Working with Unions

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Working with Unions - How to Establish and Maintain a Working Relationship with a Union Workforce

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Working with Unions

  1. 1. Working with Unions How to Establish and Maintain a Working Relationship with a Union Work Force Steve Wise November 2010
  2. 2. Working with Unions Forward - My experience working with Unions started just over twenty-three years ago. I was relocated to a Manufacturing Plant that at that time - had just over 250 Unionized Employees along with 50 plus Administrative Personnel. I entered this Shop as the Divisions Controller, just after being promoted and relocated from the Company HQ. I could easily call the first several years as very rough - Management and the Union did not have a good relationship and were often at odds with each other.
  3. 3. Working with Unions Forward (con’t) - Serving as the Controller - I only had indirect relationships with our Union Workforce. Five years later, I had the opportunity to jump disciplines and become the Plant’s Material / Maintenance Manager - where I served as for sixteen years - which did have direct Supervision responsibility of Union Employees. Due to working in a strained Union environment - I would often come home and tell my Wife - that I would have enjoyed working in a Non-Union Shop. But as my years went on, I learned how critical it is to maintain a working relationship with my Union brethren…and enjoyed finding different ways to work with them in the achievement of our Shop Goals.
  4. 4. Working with Unions • This Training Module is directed to those with direct responsibilities of a Union Workforce - both those in Supervision and at Managerial Levels. • The intent of this Training Module - is to discuss the critical aspects that do arise when working with a Union Workforce - and the actions that I found successful in dealing with them. • This Training Module does not represent that such may work in your situations - but is being offered as advice on what has worked for me - along my way.
  5. 5. Working with Unions  Union Workforce = Added Labor  Be Ready to Listen  “Don’t Show Your Colors”  Find Ways to Engage Them in Your Efforts  Stand Behind Your Supervisors  Working to Avoid Grievances  Giving and Earning Respect  Meeting Organizational Goals...as a Team
  6. 6. Union Workforce = Added Labor Anyone that works in a Union Environment - must know and expect that such will create extra work - especially for you as the Supervisor or Manager. Such extra work will include - documentation of events, participating in Union / Grievance Meetings, taking time to cover absences of Union Officials, and the daily time devoted to listening to various Shop Employees on various Union Issues. There is no denying that a Supervisor and Manager of Union Employees will have additional work to do - but if you are able to adapt to and engage them in your efforts - you will end up with a dynamic workforce.
  7. 7. Union Workforce = Added Labor • I use to say that as a Manager over Union Employees – that you basically needed to be a “Lawyer.” • In fostering a working relationship with a Union - there needs to be a “give and take” mentality - you must support each others efforts to be successful. • In addition, you must be able to identify the “battles” that you can either win or need to win. • Issues where there are strong differences - will take much more of your time to address and resolve. • You must be able to determine in the early stages – which issues are worth your time and effort.
  8. 8. Union Workforce = Added Labor EXAMPLE: At my Shop – it was common place for the Support Departments that I managed – to have various Members serving as Union Officials – i.e., Union President on down. o Such Department Members were often Forklift Drivers that were responsible for supporting a Production Line. o Upon being notified of Union Meetings that our Drivers had to attend – we would replace them with trained Backups that were assigned to other departments. o The added work that we were faced with – was the time that it took to find a replacement Driver – which could take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour plus. o In addition, the replacement Drivers were not as efficient as our Union Material Drivers – plus they were prone to make more Inventory Errors that needed to be corrected. o This resulted in not only extra time for my Supervisors – but also the normal Union Material Driver when he/she returned.
  9. 9. Union Workforce = Added Effort Skills / Traits that can greatly aide Your Efforts - •Have Patience...and lots of it. •Be a Good Listener. •Treat everyone fairly – and Expect the Same. •Do not lose focus on the Job at hand. •Be able to clearly Communicate your Message. •Involve / Engage Your People in Your Efforts. •Be well Organized and able to Multi-Task too.
  10. 10. Be Ready to Listen When working in a Union Environment – it will be commonplace for you to be stopped often - so that someone can convey an issue or problem to you. Things that you will hear will normally include issues or work practices that are in conflict with the Union Contract. You will also hear of various People related issues that exist often between a Supervisor and a Union Employee such as – disciplinary actions, subpar performance, work procedure conflicts, communication breakdowns, and safety concerns. As a Supervisor or Manager – you must be available to hear such issues and concerns – and be able to filter out which ones have merit and require additional action on your part.
  11. 11. Be Ready to Listen One of the worse things you can do as a Supervisor or Manager – is to not have time for your People. o This includes being too busy for them, or o Not maintaining an open door policy, or o Not getting back to your People as you promised When your People need to convey a concern to you or to simply ask you a question – you must be able to find time to hear them. Such does not have to happen the instant that they stop you – but at an appropriate time shortly after they raised their concern to you.
