Accueil » 54-1 ( 1999) » Coopération patronale-syndicale et réorganisation du travail

Coopération patronale-syndicale et réorganisation du travail

Reynald Bourque

Résumé

Cette étude présente les principaux résultats d'une recherche menée au Québec auprès de huit syndicats locaux des secteurs de la métallurgie et du papier affiliés à la CSN, qui ont négocié des ententes de participation syndicale à la gestion de l'organisation du travail au début des années 1990. La recherche a porté sur les contextes, les processus et les résultats de la coopération patronale-syndicale dans chacun des cas étudiés au cours de la période 1990 à 1997. L'analyse révèle d'abord que ces ententes, conclues pour la plupart dans un contexte de réduction des emplois, aménagent des modalités de participation formelle des syndicats à la gestion de l'organisation du travail. Les principaux changements intervenus concernent l'élargissement des tâches, le décloisonnement des métiers et le travail en équipe. Ces changements se sont accompagnés dans tous les cas de modifications aux règles conventionnelles de gestion des emplois et d'un allongement de la durée des conventions collectives. L'analyse longitudinale met en évidence un recul ou un plafonnement de la participation syndicale dans la majorité des cas après quelques années d'expérimentation. Les principaux facteurs associés au déclin de la participation syndicale sont l'imposition unilatérale par l'employeur de changements organisationnels et la perception de la part des salariés d'un partage inéquitable des gains découlant de la réorganisation du travail.

Abstract

This article presents the main results of research on eight local unions in Quebec's metallurgy and paper industries. The locals, which are affiliated with the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CNTU — Confederation des syndicats nationaux), negotiated agreements on union participation in the management of work organization in the early 1990s. The main focus of the research was the analysis of the contexts, processes and results of these experiments with union participation in the management of work organization. The research involved a longitudinal study that sought to explain the evolution of union-management cooperation in the eight cases over the period 1990 to 1997.

A number of studies (Cooke 1990; Eaton and Voos 1992; Cutcher- Gershenfeld, Kochan and Verma 1991 ; Verma and Cutcher-Gershenfeld 1993) have demonstrated that the economic context in which an establishment or enterprise operates is a key element in triggering union-management cooperation in the management of organizational change aimed at increasing labour productivity. Moreover, numerous studies have confirmed that the nature and scope of the changes observed in work organization vary according to the composition of the work force, establishment size and industry.

In particular, employee involvement in work teams is greater in large industrial establishments whose employees are more skilled and autonomous (Applebaum and Batt 1994; Betcherman et al. 1994; Osterman 1994). Other studies show that work reorganization involves modifying the provisions in collective agreements that deal with job definition, job classifications, work force movement and forms of compensation based on qualifications or economic performance (Bourque and Rioux 1994; Cappelli and McKersie 1987; Chaykowski and Verma 1992; Katz and Keefe 1992). Finally, one of the few studies that deal with the determinants of the success or fallure of union participation in the management of work organization (Eaton 1994) concluded that the determining factor in whether or not these experiments were continued was the active commitment and support of managers and union representatives.

Increased competition and the resulting job insecurity played an important role in the emergence of the union-employer cooperation experiments examined, since these were the two main motives referred to by union representatives to explain the union's decision to participate in the management of work organization. In most of the case studies, agreements on union participation in the management of work organization were concluded against a background of a significant reduction in the number of unionized employees during the preceding years; and the fear of additional job losses in the future was mentioned by many union officiais to justify their members' acceptance of management demands for work reorganization. Another factor favouring union-management experiments that was identified by union representatives was a generally favourable attitude towards union involvement in the management of work organization on the part of employers; indeed, in most of the cases, the employer initiated the process of joint management of organizational change and negotiated an agreement to that end with the unions.

Interviews conducted with union representatives regarding the motives for union participation in work reorganization revealed two strategie orientations among the unions studied. The first orientation can be described as "defensive participation" and is characterized by union involvement aimed at influencing management work reorganization projects so as to reduce the negative impacts on working conditions and job security. The second strategie orientation puts more importance on the objective of workplace democratization through active participation of the union and workers in decisions related to the management of the workplace. This "pro-active" orientation was more frequent in the paper workers' unions, whose representatives in most cases pushed for the development of a joint process of work reorganization and the implementation of teamwork. Union representatives in the metallurgy industry, on the other hand, put much more importance on measures to protect jobs than on workers' participation in the management of work organization.

