2. Employees have the right to be represented, so get over it. I’m amazed at how quickly conversation can turn from how businesses are organized by labor unions, to how those businesses can get them decertified. Here are the facts: employees have the right under the law to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining, and they have the right to not be represented for purposes of collective bargaining. Stop wasting time, energy and “planning” around something that is entirely outside of your control! See #4, and respect your employees’ rights.
3. Labor relations is one part show, and two parts substance. Many years ago I got a call from a union business agent prior to a scheduled meeting. We discussed the facts about an issue we were going to debate (um, I mean discuss), and he ultimately agreed that there wasn’t much merit to it. But, he also told me that it was a highly emotional issue for his membership. What he asked me for was my willingness to go into the meeting with his bargaining team, allow him to yell for awhile, beat his chest, and call me names until spit flew from his mouth. After a remarkable performance, the issue died. For those of you without labor relations experience, welcome to the show.
4. Labor relations work is about building “labor relationships.” The typical starting point to these relationships is that business managers (and their representatives) are assumed to be dirty, rotten, lying, cheating, stealing, SOBs – and that’s before they ever personally meet you. It takes real work, professional integrity, and at times thick skin to develop the relationship necessary to actually get work accomplished. Effective labor relationships are those through which HR is able to work effectively to address the substance of collective bargaining issues, without getting sucked into the show. It shouldn’t be your goal to be make the union’s holiday card list, but rather to be able to negotiate agreements and resolutions without the need for outside arbitrators. That’s what your employer is paying you to do.
7. Labor relations work is not going away. Union membership continues to decline in this country. In 2009, only 12.3% of all workers were represented by unions, and only 7.2% of workers in the private sector (Washington Times). But, if you believe that the long term decline of union representation is a sign of the demise of organized labor, you’re not paying attention to what has been happening in Washington.
I’m interested in reading what other HR-Labor pros have to say about labor relations work.