At the CUE Spring 2017 Conference in Newport Beach, we celebrated the organization’s 40th anniversary. Former CUE Executive Directors Bob Kinsella and Charlie McLane, as well as Emeritus LLAC Member Ed Levin, along with Jim Gray and Steve Wardrop of the CCAC shared their recollections of how CUE started out, how the organization has evolved, and what the future may bring during a wonderful retrospective session that opened the conference on Monday morning.
The panel began by reminding us that CUE is a pro-employee relations organization. The premise is that by being pro-employee, companies eliminate the need for employees to seek outside assistance of any kind. The founding members of CUE recognized that the best way to support their employees was to embrace civil rights, workplace safety, competitive wages, and progressive management styles.
Many people don’t realize that CUE started as an outlet of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in 1977. Its original founders were industrial relations practitioners in manufacturers, and CUE was a logical subcommittee. Although CUE started out predominantly with manufacturing members, the association has expanded to include representation from all industries. In 1983, the official name was changed to CUE: An Organization for Positive Employee Relations.
In 1985, CUE separated from the National Association of Manufacturers and reincorporated as a separate non-profit. This resulted in the loss of a lot of NAM members, and also reduced the number of board members. After CUE split from NAM, the first priority was to reach out to people who could help rebuild the board and grow the membership.
The basic purpose of CUE has remained constant over the past 40 years. Research, networking, conferences and publications focus on three areas: employee relations, labor relations and labor law.
In 1980, the Board approved the addition of the words “An Organization for Positive Employee Relations” as part of its formal name. In 1983, the official name of the organization was changed to “CUE An Organization for Positive Employee Relations” which is still used today.
The first forty years were filled with challenges. The next 40 years will be just as challenging — AI, robotics, the gig economy, and how to maintain positive employee relations during a significant shift in the workplace and our employees are just a few of the issues that CUE is working to assist our members with right now. CUE will continue to focus on our core mission of building positive employee relations and taking care of our members, just as we have the past 40 years.
The Labor Lawyers Advisory Committee
It’s remarkable when we reflect upon the social, economic, and political changes that have occurred in just the last 40 years.
In the late 1960’s there were many social justice issues raging, along with the Vietnam war. Title VII was recently enacted, and unions resisted minority membership to preserve segregated seniority tracks.
At the time, unions had high penetration levels in the trucking, retail, manufacturing, and grocery industries. Employers only won 60% of all elections, and the unions were gaining momentum. For example, in 1968 New York experienced a teacher’s union strike that lasted for two months that pitted the community against each other due to racial overtones. Detroit also had a prolonged newspaper strike. Companies that fled from the north began to have organizing fights in the south (Norma Rae was based on a true organizing event in North Carolina in the early 1970’s).
The 1970’s brought a lot of turmoil. In 1970, Richard Nixon gave federal employees the right to organize, which brought a lot of money to organized labor. By 1971, we had raging inflation and Nixon imposed wage and price controls, so collective bargaining was basically regulated. The 1973 oil embargo impacted everything in the US. In 1974, the NLRB got jurisdiction over non-profit health care, which coincided with the rise of the women’s movement. All of these factors led to CUE’s founding as part of the National Organization of Manufacturers.
After CUE was founded, it immediately started to grapple with fundamental shifts in government, the economy, and politics. Jimmy Carter deregulated the trucking industry in 1980, which led to the rise of owner-operators and industry consolidation. In 1981, Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 air traffic controllers for going out on strike, which many experts point to as the beginning of the decline of the US labor movement. The Labor Lawyers Advisory Committee (LLAC) was founded to help members navigate these changes, and has been a vital resource for CUE and its members ever since.
The CUE Consultants Advisory Committee
In 2004, the Board created an individual membership category for consultants who provide services to employers in the areas of Employee and Labor Relations. In 2005, the CUE Consultants Advisory Committee (CCAC) was formally approved by the Board. The CCAC continues to provide a vital resource to CUE and its member companies.
The Chinese say, “May you live in interesting times” as a curse. For many of us who practice labor law and employee relations, these are interesting times, but they are also a blessing. As practitioners, we can learn from the past as we grapple with the challenges of our time.
In a business environment that has changed so dramatically in the last 40 years, CUE has maintained its unwavering commitment to its founding principles of building positive employee relations in the workplace. This is a powerful affirmation of the vision of the founders of the organization. In the next 40 years as the business world continues to change, CUE’s leadership and resources will play an increasingly important role assisting employers to develop new and more effective ways of maintaining an environment where employees and their employers maintain a direct relationship.
One thing we know for sure is that a storm is brewing for unions and legacy unionized employers who contributed to union sponsored multi-employer pension plans. These plans are underfunded by hundreds of billions of dollars, and are quickly collapsing since there are fewer active participants supporting a growing number of retirees, creating a major problem for the retirees and the unions that operate the plans. This is also a huge employee relations issue for some employers that could get caught up in the pension fund crisis, since even though they paid into the fund as required contractually, they may still be held liable for the underfunding.
Who knows how other issues like robotics, artificial intelligence, social media, big data, and other technology will change the country, and the workplace? How can we develop strategies to meet the needs of millennials and other new generations of workers? We’re living in fast changing times, and we don’t have the answers to these questions. That’s why it’s imperative that we stay attuned to CUE to share best practices and the latest updates from industry thought leaders.
Guest blogger Liz D’Aloia founded HR Virtuoso to help companies optimize their employment application processes. HR Virtuoso creates customized, company-branded short form employment applications that work on any mobile device. This allows companies to get far more applications, and also keep their existing applicant tracking system. Prior to launching HR Virtuoso, Liz rose through the ranks of transportation, retail, and mortgage companies as a Senior Employment Attorney and VP of HR. Liz is a nationally recognized blogger, speaker, and HR practitioner. Please contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with blog ideas, speaking engagements, and consulting requests. Follow us @hrvirtuoso.