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Working with Unions

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

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

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  • 1. Working with Unions How to Establish and Maintain a Working Relationship with a Union Work Force Steve Wise November 2010
  • 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. “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. “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. “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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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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