Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Labor Relations

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Have you ever seen a worker walking a picket line with a sign saying “Give me more challenging work”? I am quite sure I never have. The signs they carry on the picket line tend to say things like “Better pay”, “No layoffs”, “We want health insurance”, “Don’t treat us like animals” etc. So what causes people to seek 3rd party representation and how would you build a warning indicator through the use of employee surveys to give the organization a wake-up call, that unless they take corrective action that they are on a path that will lead to their employees being organized?  

Without passing judgment on whether unions are a positive force or a negative force, there are conditions, that when they exist within the work environment, lead to workers seeking out 3rd party representation in the form of unions. (For our purposes here I will deal only with voluntary unions, where workers have an option to create and/or join a union and I will not be dealing with mandated or legislated unions that exist in some countries.) Very broadly when workers are dissatisfied about certain aspects of their job and feel powerless to do anything about it they are vulnerable to organizing attempts. When workers feel pleased about the working conditions and their treatment at work they are less vulnerable to organizing attempts. 

People who have joined unions will often report these reasons as to why they joined and hence those stores that receive lower scores in these areas are more vulnerable to higher levels of unionization activity.

  • Higher wages and more influence in the wage-setting process
  • Increased job security
  • Improved benefits (insurance, pensions, personal and sick time, vacations, work breaks etc.)
  • Improved working conditions (physical conditions, safety, work pace, etc.)
  • Clearer, fairer rules for job transfers, discipline, promotion and grievances
  • Greater self-control in the work place

Specifically, one study that was done regarding the propensity to vote for union representation (voting the union in) the following dimensions were the strongest predictors of the election outcome. These then are the dimensions that when workers are most displeased about, the likelihood of them seeking 3rd party representation is greatest, hence the negative correlations.

Dimension                               r

Job security -.42
Wages -.40
Overall Satisfaction -.36
Treatment issues -.34
Benefits -.31
Recognition -.30
Promotions -.30

(N=1000, .99 level of confidence)

Unions have existed for a long time and they have been fighting for what they believe their members want. In general through the use of negotiated wages, benefits and other working conditions they have increased the level of those attributes for their members (e.g. union members on average are paid more than non-members doing similar work). Do those increased levels have an effect on employee attitudes? Yes they do.  Union members are in general more positive about things like pay and benefits, things that unions have been fighting for since their inception.

Based on the information we have reviewed so far it would seem that a “labor relations” or “unionization” index would need to cover the following topics or areas to be as good of a warning indicator as possible:

  • Pay
  • Benefits
  • Job Security
  • Grievances
  • Supervision
  • Safety, Physical Working Conditions
  • Resources to do Job
  • Overall Satisfaction
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Pride
  • Respectful Treatment
  • Well-Being
  • Trust in Leadership
  • Recognition

And hence sample survey items to be used in a labor relations index could include:

  1. Overall, I am satisfied with my organization as a place to work.
  2. I am proud to work for my organization.
  3. I am paid fairly for the work I do.
  4. I am satisfied with the benefits I receive at this company.
  5. I currently feel confident that I will not be laid off from my job.
  6. Any complaints I have are heard fairly by the organization.
  7. My ideas and opinions count.
  8. My manager is a good supervisor, competent technically and from a human relations perspective.
  9. I trust the leadership of this company.
  10. I have the tools and equipment I need to do my job effectively.
  11. This is physically a safe place to work.
  12. Physical working conditions (space, lighting, noise, etc.) are good where I work.
  13. I enjoy my work, it is satisfying.
  14. My manager treats me with respect.
  15. My manager cares about my well-being.
  16. I receive appropriate recognition for the work I do.

These 16 items (some may use slightly more, some slightly fewer) cover topics that have been shown to be related to labor relations or unionization and can be averaged together   to form an index that would create an indicator of a deteriorating labor relations climate. Once the index has been created and data has been collected on the items, how do you know at which score to intervene? For warning indicators, the question becomes one of defining the trigger point at which an intervention should be mounted. If the percent favorable on the average of the 16 items is 50% does that trigger a warning? What about 65%? Do varying trigger points result in differing actions? A 50% favorable score may yield a closer follow-up and a 40% score yields an all-hands-on-deck intervention?  You can set your trigger points either higher or lower depending on the certainty you need that a location may be having labor relations issues and you can also set differing actions to kick in at varying trigger points.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

October 20, 2009 at 10:26 am

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