With a newly appointed 5 person NRLB the unions are celebrating a enormous victory. They smell blood and for good reason. It is no secret that this Democratic fueled Board has a pro-labor agenda. One thing that is on the top of the radar is a rehash of the Quickie Election. Certainly, the union’s still believe that a Quickie Election is the future path that this Board is willing to walk down. This is and should be a big concern to business owners and leaders. The Quickie Election would limit the number of days between a petition and election of a labor union. Today, employers get a fair chance at communicating with workers. While it may be true that a select few employers abuse this time and violate the National Labor Relations Act in an often uneducated attempt in sidestepping a union, the majority of businesses that go through a union campaign do the right thing. They communicate facts about the unions and do what they can under the letter of the law to right any employee concerns or perception of issues with the employees. The majority of businesses who undergo a union campaign have simply forgotten how to effectively communicate. The majority understand that they would not be as successful as they are without the support of a solid workforce. The majority do appreciate their employees. These are the ones that will pay dearly both financially and emotionally with a Quickie Election rule. The new Board spells potential big trouble for the majority of employers who are targeted by unions with dwindling membership levels and an urgent need to organize to refill their coffers.
It is expected that Quickie Elections will happen and it will probably happen sooner than later. The best thing employers can do now is to be proactive. Do a self study and come to grips with a little bit of reality.
- Have you lost your ability to communicate effectively workforce?
- Do you really know and understand your employees?
- Do you understand how unions organize?
- Do you understand your employees concerns about the workplace?
- Have you done all you can do to bridge any gaps between your management teams and the rank and file workers?
- Have you done all you can do to “union-proof” your company?
No company is “union proof”. But you can be proactive and limit the “issues” that unions will take and twist in many directions until they build an emotional connection with your employees. Your best bet is to take the bullets out of the union’s guns by practicing positive employee relations now. Really connect with your workers. Let them know you appreciate them. Let them understand the direction your organization is going and their role in the future of the company. Once you have an established connection with the workers, the union’s may very well still come knocking on your front door but it will be your employees telling the unions that they are not needed. This is proactive union avoidance.
By: Bob Carroll – Executive Vice President @ Permanent Solutions Labor Consultants
(Our Success at PSLabor Lies in Our Inside Edge!)
If you are like most people, you are sick and tired of watching the political ads that consume our TV in the days leading up to the election. As if the ads are not an annoyance, trying to decipher the truth behind the ads can be a quagmire of wasted cranial energy.
As a former union fire fighter, I have watched an ad here in Michigan where a firefighter is dressed from head to toe in his turnout gear speaking in a sullen voice and talking about how firefighters will not be able to perform their jobs safely without the passage of Proposal 2. Proposal 2 would embed language into the State of Michigan Constitution guaranteeing workers in both public and private sectors the right to Collective Bargaining. A few things started jumping out of my television screen to run around my mind after the commercial ended. My first thought was that I was provided with the best equipment in the fire service without a “constitutional right” to bargain collectively. Then I remembered that public and private workers in Michigan do have the right to bargain collectively under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Michigan’s Public Employee Relations Act (PERA). I also remember a group called the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that recommends minimum standards for equipment, staffing and training to even work on a fire scene. Every fire department I know of follows NFPA standards. So I began to dig deeper. What is this proposal really about?
Then, right before the next installment of The Voice came to my screen, I saw a serious looking policeman standing in front of me on my “idiot box”. With a stern look, he looked right at me through the TV and said something about how voting Yes to Proposal 2 would lead to sexual predators walking around in my kids school. I thought to myself, “What do sexual predators have to do with collective bargaining?” You see, I could not figure out how the passage of this proposal could lead to deviant sexual predators in my daughter’s school.
With my mind spinning looking for answers I decided the next best thing to do would be to hit up the Internet and find the answer to my latest quest for knowledge. I really wanted to know where I personally stood with Proposal 2. So, I Googled Proposal 2. I found page after page with seemingly meaningless opinions from individuals and groups stating how good or how bad the proposal is for the “working families” in Michigan. I thought, “How can so many people be so vocal about this thing?” I thought in jest, “Michigan is a union friendly state so surely this is a good thing for union brothers and sisters”. But then I thought a bit more clearly and developed my own conclusion in regards to this “Protect Working Families” proposal after a little more research.
The Mackinac Center on Public Policy has estimated that this proposal can cost taxpayers up to 1.6 billion dollars. If they are even close to correct, this would effect union workers and non-union workers alike. Union workers would be hit with a double whammy because they have to pay union dues on top of added costs of living that trickle down from added burdens on municipalities. Where will those costs come from? I’m not an economics expert or expert on public policy by any means, but it is very easy to see that a few things are likely to happen if this proposal is added to the Constitution. First of all, Michigan unions will be protected from the State becoming a Right to Work state like Indiana. Second of all, the union friendly fire will be stoked and an increase in organizing workers will occur in the State of Michigan. Thirdly, municipalities will not have the benefit (and yes I say benefit) of State intervention under the Emergency Manager law where union contracts can be suspended in cases where the municipality simply cannot pay for them. In other words, the unions will get the blood from a stone. And finally, businesses that wish to maintain their union free status will not move operations to the State.