  12. 12. Be Ready to Listen Actions that You can take in this regard include – Listen clearly and without a preconceived stance. If the concern / issue is outside of your responsibility – advise them whom they should speak to regarding. If you disagree with what has been said or choose not to take action on – provide them your reasons why. If you are not able to provide an immediate answer or action to the concern raised – respond that you will look into and provide a time when you will get back to them. Upon raising a concern to you – turn it around and ask them how they would propose to answer or act on their issue.
  13. 13. “Don’t Show Your Colors” One fact when working with Union Employees - is that there will be some in the workforce that will “test” you. By this I mean that they will try to find your breaking point - so that they can use somehow against you at a later date / on another issue. As a Manager or Supervisor – you must do your best to show your People – that you can handle pressure, difficult situations, various people problems, etc. Whether you work with Union or Non-Union Employees – if you are working in a high paced / high stressed environment – there will be those Employees that will test you…and you need to be prepared to deal with it.
  14. 14. “Don’t Show Your Colors” EXAMPLE - I had a Supervisor that worked for me that did not get along with one particular person of his work group. This particular Union employee would continually test this Supervisor to see how far he could go with him - before this Supervisor “showed his colors.” These particular individuals ended up having a several disagreements over a period of months - that would result in myself and others getting involved to referee and settle them. I would often counsel and coach my Supervisor - that he had to maintain neutrality and not lose his cool. Unfortunately, one day he lost it - which ended his career at our Plant.
  15. 15. “Don’t Show Your Colors” Traits and Actions that can help you in this regard – Whatever is said or happens – Keep Your Cool! Don’t react irrationally or without thinking – o Attempt to gather all of the facts first before deciding / reacting to a situation or issue. o Talk to numerous people to confirm your belief – including both Management and Union Employees. Be consistent with your actions and your message. Walk Your Talk – i.e., if you say something then do it! Be an example to your People – of the person that you would like them to be.
  16. 16. Find Ways to Engage Them in Your Efforts One of the most important ways to be a successful Supervisor or Manager – is to engage your People and get them to be a part of your efforts. THIS IS MORE THAN SIMPLY DIRECTING THEM AS THEIR BOSS. By this, you are reaching out to your People and finding ways in which they become an extension of yourself – o By getting them to believe in what you are doing. o And wanting to accomplish it as much as you do. Such actions on your part cannot be done all at once – you will have to work hard at it over a period of time.
  17. 17. Find Ways to Engage Them in Your Efforts To be successful with Your Efforts, Your People must – •Understand your goals and positions - and what you are trying to accomplish. •See that you are sincere and believe in your efforts. •Recognize that your efforts / their efforts - will not only benefit the Company – but them as well. •Know that they are an integral part of your efforts – and understand the role that you expect them to play. •Hear you communicate the above clearly, consistently, and frequently - with all members of your work group.
  18. 18. Find Ways to Engage Them in Your Efforts EXAMPLE – Inventory Accuracy (IA) was lacking at our Division for various reasons. As a result, I lead efforts to improve our IA that included input and hard work by those involved. Our initial efforts were spent on discussing and identifying areas that were leading to sub-standard results. Requirements and expectations were then established for critical Material Processes – which resulted in identifying individuals that were not following required procedures. Goals and benefits were communicated which included how such efforts could improve Material Driver performance. IA Improvement was attained and recognized as a result of the Material Department working as a Team to accomplish.
  19. 19. Stand Behind Your Supervisors When working in a Union Environment – the relationship that you have as a Manager to your Supervisors and vice versa – can become strained. Such can result from one of your Supervisors not acting, communicating, or directing their People - as you would have like them to. On the flip side, Supervisors can have issues with their Managers – if they feel that they are caught in the middle – and do not have the support of their Manager. Such situations are only inevitable so both Supervisors and Managers must be prepared for such events.
  20. 20. Stand Behind Your Supervisors EXAMPLE – Over my years as a Manager, there was one time when I failed to fully stand behind one of my Supervisors. I had promoted this particular individual from the Material Driver ranks. He turned out to be one of my better Supervisors. One particular day – he had a verbal confrontation with one of his People that he found loafing on the job. This event and responses from both parties – basically turned into a “he said / he said” event since there were no witnesses. My Supervisor felt that he had enough proof to write up this particular Driver – but I not and so elected not to action. I learned from this event to do whatever I could to stand behind my Supervisors – but also to set clear direction on what I expected from my Supervisors in addressing Personnel Issues.
