What Challenges Do Unions Pose for Human Resource Management?
In a unionized work environment, it's critical that the labor union and human resources management work together to sustain a productive and engaged workforce. The presence of a labor union poses a number of challenges for HR management. Identifying and addressing these challenges head-on is an effective way to approach the labor-management relationship and dispel the notion that labor unions and companies must be adversaries to create a positive work environment.
Many human resources departments have employee relations specialists who investigate workplace issues, develop employee recognition programs and administer employee opinion surveys. One the challenges that HR management faces in a unionized work environment is having the in-house expertise to handle labor-management issues. Some employee relations specialists are dually qualified in labor relations and labor law. However, if the HR department doesn't have someone in-house to handle immediate questions regarding the union or a union work environment, it has to bring in someone who does.
Depending on the complexity of the collective bargaining agreement, HR management has to prepare for contract negotiations with the labor union several weeks to several months in advance of the expiration date of the agreement. During the time leading up to contract negotiations, HR management has to consult with compensation specialists about wages, increases, and health and retirement benefits to produce proposals that the company believes the labor union will accept. Developing the company's bargaining strategy can be challenging, particularly when HR management first must negotiate a series of contingent rates to include in their proposals to the union during contract negotiations.
A standard clause in many labor union contracts is dues checkoff. Dues checkoff means the employer assumes responsibility for deducting labor union dues from their employees' paychecks and forwarding the amount to the union. It might not seem like much work, especially given the ease with which technology can process payroll. However, it's not the process that's challenging for HR management. It's the level of accountability for HR assumes for ensuring appropriate amounts are deducted from union members' pay.
In a nonunion work environment, employees can talk to a supervisor or a manager about any of their concerns about the work environment. An employee in a nonunion environment can even ask for a raise, voice his objection to a disciplinary warning or ask to be transferred or promoted, even if he doesn't have a lengthy career with the company. The challenge that a labor union poses for HR management is the grievance processes that are in place by virtue of the collective bargaining agreement. Labor union contracts contain specific guidelines for HR management and union leadership in handling employee complaints and issues about working conditions.
Labor unions also present challenges for HR management in nonunion work environments. There always exists a possibility that a union will attempt to organize workers, and HR management is challenged to develop a strategy for maintaining a union-free workplace. During a representation campaign, labor unions work diligently to persuade employees to exercise their rights to engage in collective activity. HR management must train supervisors and managers on strict adherence to laboratory conditions during a union representation campaign. Failure to adhere to labor laws can result in stiff penalties and fines for employers that spy on labor union organizing efforts, threaten employees the company believes are engaging in collective activity, questions employees about their support for the union or promise employees better wages if they stop supporting the labor union.