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March 1984, Vol. 107, No. 3
Helping labor and management
set up a quality-of-worklife program
My involvement in this project began in 1977 when the management of American Telephone and Telegraph Co. invited me to lecture on quality-of-worklife programs at a corporate policy seminar. I was asked to talk about the Bolivar project, a quality-of-worklife experiment in an auto parts factory in Tennessee, which was the fist successful American union-management experiment to improve the quality of working life.1
However, most Bell System managers were not interested in the Bolivar experiment. They wanted to hear about my studies of managerial character.2 As company men/craftsmen, they felt threatened by the gamesmen-marketeers newly recruited to the company, and wanted advice on how to deal with them. However, a few recognized that the traditional Bell System managerial character was too cautious and inflexible for a fast-arriving competitive market.
Among the latter was Rex Reed, Bell System's vice president of industrial relations. He saw the quality-of-worklife experiment at Bolivar and at the GM assembly plant in Tarrytown, N.Y., as promising models for the Bell System. He had surveyed Bell employees over a 5-year period and found disturbing trends. Although satisfied with pay and benefits and motivated to work productively, both workers and supervisors were dissatisfied with technology and perceived too much supervisory control. They believed they were mismanaged, pushed around, not listened to, and that the spirit of service was being eroded by the drive to increase profit.
This excerpt is from an article published in the March 1984 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 In 1972, Irving Bluestone, then vice president of the United Automobile Workers, and Sidney Harman, Bolivar chief executive officer, had asked me to help them design and direct that project which pioneered many of the practices subsequently used by GM, Ford, and AT&T. this included a union-management plant-level committee and department-level teams trained to analyze problems and to propose solutions. Bolivar went farther than most subsequent programs in supporting general education and arts and crafts, as well as technical training. The project was effective not only in terms of work satisfaction, but also in union-management cooperation to gain new business, cut costs, and achieve mutually beneficial early bargaining.
2 See Michael Maccoby, The Gamesman (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1976).
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