  21. 21. Stand Behind Your Supervisors Suggestions for Managers to use – Always set clear direction and communicate what you expect from your Supervisors – in dealing with Supervisory issues. Never assume that they know what you are thinking or that they know your particular stance on addressing Union issues. When they have a Union Issue – encourage them to meet with you to discuss the course of action that you would expect. Share with your Supervisors the experiences that you have in working with Union Personnel – and discuss with them what you would do in certain situations. Work with your Supervisors so that both of you are on the same page when it comes to dealing with Union Issues.
  22. 22. Stand Behind Your Supervisors Suggestions for Supervisors to use – Start with a Goal to work issues out with Union Personnel – do what you can to address them at their start. When necessary, document your issues or events with the Union – you may need to refer to them later on. Use others as a sounding board for your efforts including – other Supervisors / Managers, HR Department, and even the Union itself (i.e., those that you have a relationship with). When conflicts occur, remember any eyewitness to an event – and/or ask for another Supervisor / Admin person to be present for any meeting to discuss. Try to establish a working relationship with Union Officials that are assigned to your Work Areas.
  23. 23. Working to Avoid Grievances Grievances – are a fact of life when working in a Union Environment – and one that most everyone must get use to. Such are mechanisms that Union Personnel will use to address and correct conflicts / differences between the Union Contract – and various issues, people, actions, etc. It should be the Goal of both Shop Management and the Union – to attempt to resolve conflicts and differences before a Grievance is filed. Such action requires hard work and the establishment of a working relationship in order to attain this Goal. But if you are able to attain this Goal and resolve such differences before they become Grievances – not only will you save yourself time – but Union Officials and Union Personnel will strive to resolve without formal arbitration.
  24. 24. Working to Avoid Grievances EXAMPLE – A Plant Mechanic bid for and won a position in one of our Support Departments. This move required him to learn entirely different skills relating to Fabrication Machinery. Such skills are learned over years of use and application – and this Mechanic was struggling in some areas. The Supervisor involved had identified shortcomings in the Department relating to Efficiency and Quality – due to the performance and output of this particular Mechanic. His initial actions to address individual shortcomings were met with stiff resistance and Union involvement. In a joint meeting between myself, the two parties, and the Union Rep – we identified additional Training this Mechanic needed – which avoided a Grievance being filed.
  25. 25. Working to Avoid Grievances Actions that I found useful in avoiding Grievances – Maintain open communication on such issues – talk about related issues freely and solicit input on how to resolve from various People involved. If a specific Individual is identified that needs action(s) to address non-conformances – the Supervisor involved should prepare for such work by recording details on why. Upon the identification of a need – the Supervisor should talk to the Individual and ask what is either preventing them from achieving – or what additional help do they need to achieve. Such action should start prior to implementing any disciplinary actions – in order to give the Individual a chance to correct or improve his / her Performance.
  26. 26. Working to Avoid Grievances Actions that I found useful in avoiding Grievances (con’t) – When holding such discussions to identify what is lacking or preventing – make sure to set Target Dates on what Actions need to be completed by when – and note accordingly. Be sure to lean on others for advice such as seeking out the most Senior or Most Knowledgeable Worker – and ask them for suggestions to improve the identified problem. Display a willingness to help your People – others will take note and support you in your efforts. Be receptive to ideas and suggestions from your People – don’t take the path that “Your Way is the Only Way.”
  27. 27. Working to Avoid Grievances Actions that I found useful in avoiding Grievances (con’t) - When a formal meeting is necessary to discuss the issues – hold them away from the workplace to limit disruptions. o Ensure that the Union Member involved – has the appropriate Union Representation. o Communications at such meetings must be open and civil. o Both sides should be able to communicate their position on the subject matter including –  Why the issue exists, and  How they propose to resolve the issue. o If the parties involved become too heated – the meeting should be stopped to allow those involved to collect themselves. o Set assignments to include who is responsible for and when. o Manager or Supervisor should record meeting notes for future reference.
  28. 28. Working to Avoid Grievances Actions that I found useful in avoiding Grievances (con’t) - Upon taking the above actions – make sure to keep the activity and effort alive in order to achieve improvement. Follow-up is essential – to ensure that the agreed upon Actions are being taken and completed by their Due Date. When performing Follow-up Actions – be open for and ready to make Adjustments as needed. When Improvement is realized / achieved – recognize the Individual for attaining – and encourage further gains. Make sure that you are doing all of the above with the knowledge and support of your Manager and HR Department.
  29. 29. Giving and Earning Respect One of my strong beliefs in being successful in the working world – is that in order to gain Respect – you first must give Respect…and treat others the way you would like to be treated. In a Union Environment – it is common place that one or more Union Officials are hard to work with and may wear their Union Support on their sleeves. But you must recognize that they are elected Officials that are responsible for representing their Union Body. Therefore, you must give them the respect of the Office or Position that they are serving as. And as mentioned, establishing and maintaining a working Union Relationship is that of a “give and take” mentality.
