Integrating Unions in Integrated Conflict Management Systems

Published date01 December 2015
Date01 December 2015
AuthorTodd Dickey
C R Q, vol. 33, supplement 1, Winter 2015 S45
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the Association for Confl ict Resolution
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21143
Integrating Unions in Integrated Con ict
Management Systems
Todd Dickey
Can integrated confl ict management systems (ICMSs) be fully and
successfully integrated in unionized workplaces?  is article proposes
best-practice guidelines based on new fi eld research. It argues that inte-
gration is possible and benefi cial for unions and organizations, but that
certain considerations must be addressed to ensure that ICMSs comple-
ment and support unions’ roles in the workplace rather than act as
substitutes. When ICMSs are introduced and maintained collabora-
tively in a way that engages unions as key co-owners of such systems, the
article suggests they can ultimately be made more eff ective and resilient
than when implemented in nonunion settings.
The fi eld of workplace confl ict management systems design has evolved
almost solely in the nonunion context.  e initial ideas for Getting Dis-
putes Resolved, Ury, Brett, and Goldberg’s (1988) book that introduced the
term dispute systems design into the confl ict resolution lexicon, came from
research in the heavily unionized coal mining sector, but most of the subse-
quent work in the subfi eld of systems design has not engaged with unions
or unionized workplaces (Bendersky 2007; Costantino and Merchant
1996; Katz and Flynn 2013; Rahim 2011). In 1996 Costantino and Mer-
chant proposed the concept and term confl ict management systems (CMSs),
launching a stream of innovation and implementation in the fi eld—all in
the nonunion sector. Subsequently, Gosline et al. (2001) introduced the
integrated confl ict management system (ICMS) model, which did not even
discuss how the model would function in a unionized environment. Since
then, the ICMS model has become the gold standard and most compre-
hensive design in the fi eld, but it too has been implemented primarily in
nonunion settings (Lipsky 2014; Lipsky and Avgar 2010).
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
is article presents four best-practice recommendations derived from
the fi rst empirical research on ICMS operation in unionized workplaces.
It uses data from a comparative study of three bargaining units—two in
which local unions agreed to use an ICMS and one in which the union did
not.  e study’s setting is the US Department of the Interior (DOI), home
to one of the longest continually operating ICMSs, covering over seventy
thousand employees, and one that operates in both union and nonunion
settings (US Department of the Interior 2011).
Several scholars and practitioners have found that some organiza-
tions use dispute resolution systems to avoid unionization. In interviews
for their 2003 book, Emerging Systems for Managing Workplace Confl ict,
Lipsky, Seeber, and Fincher found several corporate leaders who “readily
admitted that union avoidance was a principal motive for their use of ADR
in employment relations” (133). But in a recent study, Avgar et al. (2013)
found that “most corporations do not adopt ADR practices and policies to
avoid unions, in part because for many major corporations there is no real-
istic threat of unionization” (101–102). Others have averred that ICMSs
can complement unions’ representational function in the workplace (Rob-
inson, Pearlstein, and Mayer 2005).
I argue that integration is possible and can be benefi cial for both unions
and organizations once certain considerations are addressed to ensure that
ICMSs complement and support unions’ roles in the workplace rather
than act as substitutes. I suggest that when introduced and maintained col-
laboratively in a way that engages unions as key co-owners of such systems,
ICMSs can ultimately be made more eff ective and resilient in union than
in nonunion settings.
Unions and Integrated Con ict Management Systems:
A Limited History
An ICMS diff ers from individual workplace dispute resolution (ADR)
techniques and services—such as mediation, arbitration, coaching, facili-
tation, or support from an ombudsman—and from ADR programs that
may off er one or more of these techniques.  e key factor that distinguishes
the ICMS model is its integration of confl ict resolution techniques with a
commitment by an adopting organization to “manage the conditions that
give rise to confl ict and the resolution of disputes arising from confl ict”
rather than solely to focus on the resolution of disputes (Yarn 2014, 86).
e authors of a 2001 Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution report

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