Learning How to Design Work to Stay Union Free
My third employer was not organized. Such a status did not figure in my job selection process, but the five years I spent in that environment dramatically affected my career path. On an annual basis, we would have a lawyer from back East come in and teach us about how to stay union free. It was all legit and legal from a labor relations standpoint. We made rubber roofing, in a part of the country that had a strong United Rubber Workers (URW) presence.
Mr. Martin Payson, with Jackson Lewis LLP, taught those workshops. He went on to be a strong opponent of the Employee Free Choice Act. Mr. Payson felt that the act represented a fundamental attack on the principles of democracy, informed decision making, and the secret ballot.
He taught us that if we create workplaces that people want to be a part of and feel respected in, there is no need for a union. If leaders consistently hear and validate each staff member’s voice, there is no need for shop stewards. However, those are BIG ‘Ifs’.
Even More Labor Experiences
My fourth employer had the most challenging union environment of them all. On top of that, I was the Production Manager. Fortunately, we had a Plant Manager, Business Agent, and Chief Steward who were committed to building a stronger labor-management partnership. Unfortunately, the company was sold before we could complete our transitional journey.
Plus, I have worked with multiple organizations that are ‘hybrids’ in terms of a labor presence. In this model, some sites are organized, and some are not. If your organization has multiple sites in different states, the need for consistent union-free practices is high. This true whether a given site is organized or not.
An organized workplace can be pleasant and productive. That said, most leaders rightfully argue that some scheduling flexibility is lost. Conversely, leaders must invest time and money to maintain a union-free status, as the prevailing system of management often still leans towards the autocratic side.
However, it has consistently been my experience that if you effectively engage your people in meaningful change, you will reduce waste and increase profits. However, such success requires trust in each other. Leaders can generate such trust in either a unionized or union-free setting.
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