Frank and Buzz: The new Felix and Oscar (Editor’s notes)

Will opposites attract in landmark partnership?
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/16/2007

I can’t look at the cover of this issue of

Canadian HR Reporter

without the catchy, and kind of annoying, theme song from the 1970s television show

The Odd Couple

creeping into my head.

The image of Frank Stronach, chairman of the board at Magna, and Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, grinning and shaking hands is, well, odd. There’s just not a better word to describe it. But there they are, Frank and Buzz, hanging out together on the cover just like Felix and Oscar.

It’s a relationship that, on paper, seems impossible. In the television series, as aptly described on TV.com, Felix was a prim, fastidious photographer and compulsive cleaner. Oscar was a gruff, sloppy sportswriter who thought the best place to keep anything was on the floor. The conflicts were obvious and endless. Yet they managed to live together.

In the modern-day labour version, Frank is the capitalist entrepreneur. Buzz is the socialist arm-bender. The conflicts seem obvious and endless. Yet they appear to have struck a groundbreaking deal that could change the way companies and unions work together.

One of the most interesting — and controversial — aspects of the deal is that the CAW agreed to a no-strike provision. It’s a concept that isn’t exactly popular among some organized labour leaders. Ken Neumann, the United Steelworkers’ Canadian director, said he wouldn’t support no-strike provisions if employers approached his union about it.

“Everything that we get we have to bargain for,” Neumann told the Canadian Press. “You must maintain your right to strike. Employers are not going to give something up if they know the union doesn’t have the clout to extract it from them.”

It’s a good point. But the CAW is downplaying the importance of the no-strike clause in this deal. It pointed out, correctly, that Magna’s 18,000 factory workers don’t currently have the right to strike — with the exception of three unionized plants — so it’s not like they’re giving up a right they already have. Plus, it’s doubtful the CAW would have been able to get in the door without agreeing to the provision.

But what’s even more interesting about this deal is the message coming from Frank and Buzz. Read the guest commentary by the two leaders below this editorial. If you believe what they’re saying, this deal is really all about teaming up to save a beleaguered Canadian industry. It’s about changing the way unions and employers in the manufacturing sector work together. Only time will tell if it’s successful, but both sides deserve credit for taking a shot.

The Odd Couple

scored high ratings for five years in the early 1970s. This new version, starring Frank and Buzz, could be a hit among HR professionals for years to come.

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