A labor union, also known as trade or workers’ union, is “an entity formed by workers in a particular trade, industry, or company for the purpose of improving pay, benefits, and working conditions.” Employees unionize not because they want to antagonize management. They unionize to ensure that their rights as workers are protected. And that their welfare is guarded against the fickle nature of profit.
However, for management, running a unionized setting has its challenges. Business management, as it is, already proves daunting without it. Once it factors into the equation, the job becomes a little more demanding.
That goes without saying it is doable. Here are five recommendations you may follow:
Read labor law
Managers do not need a law degree to function as a leader. But it pays to know a thing or two about employment laws. For example, you need to, at least, learn what differentiates employees from independent contractors if you work with both types of workers. Failure to consider how those two categories differ might get you in trouble with the law, specifically those imposed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Knowing labor laws will also give you the upper-hand when dealing with management and the union arbitration process. You get to follow the process in an informed manner.
Practice common sense and good judgment
Your decision as a manager must align with basic labor laws. But you need not consult a legal book every time you need to come up with a specific judgment. In many instances, your common sense should suffice. Trust it.
For example, when an employee files a harassment case against another manager, regardless of where your professional or personal loyalties lie, common sense dictates that you professionally approach the matter. The case cannot be swept under the rug. Otherwise, the situation could veer out of control.
Another scenario is when the union asks for protective gear during a pandemic. Regardless of cost-cutting initiatives, good judgment dictates that such a valid request should be granted.
Stay in control
The management does not report to the union. These two entities are separate. However, you are still in command of employees. That means you can tell them how to do their job. Grievances regarding imposed rules can be formally filed later if there are any. The goal for the meantime is the utmost productivity.
Make sure that there’s a system in place on how union grievances are processed. These rules must be written down and distributed across the organization so everyone is on the same page.
Keep it cool. Do not respond to verbal attacks and provocations in a personal matter. Approach everything as professionally as possible. If you are pushed against a wall, wiggle yourself out. Refrain from pushing back because such a reaction could easily backfire.
However, do not let yourself be bullied. There’s a way to stand your ground without compromising levelheadedness. Keep in mind that an irate reaction to grievances delivered in an irate manner can only yield non-constructive results. Both parties lose.
Encourage open communication
All organizations should impose an open communication policy, regardless if it is a unionized setting or not. Open communication solves myriad workplace issues from conflicts between colleagues to mishandling of business processes and systems.
Although, in a unionized setting, an open communication policy becomes doubly valuable. With it. you can touch base with union members and get their insights on organizational policies. Once you’re in front of the union leader, you can gauge whether the sentiments expressed mirror those of the members.
All conflicts, as much as possible, must be resolved in-house. It does not matter if talks and discussions stretch for days or weeks so long as the matter is settled without any major damage to the relationship between management and the union.
Ideally, the business you run should have employees’ well-being as a top concern. And that ought to translate to working conditions and remuneration packages that are favorable to them. Once those basic needs are taken care of, unionization becomes unnecessary. After all, there is nothing more to demand.
Now if a labor union has become an integral part of the organization you manage, do not consider it the bane of your existence. Look at it as something to keep management on its toes. And to strive for excellence that benefits everyone and not just a select few at the top of the corporate food chain.
Should problems between management and union members arise, handle them with care and authority. And zero in as much as possible on a win-win outcome.