Labor Relations: Where Do You Stand?
Knowledge of labor relations is critical when evaluating the health of your company. Just as important is a strong corporate culture. In order to build that culture and become an employer of choice, HR needs to be involved in long-term decision-making. Unfortunately, staying union-free isn’t often something Human Resources pros are taught in school. It’s one of those skills that is most often learned with time and experience… but what if you’ve never encountered a union organizing drive? You simply wouldn’t have the ability to gain those skills and propel yourself up to those C-suite discussions.
There are six signs that you may lack the knowledge HR professionals need to help create a company and a culture that are built to succeed and rise above competitors for the long haul:
You Don’t Know Your Union History
Unions became active in the 1800s, with the founding of the National Labor Union in 1866. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions was founded in 1881, and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1886. While unions once championed worker’s causes and helped create labor laws that keep us all safe and productive, today, the purpose of unions is more to extract greater wages and wealth from companies, regardless of labor markets or competition. Unions work to wield political influence that protects their income far more than it does the average union member. Today, unions are trying to expand their membership and influence through worker centers, organizing, politics, mergers and corporate campaigns.
When you’ve got a solid understanding of the roots of organized labor, you gain tremendous insight into what motivates these organizations (hint: they’re not non-profit organizations; they’re big businesses).
You Don’t Know the Implications of Unionization
Unionization is expensive by any available metric. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, employers with unionized employees are contractually obligated to 48 percent greater labor costs. Employers with underperforming employees covered by a union contract have a much more difficult time making changes in that workforce to inspire greater productivity.
Unions often stand as a wall between employees and management, keeping team members from speaking for themselves with regard to wages, benefits or working conditions. Contracts often mandate that employees are promoted based on seniority -rather than merit- holding back higher performers and often having a negative effect overall on motivation and morale.
You Don’t Know How Unions Operate
As a Human Resources professional, knowing how unions operate can help you address employee concerns. Union constitutions can give an idea of how these organizations function, although only at a high level. For example, unions finance themselves with member dues. What they do with that money, however, is not always clear; union leaders are frequently arrested for corruption, sometimes for a literal bag of cash.
In addition when union organizing happens, unions often take grievances against employers before the National Labor Relations Board, a government agency responsible for enforcing labor laws. If you understand what an Unfair Labor Practice charge is, and what happens when a ULP charge is filed, you’re one step ahead of these types of labor issues.
You Can’t Recognize Signs of Organizing
So, do you know what signs indicate potential union organizing efforts at your company? From very subtle signs to more overt tactics like unions holding meetings with employees to encourage union card signing, and even “underground” tactics involving online communication, it’s vital to know what you’re looking for.
Union representatives may hand out literature to employees or engage them outside of the workplace. Employers must tread carefully to avoid running afoul of Unfair Labor Practice laws, although unions may break those rules as well. Supervisors should remember two acronyms during an organizing campaign: T.I.P.S. and F.O.E. The former is what not to do (threats, interrogation, promises, surveillance), while the latter is about good communication practices (facts, opinions, examples).
You’ve Never Worked In A Unionized Environment
Without first-hand experience, you may be at a loss for what’s involved in collective bargaining, managing in a union environment, strikes and the financial implications of a union. Your managers need experience dealing with union activity and understanding how it can disrupt current workplace processes. Experience with previous labor actions can be critical to staving off a unionization drive, or minimizing the damage if one occurs.
But if you’ve never been there, how can you understand what life is like with a union? Get perspective from others who have worked in a unionized environment.
You Aren’t Sure If You Have a UnionProof Culture
Like most human resources professionals, you chose your career because you like to help people get what they need. You’re likely a terrific problem-solver and have skills that range from behavioral psychology to data analytics! So, leaving a UnionProof legacy for your company should be an extension of everything you’re currently working toward. There are a number of ways to accomplish this objective. The first is proactive: vulnerability assessments can help identify concerns or issues that may make your team members more likely to consider joining a union. The second is training: resources such as handbooks and communication in the form of video, websites and eLearning that teach best practices for leaders can help build a great workplace. The final step is this process creating an authentic employer brand that helps you independently empower your workforce and build that UnionProof culture every company wants.
What You Need
As you gain additional knowledge and apply these principles to foster greater engagement with employees, you can build a UnionProof culture and become an employer of choice. While a shift in overall employee attitudes takes time, it’s always possible to avoid union organizing and create a union-proof culture that resists outside influence and focuses on the future.