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5 Questions for Andy Stern

April 29, 2005
Related Topics: Labor Relations, Featured Article, Recruitment, Staffing Management
Andy Stern
International president of the Service Employees International Union

Andy Stern’s organization represents 1.8 million workers worldwide. During the HRO World conference in New York last month, Stern talked to Workforce Management staff writer Jessica Marquez about how unions could act as training and benefit hubs for workers displaced by outsourcing--and save employers millions in turnover and training costs.

Workforce Management: What is your position on outsourcing?

Andy Stern: We represent a lot of outsourced workers. We are not fighting outsourcing. What we are fighting for is that people have work that pays decently and that they have health care for themselves and their families. Think about the historical building trade union and what they did for their members. The union was really a mechanism by which employees outsourced certain benefits and training functions. The union provided the employers with skilled workers and training.

WM: Is anything like that actually taking place?

Stern: We have experience doing this with the Greater New York Hospital Association. Our union manages the employee training together with the hospitals and makes sure that the workers’ skills are being upgraded to fit the employers’ needs. If anyone loses their job, they are sent to a job training center. If there are other openings at other hospitals, they are given jobs. The employers get the advantage of fixing their costs, and in return they get flexibility to make changes to the workforce and get skilled workers.

WM: How would this apply to human resources?

Stern: Employers and unions can work together to create an association that would build a new model that I think would benefit all. Diana Farrell, head of McKinsey Global Institute, wrote a paper last year describing how for 4 to 5 percent of the savings gained from outsourcing, you could build a system that would transition workers into new jobs and provide incentives for companies to hire and train these workers. But no individual employer could do this on its own.

WM: How are you going to convince employers that it is worth it to work with unions?

Stern: We are reinventing ourselves in that we no longer are focusing on single-employer issues. We are looking to work with groups of employers on setting standards for such areas as recruiting and training.

WM: But finally, isn’t it still cheaper to move jobs to Bangalore?

Stern: In a global economy, American jobs are always competing with jobs of other workers. The end result is that the jobs left in the U.S. do not pay wages that workers can live on. Employers need to ask not how do we pay less and employ less people, but how are workers going to be valued in the future?

Workforce Management, May 2005, p. 20 -- Subscribe Now!

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