Unions go right along with politics and religion on the list of topics not to discuss at a dinner party. While opinions regarding the usefulness and relevance of unions range from impassioned supporter to unwavering opposition, the fact remains that unions exist and their extinction is unlikely.
The Employee Free Choice Act, and the media attention surrounding it, has drawn unions out of the dark and into the light. This new resurgence of union discussion is a reminder that they are still active, and more importantly, want your employees’ membership.
However, most employers believe that a union would not be able to successfully organize in their organization or give little thought to unions at all. To make matters worse, management tends to overestimate the level of satisfaction that employees feel toward their employer.
According to the most recent Employee Satisfaction Survey conducted by Salary.com, 65 percent of participating employees responded that they were at least somewhat satisfied with their jobs, while employers estimated that percentage to be 77 percent. While that difference seems negligible on the surface, it represents half the employees support that a union would need to organize.
So, what can an employer do before the union cards start making their way through your organization? Employers can begin by examining the reasons why employees join unions and proactively address those issues within their organization.
Employees feel they are unfairly compensated.
Employees expect to earn a fair wage. The discovery that a less qualified or less experienced employee brings home a larger paycheck can strike a cord of resentment. Most employees may never complain from fear of loosing the paycheck that they earn, but their discontentment may manifest in other ways such as low morale, withdrawal from coworkers or producing subpar work. According to AFL-CIO, union members tend to earn more than non-union members. This is a direct result of the union’s role in negotiating wages on the employee’s behalf.
Actions for HR Human resources professionals should review their organization’s compensation policy and enforce its compliance. Managers and staff should be trained on how the compensation policy is administered and their role in the process. If your organization does not have a compensation policy, creating one should be a top priority. Depending upon the size and complexity of the organization, it may be a good idea to outsource this project to a consultant.
Employees feel their issues are not addressed effectively.
When a disagreement arises between parties, some sort of formal representation might be sought by the disputing parties to protect their interests. In an employment situation, unless a lawsuit is filed, only the employer has representation for its interests. Union employees have the opportunity to have their interest represented by the union. Union contracts typically include grievance procedures, which can take the form of a multitiered dispute resolution process. If the employee is not satisfied at the first tier, the employee can seek recourse until the issue reaches the arbitration level.
Actions for HR Human resources professionals should work with their organizations to create a formal grievance procedure that is more involved than filing a formal complaint with human resources. If your organization does not have the resources to implement a multitiered grievance process, human resources needs the authority to investigate and take corrective actions to resolve the complaint.
Employees feel they are treated unfairly.
The boss hires his nephew that just graduated from high school to fill the vacant manager position. The VP’s daughter is on winter break from college and needs to make a few dollars, so she is hired as a temp. Favoritism occurs everyday in the corporate environment, usually benefitting those with the power or who have an ear to those with the power. For rank and file, employee favoritism can be viewed with skepticism.
Unions prohibit such favoritism, only allowing preferential treatment to be given to employees with seniority in employment matters (i.e vacation, scheduling and promotions). Generally this type of favoritism is received as fair and equitable to employees, because in time an employee can gain seniority but can never become the boss’s nephew.
Actions for HR Human resources should question employment-related requests that are overt acts of favoritism. Human resources should develop nepotism, recruiting and promotion policies, and adhere to them. Managers should be educated on the importance of creating a level playing field for all employees.
Employees do not feel their jobs are secure.
Even in a good economy, employees want to feel that their jobs are secure. Florida is an employment-at-will state, which allows employers to terminate employees for any reason as long as it is not an illegal reason. Unions typically negotiate job security into the labor contract. At a minimum, unions demand that employees be provided financial support in case of a layoff. Terminations are also given due process under union agreements. It is significantly more difficult to terminate a union employee than a non-union employee, as managers are required to substantially document why the employee is problematic.
Actions for HR Human resources professionals should challenge their managers to engage employees and coach them through performance challenges. Managers should also be trained to properly facilitate and document counseling sessions with employees. In addition, when a request for termination is made, it should be accompanied by all related documentation that demonstrates a good faith effort was made by the manager to assist the employee in overcoming performance challenges.
There are many reasons why your employees would join a union. However, there are many actions that human resources professionals can take to proactively balance the power in the work environment, without the headache of administering a union contract.