Closed door negotiations may be relegated to the past if the United Auto Workers’ (U.A.W.) negotiations with Detroit’s Big Three automakers hold any keys to the future of business/labor negotiations.  Until recently, the U.A.W. notified its members of negotiations and contract details at union hall meetings.  Not surprisingly, many workers complained of not being able to digest the fine points of the contract until after ratification.

Now, however, old rules are starting to give way to the ever increasing convenience of social media.  As reported in the New York Times, Labor Talks in Detroit go Social, the U.A.W. posted the new contracts with Ford Motor Company and General Motors on its website so workers could download the current language, as well as elicit negotiation updates through Facebook and Twitter feeds.  The U.A.W. also worked with the companies to set up secure web sites which allowed workers to receive updates via emails directly.  Some U.A.W. locals have taken the inclusiveness of social media further by allowing members to voice concerns and raise questions with members of their bargaining teams directly through Facebook.

“There is unprecedented openness about this process,” Kristin Dziczek, labor analyst for the Center for Automotive Research, informed the New York Times.  ”You’re not getting the blow-by-blow, but they’re being much more open and transparent in communicating with their members and with the public ….” General Holiefield, the U.A.W. vice president in charge of negotiations with Chrysler, could not agree more.  He told the New York Times, “[w]e may have gotten a lot more done in the past, and things would have gone smother provided we had tools likes this.”  To that end, Mr. Holiefield posted a four minute video on YouTube and Facebook explaining to members his approach to negotiations with Chrysler.

The U.A.W. has also found social media invaluable in managing and disseminating correct information, as well as quelling rumors and speculation.  In some instances, the U.A.W. has responded within minutes of a request for clarification on contract language, or challenged news stories that fed members misinformation.  Jimmy Settles, union vice president in charge of Ford negotiations, told the New York Times, “[social media] allowed us to get to the members quickly.  The one thing we always had to combat was the expectations of our members.  Historically, we didn’t have the apparatus to get that information out.”  Or as Art Reyes, president of U.A.W. Local 651, said in the same New York Times article, Facebook has gone a long way in “demystifying” the complex labor negotiation process.  Mr. Reyes stated, “[the young entry-level workers are] used to expressing themselves on Facebook or on Twitter.  Getting real-time answers is something they have an expectation of.  Nothing feeds the rumor mill like a lack of information.”

That lack of information or misinformation is why General Motors has teamed up with the U.A.W. to manage the Facebook page for G.M. workers.  General Motors believes this partnership will ensure that members receive current and correct information from the company as well as the U.A.W.  According to G.M., 11,000 people have already subscribed to the Facebook page.

This is a much more cooperative and amicable side to social media in the employment context than we have been writing about lately (no Facebook firings here!).  But, to me, the U.A.W. movement towards an open and transparent labor negotiations process makes perfect sense.  In this social media driven environment, you, as a business, are either out in front directing the quality and content of the message, or you’re in the rear, where you have little or no control.  We’ve said it before, and we’ll stay it again, it’s much better to be proactive rather than reactive.

Do you think opening up management/labor talks to all workers via social media will enhance negotiations or hinder them?  If you are a business with a negotiated labor force, is a shared Facebook page a smart idea for disseminating company information?