Category Archives: Labor Relations

Managers manage

Unions Administer the Contract

Management of Complexity
Management of Complexity (Photo credit: michael.heiss)

I had a discussion the other day that I haven’t had for quite a few years.  

It usually goes something like this:  “He’s a manager, but he says he can’t make his employees work because they tell him they have a union.”

This makes me crazy.  It’s not true, and it’s not that complicated. Manager’s direct the work as required by job descriptions,and classification assignment within the union contract. Employees perform the work as directed.

Rule #1 is managers keep their right to manage, even when a Collective Bargaining Agreement is in force.   You may have to follow certain rules, and you will likely face some limitations on what you can tell people to do, but you still keep the right to manage your business.

That’s why every collective bargaining agreement has a Management’s Rights clause that will include information like this, referenced below.

Management Rights clauses are contractual clauses found in union contracts that give management the ability to manage its business without interference from the union (except as agreed to).While not all inclusive, below is a listing of typical Management Rights found in union contracts giving management the right to:
  • Hire employees
  • Direct, control and assign employees work
  • To establish schedule and hours of work
  • Determine qualifications of employees
  • Discipline employees and terminate employees for cause
  • Expand and reduce the number of employees
  • Layoff
  • Recall from layoff
  • Establish and enforce rules of conduct
  • Consolidate, tranfer, or close its operations



The management of the Employer’s operations and the direction of its employees, including but not limited to the rights: to hire, classify, promote, transfer, lay-off, recall, discipline, discharge for just cause, suspend, direct, control, and determine the qualifications of employees; to maintain order and efficiency and to establish and enforce rules and regulations as well as absentee tardiness policies, safety standards, work loads, and schedules of production; to determine the location and extent of the Employer’s operations and their commencement, expansion, curtailment or discontinuance; to select, introduce, discontinue, eliminate or change equipment, machinery, processes or services; and to schedule and assign work to the employees, shall remain vested exclusively with the Employer.

The above are by way of example only of rights vested exclusively in the Employer and all rights which the Employer would have but for the existence of a collective bargaining agreement, including the rights to continue or discontinue any past practice or benefit, except as specifically modified by this Agreement, are vested in the Employer’s discretion.

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If you are a CHRO – this should be keeping you (and your people) awake at night

Labor Organizing looks different today 


English: Leon Bates handing out UAW literature...
English: Leon Bates handing out UAW literature during the 1941 organizing drive at the Ford Motor Company – River Rouge plant – gate #4 on Miller Road. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Organized labor is experimenting with new types of organizing and other innovations to restore their relevance and credibility. They are doing this in three main ways.


  1. Efforts to change policy and agency rules
  2. Adapting new forms of traditional organizing
  3. utilizing alt labor groups to organize in new ways



Consider the aptly named Organize the South effort. Viewed piece by piece, you might miss it, but connecting the dots reveals an ambitious scope of organizing efforts, including:



Chief Human Resources Officers should make sure that your HR team is aware of these developing trends.



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Notes from the Road


I’ve been on the road for about three weeks with very short pit stops at home along the way. I’ve run out of phone minutes for this month, driven 7 different rental cars including a lime green Kia Soul, forgot which room I was in a couple of times, drove 100 miles through an ice storm and have lived through a networking extravaganza.

I had dinner and drinks with Paul Hebert, good Indian food and bad Naan with Laurie Ruettimann, coffee with Buzz Williams, and so much more.

What I haven’t done is mention where I will be speaking  and tweeting in the next few weeks.

Here goes:


March 17-19 – SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference, Washington DC

March 23-25 – Georgia Employers Association 2014 Spring Leadership Conference, Savannah

  • Developing Trends in Labor Organizing re for Them


April 7-8 – 2014 Louisiana SHRM Conference on Human Resources, providing press coverage

April 24 – Ultimate Software’s 100thWorkshop this April at the Biltmore in Miami, FL

  • Social Media Leaders Tell All about Avoiding Social Media Missteps

April 27-29 CUE Spring 2014 Conference, Las Vegas Nevada


June 3-5 TDn2K 2014 Summer Brand Camp, Dallas TX

  • Positive Management Leadership in an Activist World

I think I sense a trend developing in this post.

Come see me, or if you are already attending, be sure to say hello!  If you would like me to speak at one of your events, you can contact me via email to discuss ideas and rates.

Three strikes and you’re out…

Two women strikers on picket line during the &...
Two women strikers on picket line during the “Uprising of the 20,000”, garment workers strike, New York City. Strikes, ladies tailors, N.Y., Feb. 1910, picket girls on duty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Actually, it’s way more than three strikes

In the old days of labor relations, strikes were common place.  Walking a picket line in front of your employer was the ultimate card workers could play as part of the traditional collective bargaining process when things really hit the fan.

But strikes are painful and costly, and often the risks of income loss, or even being replaced at your job far outweigh the potential, yet uncertain potential of obtaining a better contract.   Over the past few decades, large-scale strike actions have all but disappeared, but that all began change in late 2012.

Strikes are back, and employers should be taking the possibility you could experience a strike action seriously.  Find out why after the jump.

Check out the links below for a representative list of strike actions that numerous employers have been experiencing in recent months.

Recent examples of strikes or votes to go on strike

As you can see, like the evils spirits in the film Poltergeist,…. “they’re baaaack!”

Later this week, I’ll post some tips on what you can do to prepare.

Bonus content

Enhanced by ZemantaHere are some picket line chants if you are more inclined to go the other way.
There ain’t nopower,
Like the power of the people,
Cuz the power of the people won’t stop!
We are the union! (call and response)
Mighty, mighty union. (repeat)
Everywhere we go-o.
People want to know-o.
Who we are. So we tell them. (Repeat)


On strike,shut it down,
_____ is a union town!

Labor Relations Round-up, CliffsNotes style #NLRB

English: Mark Gaston Pearce. Mr. Pearce was a ...
Mark Gaston Pearce.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Too busy for blogging

I am seemingly swamped for the rest of the year, so I just don’t blog anymore.  Every once in a while I get the itch, like a bad rash, but then it goes away.  I’m not sure this is a good thing, because I actually have more clarity about my daily work when I am blogging regularly. It’s one of many benefits of blogging that I am not taking advantage of right now.   To remedy this, I’m going to try an experiment.

I’m going to try brevity posts.   Typically, I’m starting with labor relations. Here’s a couple of big stories.

The NLRB is back in business, operating with a full slate of five members for the first time in a decade.  Think about just how f*cked up our political system must be for a governmental agency to go for a decade without a full complement.   Yay beer!  I mean, there has to be some justifiable reason for that, right?   Red Stripe is just as good an excuse as any other I can think of.  By the way, the new Board is not going to be a friend of HR, or business.

If you were in the restaurant business, you better buckle up.  All indications are that the string of one day strikes aimed at the fast food industry are about to expand massively, according to an interview with a union president behind the effort.

We’ll cap off this post with a dress code story about baseball caps at work from Lexology. 

An employer’s policy prohibiting employees from wearing baseball caps other than the employer’s is an unlawful restriction on employees’ Section 7 activity, an NLRB Administrative Law Judge has decided.  Quad Graphics, Inc., 32-CA-062242 (July 31, 2013).



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Hot for teacher (accountability)

Mediocre is not good enough

Teacher (Photo credits:

Unions are frequently criticized as being organizations who waste time and resources defending bad actors in the workplace.  Based upon my personal experience, this is true more often than not.   Unions have a legally required duty to provide fair representation to all their members, but it is difficult to watch them defend bad actors over and over just because they “pay their dues”.

That’s what makes what’s this story about a teachers union in St. Louis so unusual.

Critics of tenure say it creates an untouchable class of teachers who can become an impediment to improving public schools.

But in St. Louis, that protection hasn’t been enough to spare several dozen teachers from losing their jobs.

Since 2010, more than 100 teachers have been removed from classrooms — through being fired, pushed to retire or resign — after they were deemed ineffective by their principals. Forty of those teachers had tenure, according to the district, a status designed to protect educators from arbitrary firings.

Though the removals constitute a small percentage of the 1,934 teachers districtwide, they mark a monumental shift in the St. Louis Public Schools, where decades of bad record keeping made firing tenured teachers nearly impossible. They also reflect a broader effort by school district officials to elevate the level of teaching in the city’s 72 public schools and five alternative education sites.

An unlikely partner in the process is the teachers union.

“Remember, this isn’t the union of our mothers,” said Ray Cummings, vice president of the American Federation of Teachers Local 420.

Several times a week, Cummings accompanies Jeff Spiegel, a human resources director for the St. Louis district, to schools where they help principals document teacher performance. They meet with teachers who struggle with such skills as classroom management and connecting with students. Some are on the verge of burnout.

They put them on an improvement plan.

Read that again.

The school district HR guy and the union guy meet with under-performing teachers several times a week, and put them on an improvement plan.

Jointly.  Together.   That is unusual enough to make me say “holy sh*t! – a union that is partnering with management to fix organizational problems, rather than just blindly defending bad actors.  If you’ve never worked in a union shop, you may not truly appreciate just how unusual that is.   Any good union leader will eventually stop defending a loser, but it’s a big stretch politically and philosophically for a union leadership to assume the kind of proactive approach that this group is using.

Spiegel, the former superintendent of Ferguson-Florissant schools, came to St. Louis in 2011 to work solely on improving teaching in the district. Since his arrival, 340 teachers have received ratings on their evaluations poor enough to put them on professional improvement plans, according to the district. After 18 weeks, 181 of those teachers showed significant improvement. The rest, for the most part, were let go.

“You know what? Mediocre is not good enough,” Spiegel said. “We have to have high performing teachers in every classroom.”

Cummings agrees.

Rather than fighting the school district on this, he and other union leaders are in full support. In fact, union representatives make up five of the nine members of the administrative panel that has recommended the dismissal of tenured teachers to human resources.

“At one point, the union was just there to take care of salaries, benefits and to monitor the contract,” Cummings said. “Most members feel we should be raising the profession, making sure the working environment is such we can improve our craft.”

Go read the whole story. It’s worth the three minutes it will take, and then make sure your organization is working as hard to hold people accountable for performance as these guys are!

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Labor Relations Round-up: Fast Food Strike

Employees protest at Burger King, Wendy’s, Domino’s, KFC, McDonald’s  in NYC

English: A selection of value-menu hamburgers ...
English: A selection of value-menu hamburgers from American fast food chains. Clockwise from left to right: McDonald’s McDouble, Burger King Buck Double, Sonic Drive-In Jr. Deluxe Burger, Wendy’s Double Stack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Employees of various fast food chains in New York City engaged in a one day work stoppage, calling for wage increases and improvements in their benefit programs.   This action took place on the heels of the “Black Friday” strike events aimed at Walmart.

Here’s a round-up of news headlines related to the event:

Nation’s Restaurant News:    NYC quick-service workers strike for higher wages, unions

Huffington Post:  Fast-Food Workers’ Strike Over Wages Hits Chain Locations In New York

Grub Street New York: Striking Fast Food Workers Return to Work

NPR:  N.Y. Fast-Food Workers Strike For Better Wages

CNBC:  NYC Fast-Food Workers Strike: ‘Supersize Our Wages,’ They Demand

MSNBC:  New York’s fast food workers strike. Why now?

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50 years of employee relations in less than 200 words

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 14: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (C) speaks during a press conference with fellow U.S. Senate Republicans (L-R) Sen Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) on National Labor Relations Board regulations on Capitol Hill September 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. The National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint alleging Boeing illegally retaliated against union workers by moving union jobs from the state of Washington to a nonunion plant in the state of South Carolina. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)


Fifty years in labor relations

I had the chance to listen to a very forward thinking  labor relations executive last week about his learnings from 55 years with the same employer.    Wait…what?  55 years, I mean who does that anymore, right?  Well, this guy did, and he had some pretty basic insights into labor relations.

Here”s what he had to say:

  • Your employee will only think about going outside your company for help  for a couple of reasons.
  1. You have something  they want, and they’re seeking help to get it.
  2. You gave them something they like, and now they are afraid you are going to take it away.
  3. You don’t listen to them when they tell you stuff.

Good employee relations practices can help you avoid these issues, according to my guy. It also helps to remove poor performers from your organization, and to reward excellent organizational achievements on a regular basis.

The final piece of advice from my friend is brilliantly simple.  Believe in your culture, run your organization with your employees as the top priority, and have the intestinal fortitude to face challenges with resolve if they come your way.

Thats fifty years of employee relations expertise in under 200 words.

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Labor Relations Round-up – the big one

 Walmart faces labor relations strife

Walmart has been making headlines while experiencing one of the most difficult periods of employee relations that they have encountered during their fifty plus years in business, including work stoppages and protests.  Here’s a news roundup of some of the headline stories from the past couple of weeks.