The nature of the organizational changes introduced in the establishments studied provides valuable information on the different models of human resources management being tried out in unionized work places. Several recent studies (Applebaum and Batt 1994; Betcherman et al. 1994; Kochan and Osterman 1994) promote a model of human resources management that focuses on the participation of unions and employees in work organization, continuous negotiation of organizational change, training based on increased work force flexibility, and incentive-based compensation models aimed at increasing productivity and product quality. However, the data gathered for this study clearly demonstrate that this management model is not predominant in the establishments examined. In all of the cases, work reorganization was carried out by modifying collective agreements in order to increase the polyvalence of employees by merging classifications and decompartmentalizing occupations. The duration of collective agreements increased in all of the cases, which, compared to negotiating rounds during the previous two decades, gives the firm a longer period of protection from conflicts that can occur when collective agreements are renegotiated. According to most of the union representatives interviewed, work reorganization in six of the eight establishments mainly involved task enlargement for a majority of employees, and has been accompanied by an intensification of work. Moreover, in a majority of cases, the involvement of union representatives in the management of work organization declined after a few years of experimentation. At the same time, only a minority of employees were involved in teamwork, with the exception of two establishments in the paper industry where, during the past few years, the socio-technical model of work organization was introduced.

Finally, the new forms of incentive-based compensation introduced in three of the establishments during the period studied put more emphasis on financial results than on productivity gains. Our study of the eight cases reveals that experiments with unionmanagement cooperation in the management of work organization are fragile and that their development depends on numerous contingent factors. Although the longitudinal analysis reveals that an establishment's economic viability is not a sufficient condition for continuing experiments with union participation in work organization management, the development of experiments in three of the case studies nevertheless shows that the struggle for the establishment's economic survival often serves as a catalyst for implementing the most advanced forms of worker participation in workplace management. Furthermore, our analysis demonstrates that the objectives of workplace democratization are more pronounced in those cases in which organizational changes have focused on teamwork. This study also reveals that the employer's attitude toward the union and employees' participation in work organization management, the existence of joint mechanisms of cooperation and consultation as well as the unequivocal support of members for the involvement of union representatives in work organization management are the key determinants of the success of these experiments. In contrast, in those cases where organizational changes were imposed unilaterally by employers, and where employees and their representatives perceived that the gains resulting from work reorganization were being distributed unequally, unionmanagement cooperation was likely to be questioned and to decline.

Resumen

Este estudio présenta los principales resultados de un estudio realizado en Québec con ocho sindicatos locales de los sectores de la metalurgia y la industria del papel afiliados a la CSN, que negociaron acuerdos de participaciòn sindical en la gestion de la organizaciòn del trabajo en los anos 1990. La investigaciòn se llevo acabo sobre los contextos, los procesos y los resultados de la cooperaciòn patronal — sindical en cada uno de los casos estudiados en le transcurso del periodo del estudio de 1990 a 1997. El anàlisis demuestra en primera instancia que la gran mayorìa de los acuerdos, que se firmaron bajo en contexto de réduction de efectivos, comprendìan modalidades de participaciòn formai de los sindicatos en la gestion de la organizaciòn del trabajo. Los cambios principales que se llevaron acabo se refieren a la extension de la définition de las responsabilidades de trabajo, la apertura de ciertas clasificaciones de trabajo y el trabajo en equipo. Estos cambios fueron acompanados en todas las instancias de cambios en las reglas convencionales de gestion de los empleos y un alargamiento de la duraciòn de las convenciones colectivas. El anàlisis longitudinal pone en evidencia el retroceso o una saturation de la participaciòn sindical en el proceso de organizaciòn laboral después de algunos anos de expérimentation. Los principales factures asociados al retroceso son la imposition unilatéral de cambios organizacionales por la parte de la gerencia y la percepciòn por parte de los trabajadores de una répartition dispareja de las ganancias obtenidas de la reorganizaciòn del trabajo.