own, and if she made a "formal" complaint, she "could kiss her career goodbye". After some bad performance evaluations delivered after unusual close scrutiny of her work, she went on medical leave in 2000.

The $3 million dollar award was for lost wages and emotional injury only. There was no award of "punitive damages". By any measure, a "compensatory" award of $3 million is extraordinary. Why did it happen?

Trials are events that operate at two levels: technical and dramatic. Compare a film: the technical elements are operating in the background. They hardly matter to the viewer. They support the drama. The viewer is interested in the story. The jury is watching a drama unfold in a courtroom, even while the technical matters of objections, evidence, and jury instructions operate in the background. Juries don't care very much about the background. They care about the moral issues of who acted rightly and wrongly. Their award of damages, small or great, is their vote on the clarity and force of the moral arguments presented.

We can now answer the question: What was the Jury saying by its $3 million "compensatory" verdict? I believe the verdict told Sav-On that employees can rightfully expect their employer to provide a workplace reasonably free from harassment. It told Sav-On that it did not only fail in that basic duty, it went further. In my opinion, the Sav-On verdict told the company that the jury believed Sav-On management indirectly participated in the harassment. By discouraging reporting of the harassment, and by being lax in following its own policy, Sav-On communicated that harassment was acceptable. As a result, a woman suffered for years because of fear of losing her job and her career. The Jury told Sav-On implicitly that it would pay for this suffering, and, in my opinion, even without an award of "punitive damages", it awarded an amount that told Sav-On to change its practices so that other women would not suffer like this one.

"If the pink slip doesn't fit,
get redressed!"
Click to see my wardrobe of remedies.