Stephen Koppekin is a labor relations expert. He developed an interest in the field as a college student when he realized it married his two passions—economics and law—and during the past four decades, Stephen has worked in various labor relations roles for government agencies and as an executive at large film and television studios, like CBS.
Today, Stephen is the founder and president of Koppekin Consulting, Inc., where he is dedicated to providing exceptional results to companies of all sizes and all industries as they work to improve their labor relations processes and navigate issues. In this interview, he discusses his experience in the field and shares his insights on key changes or areas of focus.
To learn more about Stephen Koppekin or to work with Koppekin Consulting, Inc., reach out to him directly at Stephen@KoppekinConsulting.com or by calling (818) 344-9076.
Interviewer: How did you get your start in the field of labor and industrial relations?
Stephen Koppekin: In college, I was an economics major, and I took a course on labor economics that I really enjoyed. The professor was a vice-president of labor relations for a Fortune 500 company, so I asked him the best path to do what he did; he suggested law school. Although I had a few job offers by the time I graduated—including a position in comparative economic systems for the CIA—I turned them down to attend Rutgers School of Law.
I took labor law classes and became a research assistant for Alfred Blumrosen, who was at the time chief conciliator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). From there, I went on to work for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and eventually for CBS in New York.
Interviewer: What do you like about this field and this work?
Stephen Koppekin: I love the opportunities to work with people and to make deals, whether between individuals or organizations.
Interviewer: What’s your philosophy on labor relations and on your work with companies?
Stephen Koppekin: It can be summed up in just one word: fairness. In any industry, but especially labor relations, fairness is the foundation stone for success.
Interviewer: What are some of the most common issues that companies call you in to address?
Stephen Koppekin: Many companies look to me for assistance negotiating contracts as well as handling discharge grievances, day-to-day grievances, and sexual harassment matters. There are a number of important variables to consider when moving through these processes, and they want to have an expert on hand to ensure they comply with best practices and make smart decisions at every step.
Interviewer: What’s the first thing you do when you begin to work with a new company?
Stephen Koppekin: In dealing with new clients, I attempt to understand what it is they’re looking to achieve. Then, I analyze what we can realistically achieve based on those goals and work from there. It’s important to understand your clients’ needs and what they can and what they will accept.
Interviewer: What is something about labor relations that companies and managers don’t fully appreciate?
Stephen Koppekin: That the key to success in labor relations is its second word: relations. Relationships are the ultimate asset in achieving successful resolutions.
Interviewer: What’s something that companies or managers can do today to provide the greatest impact to their labor relations?
Stephen Koppekin: Simply anticipating issues and preparing for them in advance can have an incredible impact on success. Additionally, knowing the people sitting at the other side of the table is vital to ensure a positive outcome.
Interviewer: What’s a common misconception about labor relations?
Stephen Koppekin: The greatest misconception most companies have is that the unions are always the enemy. In fact, unions can—and, I emphasize, they can—be helpful on many issues.
Interviewer: Looking back on your career, what’s your proudest accomplishment?
Stephen Koppekin: My proudest accomplishment is the strong set of relationships I’ve built up over the years with coworkers, “adversaries,” and peers in the industry.
Interviewer: What was the most important lesson you learned during your career?
Stephen Koppekin: The most important lesson is to deliver on what you promise. One’s word is vital.
Interviewer: Prior to founding Koppekin Consulting, Inc., you represented employers in the media and entertainment world on matters of labor relations. What was this like? What kind of work would you do for them?
Stephen Koppekin: Working in the entertainment industry is an incredible experience. I was able to work with all trades and crafts, from actors, directors, writers, and more, with each presenting its own unique challenges.
Interviewer: What was it like to establish your own business?
Stephen Koppekin: Establishing my own business was fun and challenging. Now, I’m able to pick and choose who and what to work on. The biggest challenge I encountered was having to do billing.
Interviewer: How have you seen the field evolve over time? What are some of the most significant changes from when you first started compared to today?
Stephen Koppekin: Among the most significant changes over time have been the departure from an emphasis on wages to an emphasis on benefits, and also the move away from seniority to a merit-based system.
Interviewer: What advice would you give to someone starting their career in labor relations today?
Stephen Koppekin: Be patient and enjoy.