  30. 30. Giving and Earning Respect Actions that I found are essential for earning Respect – Don’t Look the Other Way – If you see an infraction of any kind – especially a Safety infraction – deal with it. o The nature of the Infraction will determine how quickly that you need to respond – i.e., Serious dealt with immediately. o You must be prepared to act as needed and when needed – no matter whom may be causing the infraction. Be Consistent with Your Efforts – Say the same message, perform the same actions, etc. – no matter who your audience is or what conditions exist at the time. Live Up to Your Promises – If you promise your People something – than make sure that you carry through with it. By not doing so, you will be looked as one that carries and provides empty promises.
  31. 31. Giving and Earning Respect Actions that I found are essential for earning Respect (con’t) – Treat Everyone Fairly – It is critical for you as a Supervisor or Manager – to treat your People fairly. This includes actions from disciplinary in nature to that of praise. o This applies to all of your People – including your “stars” and those that you have a good relationship with. Be Strong in Your Decisions – Being a Supervisor or Manager is not a popularity contest. Upon making decisions, I encourage you to communicate them to your People as needed and stand strong with the decisions that you make. Walk Your Talk – One of the most important means of both giving and earning Respect – is to say what you do and do what you say.
  32. 32. Meeting Organizational Goals…as a Team An Organization is very similar to a Baseball or Football Team – its success is based upon how successful its People or Departments / Units are in working as a Team. o A Supervisor cannot be successful unless he / she has the support and workings of his / her People. o A Company President cannot be successful unless all of his / her Departments are accomplishing their responsibilities. In a Union Environment – an organization cannot be successful unless it has the support and workings of its Union. If such is not the case – you can rest assured that your efforts will meet with resistance, take much longer to accomplish, and fall far short of your goals and expectations.
  33. 33. Meeting Organizational Goals…as a Team My Recommendations for a successful Union Team effort – Maintain Open Communications with the Union – and especially with Union Officials. o Be upfront with your Communications such as – why the effort is needed, what it will do for the Shop, or what impact could it have on your People. When issues that come up that will require a joint and sustained effort in order to achieve – clue the Union in as early as you can and solicit their recommendations. o By engaging them as a part of the effort – it will help promote Union Personnel buy-in and support.
  34. 34. Meeting Organizational Goals…as a Team My Recommendations for a successful Union Team effort (con’t) – Respond to Union Issues and Concerns in a timely manner. o Doing so will show them that you care about their welfare and their interests. o And shows them that you listen to them. Clearly communicate your Goals and Objectives of the organization. o Talk about them often and explain your results. o Post on communication boards for your People to read. o It is much easier for them to react and improve if they are given current results data. Follow-up on issues and concerns that are raised by the Union – make sure that action(s) is being taken to address.
  35. 35. Meeting Organizational Goals…as a Team My Recommendations for a successful Union Team effort (con’t) – Encourage and solicit the input and recommendations of your workforce on various matters…and use it! Examples include - o Replacement of worn out Tools and Equipment o Change in Work Procedures and Work Rules o Cost Reduction Efforts o Needed Quality and Efficiency Improvements o Safety Concerns, Unsafe Conditions, and Accident Avoidance Senior Management Involvement – Shop Personnel like to see senior members of their organization come out and visit with them – as well as hear from them on the Company Status. o Such should happen at least twice per year. o Such efforts are very visible and show all Shop Personnel that they are part of the Organizational Team.
  36. 36. Meeting Organizational Goals…as a Team My Recommendations for a successful Union Team effort (con’t) – When holding Management / Union Official Meetings – o Set the theme and direction of the meeting as “Working Together.” o Management should always provide a Performance Status update – including overall and departmental. o If complaints or concerns are raised – only accept if they include specifics regarding (i.e., who, what, when, why) – so that corrective action(s) can be applied to the specific problem as soon as possible. o Do not tolerate the raising and discussing of “old laundry” – the focus and push must be how to improve for the future…together. o Encourage and expect that Union Issues or Concerns be raised upon happening and not saved for such meetings.  Working on issues in their early stages are much easier to solve then those that are left to fester, grow, and alienate People.
  37. 37. Working with Unions - Conclusion My goal with this presentation – is to have offered you some advice that you can use to help improve your Union Relationship. The experiences and recommendations that I have shared with you, have come from working with a Union for over 21 years. During my days, I had my struggles and run-ins – but I kept at it and found ways to reach out and engage not only my people – but others in the Shop as well. If you are struggling with your efforts in working with your Union – don’t be afraid to ask others for help.
  38. 38. Working with Unions - Conclusion The biggest piece of advice that I can give you – is find a way to work with your Union. Until you do, you will struggle not only with your personal efforts – but with your work group as well. If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, feel free to contact me. GOOD LUCK! Steve Wise sdwiser@comcast.net

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