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Do I Need a Degree for This? Labor Relations and Real-World Experience

Labor Relations DegreeA question came up in a discussion I was part of the other day, and I thought it was worth sharing. Everyone seemed to have an opinion. The question was, “If you’re trying to stay union-free, is it better to have a labor relations degree – or can you do it on your own?”

Keeping employees union-free gets more challenging each day. Union representatives are aggressively expanding their efforts online and finding new ways to approach employees, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has recently been acting like it represents unions. If you’ve been thinking it’s time to add a degreed Labor Relations Specialist to your staff, (an expensive proposition), there may be a better approach. Give the person responsible for Human Resources (HR) or employee relations additional training on union tactics and behavior in the real world.

The reason is simple: The HR professional is already familiar with employee engagement, talent management, and labor relations. For a mid-sized company, hiring a Labor Relations Specialist can be cost-prohibitive. An economical solution is to give your HR professional the tools to can add to his or her body of knowledge concerning the principles of union proofing and become a Certified UnionProof Professional.

Trained in the Ways of Unions

Unions do their homework. They know the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) inside out. They know their rights and the rights of employers and employees concerning unionization. Unions also have a lot more leeway in what they can say – and what they can promise – when they’re working to organize employees.

Employers don’t have that luxury. Leaders must operate within the law or face numerous union and employee lawsuits and complaints. The challenge is knowing how to appropriately respond to ever-changing union tactics while adhering to employment and labor laws. A capable HR person with a degree in Human Resources can recruit the best employees, present the union-free philosophy, provide ongoing education on labor unions, and react to organizing efforts. However, ad hoc responses to unions or learning by “osmosis” bring the danger of inappropriate or illegal responses. Unions regularly change their tactics, and labor laws and regulations are always a work in process. That begs the question: Do you need a degreed Labor Relations Specialist on board?

Your organization doesn’t necessarily need a separate Labor Relations Specialist position or a person with a Labor Relations degree because in truth, your HR manager is already trained in employment law and employee relations. What you need is someone to rely on who is trained in the ways of the unions, and that actually be an HR generalist. Should your HR professional get another degree or attend a structured university program? The reality is that it’s difficult for big university professors to have deep familiarity with ever-changing union tactics, compared to practitioners dealing with employees and union representatives in the real-world on a regular basis.


Always Prepared to Keep Unions Out

How can an organization ensure it’s fully prepared to keep unions out? First, join an organization like CUE, dedicated to helping organizations maintain positive employee relations to maintain a union-free work environment. Second, your Human Resources staff needs access to ongoing training opportunities to ensure knowledge is relevant and current. It’s not necessary to pay a lot of money to a university (and professors who haven’t actually worked “in the trenches” for years) when information is easily accessible online and courses are available for reasonable fees.

Third, the Human Resources professional in your organization can earn a designation as a Certified UnionProof Professional. A professional with this designation knows the history of unions, how organized labor operates, and strategies for managing a unionized workplace and keeping a union out. Who should become a Certified UnionProof Professional? That depends on your organizational chart. It can be a Human Resources generalist, Labor Relations Specialist, a business owner, or anyone else who is involved in positive employee relations and understanding what it takes to stay union-free. Depending on your department, you might just need one person to go through the training or multiple people who should get certified.

Union-proofing your organization depends on having staff on board who have a solid foundation as well as a current knowledge of union organizing and tactics. Without that knowledge, it’s almost guaranteed a union will find a new means of entry into your organization. Be ready to avoid the cost and time it takes to go through an organizing drive by having a Certified UnionProof Professional in your organization.

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