Looking deeper into this proposal, I found that the unions themselves were instrumental in leading the charge in collecting the signatures needed to bring this to ballot. Heck, they gloated about this on their websites. The ones in power in the unions carefully planned this out. I am confident that a regular union firefighter, cop or teacher did not sit down one day and mastermind this plan. They are busy doing what they do – saving lives, protecting citizens and teaching our children. This took time and resources to accomplish. This was something that was calculated and well planned. This proposal is simply, in my opinion, a show of power by union leaders to grasp onto what little membership they have in the State in an attempt to rebuild an institution that has seen it’s heyday.
Back to the absurdity of the ads. One claimed to threaten the safety of our firefighters and the other threatened the safety of the children in the classroom. In reality firefighters will get their safety gear. In reality, sexual predators will not freely roam my daughter’s school. The biggest reality to remember is that everyone has a choice to make on Election Day. It is up to each and every person voting to do your homework. Know what each question on the ballot is about. Know your proposals and know your candidates. If you simply go by what you see on TV you could be voting for the opposite of your own ideologies and what you truly intended on voting on. Michigan is not the only state to have battling ads laced with hyped up claims. This is a nationwide concern. When people say the government is messing up America, they are half correct. It is the people we put into government that affect us all. It is the proposals that we vote for that they act on. If we do not truly know who were are putting in office or what proposals we are passing then we, as citizens have no legitimate reason to complain. When you are watching these ads on TV it is like looking at a beautiful piece of art hanging in someone’s garage. It looks like a masterpiece on the surface but under the first layer of paint lies a paint by numbers portrait of a clown done with finger paints.
As a former union official with inside knowledge into the inner workings of the union and current management consultant specializing in labor relations and union avoidance strategies and tactics, I am often asked; “What are the unions going to do to reestablish growth and their relevance in our society in the near future?”
My answer is that they will do what they have done in the past – look for ways to win campaigns and boost their membership numbers. What will change is the way in which society allows them to access the masses and the technology that makes there efforts run their course with ease.
I spent nearly 24 years in the unions, many of which were devoted to predicting future strategies and tactics. One such strategy that worked very effectively back then and continues to evolve today was providing the illusion that we were “partners” with the companies that we organized. The truth is we were not partners. We were in the business of organizing which meant we had to always appear to be strong and in control. Sometimes this meant sacrificing the “partnership” and putting the company on the chopping blocks to the point where the company’s existence is in question, in order to get what we wanted.
This attitude still runs rampant within modern labor unions. The thing that members of management need to realize is that unions are, by their very nature, adaptable. This means that they will continue to put companies on the chopping block for their own best interest and continue to find new ways to make this tactic even more effective. I have decided to share a few instances where unions did just that under my leadership. In addition, I have shared some instances that I see growing in recent times that we all need to keep an eye on. The unions are starting to show their game plan for the future.
Redemption through Pain
In January of this year, Hostess filed for bankruptcy, just three years after emerging from their previous bankruptcy with ninety-three billion dollars in sales. This is compelling news, especially since the Teamsters are threatening to strike Hostess while in their weakened condition. The union is refusing to accept concessions as the company is trying to negotiate to maintain the ability to operate and show profitability. In essence, the Teamsters are willing to take Hostess to the brink of destruction and beyond if they don’t get what they want.
This “scorched-earth” negotiations strategy is nothing new for the Teamsters (and other unions). Unions know and understand that their only true strength is their ability to inflict enough harm on a company, which in turn forces them to cave-in to union demands.
I often watch the news or read the newspaper and wonder if others realize how shortsighted union officials can be. Even in the midst of crippling economic times, union officials don’t seem to understand that a “great” contract is worthless if the company goes out of business. But then I think back to my time when I was a union official. It was early in my career when I realized that the union’s main goal was to get elected to office. It wasn’t about the issues that drove employees to seek the union’s “help”. It was about the perception we created to justify our existence. You see, most people don’t have any understanding of the complexities of running a business enterprise, and they really don’t have any desire to understand. I often find myself laughing when unions like the UAW tell the media that they are “partners” with the companies that employ the workers they represent. The union really wants the public to believe that the long-term health of the companies is in the best interest of everyone involved. That is until their demands are not met and they walk out on strike. They seek “redemption through pain”.
Many unionized companies have tried to negotiate themselves out of similar downward spirals toward bankruptcy like the one that Hostess is now facing to no avail. Large steel and automotive companies, and companies in almost every industry, have suffered the consequences for attempting this strategy. I had many opportunities to see this from the union side firsthand when I was a union official.
While I was working for United Steelworkers, I remember working on the Steel Pack Pattern Negotiating Committee. This was the first time I was involved with the Steel Pack Committee. The steel industry was in danger of becoming insolvent and a tough stance was taken on the part of steel companies over job classifications. Steel companies were insisting on initiating a massive cross training program with the goal of reducing thirty-five job classifications down to just five. The steel companies believed that this effort was a “do or die” scenario and were willing to face a strike on the issue. It was a deal killer. I also was informed that the steel producers were trying to reach this goal for years and were predicting financial ruin if these concessions were not met. We knew the steel companies were ready for war and, to be perfectly honest, the unions had to react. The loss of these union dues-paying members would have destroyed us.
