Governor Chris Christie stated in a recent article in the Trenton Times that collective bargaining and civil service systems are an anachronism from the past that no longer works in the new economic paradigm, and in particular, today’s government. Being objective, and having managed an independent utility authority without either system and having served as a Town Manager with both systems, what the Governor suggests makes sense. But this also assumes a few things about local government that isn’t standard for how they conduct business. For example, in order to eliminate collective bargaining, managers will have to be good communicators and value a strong relationship at all levels of the organization. Managers will need experience in a budget office or some other department to understand the demands, expectations, and requirements to get things done. Managers will know to include both department heads and field staff in strategic meetings to address new efficiency needs. Managers will expect to take risks to try something new based on support received through his/her strategic meetings. Managers will be transparent in communicating with and training their councils and boards to expect them to improve service delivery that will have a cost to implement and confidence in a return on the investment. Managers and staff will create metrics measuring staff and service performance, set key benchmarks to measure success or gaps in service improvements, and match these initiatives to a strategic management plan.
So why are these assumptions necessary? This is what I learned. Unions don’t make unions. Management makes unions. Why? Management doesn’t see the value of communicating before, only after a decision is made. Management believes developing ideas to raise efficiency is in their domain, not rank and file. As a result, management can’t champion staff needs effectively. Ultimately, we all know that without engaging staff, hiring qualified employees, training them for their jobs, paying them properly and having high expectations of performance, isn’t enough. They need to be in on decision making that affects them. If this can be the new paradigm, managers may earn the trust of the rank and file and reduce the value of collective bargaining. To discuss eliminating civil service, read the next blog.