Monday, June 4, 2018

The greatest book ever written about labor relations is…

Last week I came across an article entitled, “Business Wisdom From 10 Classic Children’s Books.” Its premise is that books with the simplest language often contain the most complex ideas, and that children’s books offer us a whole lot of real-world business wisdom.

I was surprised, then, when I discovered that this list omitted the number one book ever written about labor relations—Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type.

I first wrote about Click Clack Moo all the way back on May 24, 2007. And since I realize that many of you have not been with me from the blog’s beginnings, I thought this was as good a time as any to step into the Wayback Machine to revisit this classic.

“Farmer Brown has a problem. His cows like to type.”

So starts Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type.

In Click Clack Moo, Farmer Brown’s cows and hens decide that they need electric blankets to keep warm at night in the barn. They deliver their demand to Farmer Brown on notes typed by the cows on an old typewriter. When Farmer Brown refuses their demand, they go on strike, withholding milk and eggs. 

Ultimately, Duck brokers a deal. Farmer Brown agrees to accept the cows’ typewriter in exchange for electric blankets. The labor dispute ends, and the cows and hens went back to producing milk and eggs.

The deal backfires on Farmer Brown, though, as Duck absconds with the typewriter and leverages it for a diving board for the pond.

Click Clack Moo teaches us some valuable lessons:
  1. Fair Treatment: The best means to avoid collective action by your employees is to treat your employees fairly. The barn was cold, and the cows and hens perceived that they were being forced to work in intolerable conditions. When Farmer Brown refused even to consider any concessions, they went on strike. If you want your employees to work hard, not unionize, and not file lawsuits, treat them fairly. Maintain reasonable, even-handed work rules and policies. Apply them equally. Don’t discriminate. There is no guarantee that you’ll stay out of court, but if you end up there, you’ll have a much easier time convincing a judge or jury of the rightness of your decision if they perceive you as having been fair, reasonable, and even-handed. 

  2. Litigation is an Answer, But Not Always the Best Answer: Even in employment cases, where there are so many emotions in play on both sides of the table, it is only the most frivolous of cases that cannot not be resolved at some dollar figure. It is the job of the employer, working with its attorney, to strike the right balance between the cost of litigation and the cost of settlement. Convictions often get in the way, and often times litigation and trial is the only means to an end. But, you should always keep an open mind towards a resolution. 

  3. Don’t Go It Alone: When resolving any case, make sure all your loose ends are tied up in a tidy agreement. Farmer Brown missed this last point. A well drafted agreement that included Duck would have avoided the added expense of the diving board. If Farmer Brown had retained competent counsel, he could have potentially avoided the problem with Duck (who probably went to law school).