The strange position taken by the steel companies for many years was that they were trying to balance their financial situation as steel prices were dropping and the U.S. was being flooded with cheap steel. The steel mills were falling apart and needed a quick infusion of revenue to modernize old mills that were drowning under the immense burden of legacy costs. We (the union) knew that they couldn’t afford a strike. They knew that it would be easier for them to give in to our demands, with the hope that the industry would grow strong enough to eventually let them put forth a long-term plan to cut costs and put the steel industry in a better position to withstand future recessions.
I also remember starting contract negotiations with a large multi-national glass production company. We had less than 40% union density within the U.S. operations with this company. For years, we were trying to get the company to give us a neutrality agreement. Since the company was foreign-based we had the unions from their home base country put pressure on them to the point where it was affecting their relationship.
We discovered that the company was in the process of trying to sell part of their glass division as negotiations were heating up. This was because they had lost money over the previous five quarters, but that didn’t have any effect on our position. We were just as determined to take away heavy increases from the bargaining table as when the process started. We had a strong survivorship clause in the contract. We knew how dire their financial situation was and knew that they needed to sell these divisions to survive. They never could survive without the sale and we knew no one would consider purchasing them with severe labor strife in progress.
We held our ground and let the company negotiators know we had gained strike authorization and that we were making our preparations for a protracted strike. We flooded the media with information about our “lack of progress” at the negotiating table, as we knew this would discourage potential buyers. The end result of this strategy was getting our card check and other things we were demanding. Once we received what we wanted we went on to continue our relationship as “partners with the company”.
Unfortunately this policy of destruction toward union goals isn’t limited to negotiations and the threat of strikes. It has become much more advanced. Today we see social networking allowing anyone to communicate with the world. We also see the rise and popularity of mass protests and the speed in which they take place. This is affecting how unions can take advantage of the energy from these movements. In recent months, we have heard the buzzword “Occupy” more and more as unions and the Occupy Wall Street groups have started to coordinate their activities. More and more, we are hearing reports of workers across the country occupying plants or office buildings to close them down and to bring publicity to their “cause”. These activities are really nothing new. When I was a strike coordinator, we took over many office buildings and took control of shareholder meetings, news bureau offices, hotel lobbies and many more businesses. I was coordinating unions in support with the SEIU during their Justice for Janitors campaign, and helped them take over shopping malls and other major enterprises to pressure owners into recognizing their union. But nothing compares to the uncertainty that we are facing today. A perfect example is the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) who is occupying the Serious Materials factory, the former Republic Windows plant. Now the Occupy Chicago movement’s labor committee (the Occupy Wall Street and state subsidiaries now have labor committees) has announced that they will support the takeover of the factory. We see this happening more frequently all over the country and question how the collaborations between the unions and Occupy movements will upset basic current labor law. Can the Occupy movement occupy strike lines after the union gets hit with an injunction to limit its strikers to only a few at a time? The ruling would only apply to the union or strikers under their control. How could they be responsible for the so-called “outside leaderless” organization’s activities that occur outside these facilities? What about secondary boycotts? The union would not be directly participating and would have “no control” over an “enraged group of citizens” who are frustrated with perceived injustices committed by large corporations. Aren’t they just exercising their “constitutional rights” by expressing their outrage onto anyone who is associated with this company (yes, this is tongue-in-cheek)? Only time will tell where all of this will lead, but one thing is certain. Labor federations are going to continue to push the legal envelope to the brink of the law. Just remember, unions have their own agenda. They are looking out for their own growth and reasons for existence. It has little to do with the best interest of corporate survival.
Ricardo Torres, Stephen Sestina and Dan Block of Permanent Solutions Labor Consultants provide “Inside Edge” insight to the data released by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics relative to Union Membership density in 2011
PSLabor – BLS Data Union Membership 2011 Pt. 1 of 4
PSLabor – BLS Data Union Membership 2011 Pt. 2 of 4
PSLabor – BLS Data Union Membership 2011 Pt. 3 of 4
PSLabor – BLS Data Union Membership 2011 Pt. 4 of 4
On June 13th, Ricardo Torres, President and CEO at Permanent Solutions Labor Consultants (PSLabor) will be speaking at Michigan HR Day in Lansing, MI. Torres will be presenting “Confessions of a Union Organizer” from 11:00 – 12:00 and will be available to speak to individuals on a one on one basis during lunch.
For those of you who did not attend the event last year, it is a great event held in Michigan. This is the second year for this event. Last year there were about 800 HR professionals in attendance. The breakout sessions were interesting and useful and the associated networking opportunities were fantastic. We hope to see you all there!
So how does a labor consulting firm win time and time again. The success at PSLabor lies in our history. PSLabor uses former union officials, organizers and veteran HR executives who truly believe that positive employee relations and proper managment training serve as a much better alternative to unions to both managment and employees alike. The only way to systematically elimate a union threat without destroying the company infrastructure is to know how the union campaign is constructed from the inside out. This is the PSLabor INSIDE EDGE.