A number of human resources best practices can help you develop a productive and collegial relationship between management and organized labor. Up-to-date information about labor laws, leadership training on basic industrial relations practices and well-constructed negotiation strategy are elements that will improve your organization’s labor-management relations. Turn what traditionally has been an adversarial relationship into one that benefits your company and employees.
Fundamental to the labor-management relationship is clarity about applicable laws, such as the National Labor Relations Act. The act establishes employees’ rights and sets out the obligations and responsibilities of employers and labor unions. In addition to understanding basic labor law, HR best practices include staying abreast of changes in the laws and decisions of the National Labor Relations Board that affect your industry and your workplace.
Much of leadership training covers how to assign work and provide feedback about performance and basic employment law, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and preventing workplace harassment. Supplement your supervisory training with labor-management-related components, such as union contract interpretation, conflict resolution and, if your workforce isn’t unionized, how to maintain a union-free workplace. Supervisors and managers have the most direct contact with workers, and workforce management principles suggest that HR equip them with the skills necessary to be first responders concerning labor-management issues.
HR best practices in collective bargaining include developing management strategy and proposals for contract negotiation at least six months before the contract expiration date. Assess the negotiating team’s workload and reassign long-term projects that could interfere with their availability for bargaining sessions. The NLRA requires that both management and the union make themselves available for contract negotiations, as that demonstrates good faith. If you anticipate changes in your employee benefits package, get clarification from your compensation and benefits specialist on how the group health plan, pension and other benefits will affect negotiations.
Take advantage of resources available to HR staff, supervisors and managers. Continuing education courses, workshops and seminars on building relationships with labor union representatives generally are sponsored by law firms, management consulting groups and colleges. Use social media and Internet research to learn about union-organizing drives, including the occupations and industries that labor unions are targeting.
If your employees aren’t union workers, improve your employee relations practices. Strengthen the employer-employee relationship by addressing workplace issues as soon as possible to avoid the lingering effects of conflict that often lead employees to seek unionization. Conduct routine vulnerability assessments to determine the likelihood of your employees supporting a union. Vigilance pays off — showing interest in and appreciation for your employees keeps job satisfaction high so they won’t seek union representation.
HR management should address union grievances as soon as they arise. When a union employee feels that he has been unjustly reprimanded or terminated, he can file a grievance. The HR manager or a labor relations specialist is responsible for processing a union-employee grievance, which usually is a three-step process. The process includes a union steward who represents the employee’s interests. If the matter isn’t resolved within the allotted three steps, the case goes to arbitration. The arbitration process can be as lengthy and costly as litigation, both being processes that HR management would like to avoid whenever possible.