CSOM prof challenges labor policies in two new books

John Budd wants to shake up labor relations.

In a business world in which efficiency is paramount, Budd – a Carlson School of Management professor – said people need to rebuild that framework.

“There’s a saying,” Budd said, “that the social caboose is pulled by the economic locomotive.”

Budd said the conventional wisdom has been that benefits from labor policies encouraging competition will eventually trickle down to the social realm.

Budd has published two new books on that subject: “Employment with a Human Face: Balancing Efficiency, Equity and Voice” and “Labor Relations: Striking a Balance.”

The latter employs a textbook approach using the philosophies set forth in the former, Budd said.

When people compare prices between Wal-Mart and Walgreen’s, Budd said, “The tendency is to think whoever has the highest price is exploiting their customers.”

But there is an obverse to that coin, he said.

“Products are cheaper at Wal-Mart because they don’t pay for health insurance for their workers.”

Wal-Mart is currently defending a class-action suit for alleged workers’ rights transgressions.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Christi Gallagher said more than 90 percent of their employees have health insurance.

“Both full-time and part-time associates qualify for the

same medical coverage as the CEO of our company once they have met their eligibility,” she said.

Budd said consumer issues are generally seen as detached from worker issues when they are actually connected.

Employee policy decisions should include more than a concern for the bottom line, he said. Workers need a sense of voice, or self-determination, and equity or minimum standards, Budd said.

Although workers might not use their voices, they want to know that they have it, he said.

With the diversity of talents in a given workplace, no one wants to be treated like an “unthinking cog in the machine,” Budd said.

Maintaining minimum working standards, he said, should be a concern.

“The problem now is that debates over minimum standards turn into debates about efficiency, not debates about how people are treated or how they deserve to be treated,” Budd said.

Discussions about raising wages or benefits engender concerns about competitiveness, he said.

Carlson School professor John Fossum said employers with a reputation of providing equity and voice are often more successful at recruiting and retaining employees.

But, Fossum said, “There’s a lot of cyclicality in the labor market.”

Budd was recently recognized internationally and is scheduled to tour Europe this summer.

Officials from the Department of Trade and Industry invited him to London to speak. He will also speak this summer to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency.