Labor Relations without Interference

Union membership has steadily declined since the mid-1950s. Since 1975 alone, membership has dropped by over four million to its current level of approximately 18 percent of the workforce. In response, union leaders have vowed to reverse the trend of the last three decades through aggressive recruitment and by investing huge sums in organizing efforts. Leaders are also using new methods to attract members, including "associate" memberships, low-interest credit cards and discounted legal service plans. In short, unions are utilizing the latest administrative, technological and psychological approaches to regain their stature in today's workforce.

Employers, particularly those in the growing service sector of our economy, must be prepared to meet the challenge of the aggressive and increasingly sophisticated organizing drives by unions. Management may most effectively meet this challenge by asking themselves why unions have been necessary and then structuring a work environment in which they are unnecessary.

A work environment in which unions are unnecessary is one which stresses employer-employee cooperation, open and effective communication, understanding of shared goals, joint problem solving based on mutual respect, positive leadership and direction. Such an environment will produce a cohesive, productive workforce which has no need for or interest in a union.

The cornerstone of this type of proactive work environment is a workforce which recognizes that the employee's individual interests are the same as those of the employer and that these interests are best achieved through mutual cooperation. An employer can build and maintain a cooperative workforce by using a system designed to hire those employees who will work most productively within that company.

The Work Philosophy: Commitment to Cooperation

The current workforce and work environment must be evaluated before it is possible to design an effective hiring system. This evaluation is best accomplished by interviews with selected members of management. These interviews accomplish two goals: they define the company's "work philosophy" and allow the company to formulate a description (or "wanted poster") of the employee who will work most productively within that company's work environment.

A company's "work philosophy" is a policy statement regarding its commitment to cooperative employee relations and the advantages of operating without interference from organized or outside representatives. All levels of management, particularly top management, must be fully committed to the principles outlined in the work philosophy if it is to provide a strong base for an effective hiring system. For that reason, the philosophy must be an amalgamation of top management's views, ascertained through their initial input, of the type of employee relations environment which is appropriate for that company.

Profiling the Ideal Employee

The initial information gathered from management can also be used to develop a profile or "wanted poster'' of the ideal employee. This profile defines specific behavioral attributes and values, but should not be an outline of personality characteristics. Instead, it must emphasize prospective employees' propensities for cooperation on the job and their past work experience.

One starting place for a profile is an evaluation of the company's existing workforce. Supervisors and managers should be asked to describe those employees who are "successful"' from both the company's and their own points of view and those who are "unsuccessful." Those interviewed should be cautioned to avoid describing employees' personality traits. What is more important is how employees view:

  • The work they do,
  • The people to whom they report,
  • The company's policies and procedures, and
  • The employees with whom they work

For example, the initial evaluation could determine the amount or independence which is suitable for an employee of the company. It could also determine whether the work requires employees to think for themselves and adapt their work habits to specific situations, or if it requires employees to conform to a standardized pattern of repetitive work.

As an alternative to interviewing supervisors and members of management, the preliminary information may be gathered through an opinion survey. An opinion survey allows supervisors to express their unbiased views regarding the existing workforce and has the added benefit of eliciting the supervisors' opinions and attitudes about their work environment in general.

Once a sampling of "wanted posters" has been gathered from management and supervisory personnel, their descriptions can be distilled into a list of desirable and undesirable characteristics. These characteristics form the backbone of an effective hiring system and should define both positive and negative attributes. In other words, it is important to know the characteristics an interviewer should look for in a prospective employee and those an interviewer should seek to avoid. A profile of this nature provides a company with an objective method of determining whether an applicant will strive to achieve the company's goals and objectives.

Pinpointing Cooperative Employees

Once positive and negative characteristics are defined, a set of interview questions must be designed to measure candidates against the profile attributes. These questions should be phrased to encourage the applicant to respond with more than a "'yes" or "no" answer. In addition, a manual is needed for interviewers which shows how the positive or negative attributes appear in typical and exemplary answers.

Carefully designed questions and suggested answers provide an interviewer with a consistent, objective system for evaluating prospective employees. The hiring system is even more objective when it is based on a tally sheet which summarizes and evaluates an applicant's responses to the interview questions. An effective tally sheet would indicate how many points were assigned to each attribute on each question. The total number of points the applicant receives will determine whether to consider the person for employment.

Aside from assessing an applicant's suitability for a company's work environment, a hiring system of (his nature can also protect an employer from charges of discriminatory refusal to hire. A systematic interview and scoring process can assure that no unlawful questions are asked. In addition, if challenged, the company can produce a standard set of interview questions and the applicant's tally sheet to rebut any allegation that the company's employment decisions are based on discriminatory motives.

Auditing the Work Environment

A company cannot develop and maintain an ideal work force by using the hiring system alone. A system of labor relations audits is also necessary to assess the effectiveness of the hiring process and to monitor the company's employee relations climate. Labor relation audits can fulfill a number of functions, including:

  • Minimizing labor relation "risks" by minimizing exposure to discrimination charges and wrongful discharge lawsuits;
  • Aligning employees' expectations with the company's organizational philosophy and competitive reality;
  • Promoting and maintaining employee morals, effectiveness, satisfaction and loyalty to the company; and
  • Monitoring personnel procedures and policies including the competitiveness of the compensation package.

A System of Labor Relation Audits

Regular audits completed by management, supervisors and employees help to monitor a company's environment and labor relations. Various types of audits which can be utilized to accomplish these goals include:

  • Employee Audit, which monitors each employee's satisfaction and loyalty to the company;
  • Vulnerability Audit, which assesses a particular group's receptivity to a union organizing attempt;
  • Daily Human Resource Audit, which is completed by human resource managers and reviews absenteeism and disciplinary actions which might indicate dissatisfaction and vulnerability to union organization;
  • Weekly Human Resource Audit, which reviews turnover rates, tardiness, layoffs, disciplinary action, voluntary terminations, injury rates, employee communications and other factors which may highlight potential personnel problems; and
  • Monthly or Quarterly Human Resources Audit, which includes an analysis of wage and benefit comparisons, union organizing activity in the company's geographic area, a review of hiring procedures, methods of announcing and filing job openings, training, awards, communication programs and other indicators of employee satisfaction.

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