role of unions in 2018

In the wake of the Janus decision, the role of unions is under scrutiny again and people on both sides of the issue are wondering, “what’s next?” Membership has continued to decline, down to 10.7%  Among private sector workers, union membership is just 6.4 percent. The current trend is clearly towards union-free workplaces, and unions know they will need to step up their game to get (and keep) members. Companies are focusing on creating better leaders that support the needs of the workforce. Engaged, empowered employees who work for organizations with responsive human resource leadership have driven the movement to leave unions behind.

Here are 9 things you need to know about the role of unions in 2018.

1. Unions stand between workers and management.
Employees in non-union workplaces have the freedom to approach management directly to negotiate for wage increases, flexibility, work assignments, promotions and general working conditions. The role of unions is to bargain collectively, and the voice of individual need is often lost. Unions market their model to employees based on the idea that those employees are “stronger together.” When companies work hard to keep the lines of communication open and their responsiveness to employee concerns high, they provide far greater job satisfaction than a “one size fits all” contract.

2. Union membership is costly.
By working in non-union companies, employees avoid the dues and fees imposed by unions. The union marketing slogan,”It doesn’t cost to belong to a union – it pays,” is a promise not always kept. When workers take into account the dues, restrictive rules, and threat of a possible strike, and emotional toll an “us-vs-them” environment can take, the costs of union membership are high. Remember that in right-to-work states, employees cannot be forced to pay fees to an organization they oppose. In other states, everyone pays when a union comes in.

3. Union rules don’t inspire greater productivity.
Employees appreciate having their hard work recognized, and seniority-based pay and promotion systems simply don’t offer positive reinforcement for a job well-done. Merit-based promotion of current employees has proven effective in moving talent into positions that benefit the business. In addition, merit-based pay increases and bonus structures encourage greater effort. When unionized companies are locked into a contract to determine which employees are rewarded and how, those employees have little incentive to share ideas and work for a better future.

4. A collectively bargained contract protects even poor workers.
Individuals who come to work each day ready to positively impact the business environment can quickly lose their enthusiasm when they notice others behaving poorly with no consequences. In a typical union environment, contracts spell out a great deal of procedural work to be done before employment is terminated, even for cause. The role of unions is to protect the worker – not the company. Union-free companies have the freedom to remove non-productive and disruptive employees. As a result, union-free companies have the flexibility needed to maintain a positive working environment and protect their hard-working employees.

5. Unions limit flexibility.
A study conducted by Boston University’s Fred Foulkes shows that executives with non-unionized companies have a distinct advantage over unionized peers: the freedom and flexibility to implement strategic plans for improving short-term and long-term productivity. Enhanced productivity means greater profits, and strong, productive businesses are better able to support their workforce with comprehensive benefits, competitive pay, and job security. That kind of top-down enthusiasm and forward-thinking can inspire tremendous growth, benefiting companies, and employees and their families.

6. Unions thrive on conflict – so they can take on the role of problem-solver.
Unions inherently bring conflict into the work environment, promoting a divisive us-versus-them mentality. On the other hand, most union-free organizations work to foster a culture of cooperation. The ability for front-line managers to connect with union-free employees directly means new ideas are formed and needs are met without having to wait years for re-negotiation of a contract.

7. Unions are not trained in Human Resources
Union representatives are rarely experts in HR, but employees who have concerns must rely on these individuals to speak for them. At best, the role of unions here is inefficient – at worst, it is completely ineffective in resolving problems. Union-free companies typically have influential human resources departments. HR professionals are included in senior leadership roles, and they play a crucial part in training and encouraging employees and overall growth.

8. Unions don’t inspire collaboration to serve individual team members.
When unions take on the role of middleman between employees and management, there is little incentive to collaborate to meet the needs of individual workers. On the other hand, managers who must have these discussions directly are more invested in the process and the satisfaction of their team members, which makes them better leaders.

9. Unions create powerless front-line leadership.
Newly unionized companies quickly discover that both the union and employees consider their key relationship to be the one between union and worker, creating front-line leaders whose hands are tied and whose efforts are often subject to governance by a contract. Union-free supervisors have greater incentive to explore issues and implement solutions that meet the needs of their team.

As companies in recent years have taken the time to  educate employees, union membership has continued to decline. Well-informed employees understand the impact of unionization, and how vital their direct relationship with their company is. They know that the old models for unionization mean that the role of unions today is simply one of divisiveness, stagnation, and procedure over common sense. Smart organizations are building a UnionProof culture by educating employees, training supervisors, and creating an employee relations dream team that benefits both the company and every employee.

Read more about the Janus decision here.

About the author

Jennifer Orechwa

In over 25 years of helping companies connect with their employees, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a UnionProof culture. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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