Neal France

Neal France

In the case of the School of Continuing Education’s Labor Relations Management certificate – those who can, also teach.

And what they teach, it turns out, can’t be taught by many.

“In addition to being one of the few schools in the country to offer labor relations in continuing education, we are the only one I know of that uses practitioners to teach. Many students are looking not so much for theory, but for practical solutions,” said Mary Piwaron, labor relations program manager.

Now in its 20th year, the fast-growing certificate program features instructors nationally recognized in management-employee contract negotiations, collective bargaining and arbitration, and grievances, including three attorneys from the Milwaukee firm of Lindner & Marsack. Students earn the certificate by completing three core courses and two electives.

Neal France, human resource manager for Ocean Spray Cranberries’ Kenosha plant, is a typical participant. Transferred in 2010 from New Jersey to the Kenosha facility, the Air Force veteran found himself working with a unionized workforce for the first time and sought additional training at UW-Milwaukee (UWM).

“Labor relations is a niche in my field because less than 10 percent of the private workforce is unionized,” he said. “I knew I needed additional experience in that area.”

France’s new responsibilities included overseeing “the talent management process,” recruiting, interviewing and wage and salary negotiations. The largest part of his job is managing the plant’s collective-bargaining agreement with some 160 unionized employees. He handles disputes and ensures that the company remains in compliance.

UWM’s labor relations management program was a perfect fit, particularly with its emphasis on finding ways for management and labor to cooperate for mutual benefit.

“One course was a model contract negotiation, and I participated on the labor side. It was real-world experience of how negotiations go. As I prepared to negotiate for the labor team, I came to understand the emotions involved,” France said.

Thomas Mackenzie of Lindner & Marsack taught France’s mock negotiation class, and called his student “the classic example of someone who was put in charge of contract negotiations who had never done it before in real life.”

In Mastering the Collective Bargaining Process, Mackenzie provides the class with a narrative to establish a realistic negotiation situation. Students study the facts, split into management and labor teams and begin face-to-face discussions that last two class periods.

“After the first day, I’m sort of a fly on the wall. I provide feedback on positive aspects and suggest thoughts on different approaches if things aren’t going smoothly. In the end we get there,” said Mackenzie, who has served as chief spokesperson in contract negotiations for his own clients, often suggesting new approaches to collective bargaining challenges.

But what if the teams don’t “get there”? “I become the mediator and offer suggestions to close the gap. We emphasize that negotiations should be amicable and in a cooperative spirit.”

Instructor Jonathan Swain, president of Lindner & Marsack, represents clients, including nonprofits, across the United States. He said that although negotiations can become intense and emotional, he concentrates the discussions on problem solving.

“Labor relations is about people, that’s why they call it human resources. We always stay focused on the issues and work to find mutually acceptable solutions in a calm and professional manner,” he said.
“I would recommend this certificate for members of my negotiation team,” France added. “Having gone through an actual negotiation at our facility, I saw a lot of similarities [in class] to what we faced at work.”

By Alex Vagelatos