Managing a Unionized Workforce — 7 Important Tips

Managing a Unionized Workforce
       Managing a Unionized Workforce

Managing employees in a unionized environment has its own set of challenges. Unions and employers are often on the opposite sides of the table representing different interests which results in a tense relationship between the two. However, by using the right techniques and strategies, the management can ease this working relationship, helping both the parties benefit from the interaction. The key to success in this special framework is knowing the rules and principles that govern the unionized workforce. A good management-union relationship means both the management and the union employees are aiming to improve the performance and sustainability of the organization which, in turn, benefits both employees and employers.

However, many of the organizations lack a great union-management work relationship as most supervisors and managers do not have the right skills for navigating through this system. Consequently, union employees, sometimes, develop a flawed sense of entitlement or feel that their rights and demands are being ignored and, on the other hand, the management feels frustrated. But the truth is most of the progressive unions want and appreciate better management that improves processes, fairness, and consistency. Many of the managers do not receive proper training to handle a unionized workforce and are left to learn from their experiences. But by the time they learn, the issues already become daunting and unmanageable, making the work environment toxic. Therefore, it’s important for the management to learn how to handle a unionized workforce before it’s too late. Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Speak Carefully

Union-management relationships are often tense and require a lot of patience to manage. Speaking with the union needs careful consideration as sometimes even a single word uttered by a manager can lead to a cascade of issues. Also, whenever there is a problem, it’s best to sort it out through polite conversations before it damages the work environment. Speaking honestly yet carefully is important while communicating with the union.

  1. Be Truthful

Never compromise on your credibility while dealing with the union workforce. Being truthful always works in favor of the union-management relationship. The union that trusts the management is also willing to cooperate with it. Even sugar-coating and white lies can severely damage work relationships.

  1. Overlook Personal Attacks

Union-management meetings often witness insults, anger, profanity, and personal attacks. Sometimes, misbehaviors require disciplinary actions but there are laws that protect such behaviors and prohibit punishments even if it is necessary for maintaining a positive work environment. Threatening employees may make things even worse. Tackling such situations might be a challenge but it’s best not to take anything personally or lose your cool.

  1. Maintain the Work Flow

Management has every right to expect its orders to be followed by the workers and maintain the workflow. The management can legitimately order the workers to get the work done first and if they want they can file their grievances later. However, there are exceptions, especially if the order leads to dangerous consequences or is intentionally humiliating but otherwise, the management can fairly implement “work now, grieve later” rule in the unionized setting.

  1. Avoid Making Hasty Decisions

Making hasty decisions could land you in trouble when dealing with union workers. Take time and make every decision only after careful consideration. Phrases like “I’ll get back to you” and “I need to check” are always helpful in situations that demand a decision making. Also, on-the-spot decisions are required in very few circumstances. The employees may pressurize you to make decisions immediately but you can almost always take your time and consult with others before making a decision. 

  1. Communicate Clearly

Maintaining clear communication with the union is important. Always give them a heads-up before implementing something new and communicate what the organization wants. Clear communication is one of the most valuable tool for managing a unionized workforce and is instrumental in achieving objectives. Not only it gives you a fair idea about the thought process of the union leadership but also paves the way for better work relationships.

  1. Maintain Professionalism

Maintain professionalism in the workplace. This means not harboring grudges and staying composed while responding to toxicity. It’s extremely important to keep your temper in check and avoid stooping down to the level of the people that are misbehaving. Maintain a professional attitude and good behavior as they not only help in getting desired results but also protect your image and reputation in case of legal proceedings.

Managing a unionized workforce can be complicated but imparting proper training and education to the managers and supervisors can make the task easier. It’s important to know and understand the practical and legal challenges thoroughly before implementing strategies to align the interests of the union and the management. If managed properly, a unionized workforce can greatly boost organizational performance.

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