The unions seem to be winning today, with headlines winning Apple stores, some Starbucks stores and some Amazon distribution centers. The National Council for Labor Relations reports an increase in petitions for trade union organization. These profits are small compared to the entire workforce without unions, but organizers and the Biden administration are hoping for more victories.
Why are workers getting more involved in union campaigns now than in previous years? The policies of the Biden administration and especially the practices of the National Labor Relations Council are often mentioned. But that’s a small part of the story. The labor market is tense in almost all parts of the country and most professions. The fact that workers have more power in bargaining is not a surprise in the current environment, but an important question is why workers are trying to organize a union and not just walk down the street to one of the many companies with signs reading “Now you hire “.
Unionization is often a sign of dissatisfaction more than dissatisfaction with wages / benefits. And workers have something to be unhappy about. Demand for goods and services is growing, but the working age population is not. Many workers work in offices and shops with a shortage of staff. Add to this all the people who changed their jobs during the Great Resignation and have not yet adjusted to their new positions. More experienced workers need to bridge the gap created by new employees. An additional problem is the bad hires. Companies are so desperate to hire that they can attract people who are not suitable for a particular job or are not suitable for any job at all. The pressure to do more is great and there are not enough staff across the country.
The result is stress. And with stress comes anger and frustration. In such a difficult workplace, managerial mistakes become a great annoyance to workers. If the boss shows favoritism, or warns an employee about something that is not the fault of the person, or hires a worker for a difficult shift, then the pressure on the union will increase.
How can a business oppose this? The best strategy starts long before a union organizer appears. Trade unions occur most often when employees feel they have been treated unfairly. The union will demand higher wages and benefits, but the reason is often a sense of injustice. Better training for first-level managers helps prevent feelings of abuse. In some cases, managers are really unfair, but in other cases they interact with employees in an awkward way. Training can also help first-level managers deal with the stress they face in overseeing a congested team.
Relieving workers’ stress can ease some union pressure. Workers will often cope well with short-term stress. They may even enjoy it. A team that has to overcome a great challenge, such as an unusually short time to perform or achieve a result without key employees, will often cope with this. When the effort is made, everyone feels good. They are giving to each other and, hopefully, celebrating their success. But what workers can do once is not what they can do every day, week after week for a whole year. So when workers have had an unusually difficult time, management needs to help.
Hiring more workers is an obvious item on the list of possible solutions, but most companies have been trying to hire more workers for some time. Continuing recruitment efforts is a sensible tactic, but don’t expect better results next month than last month.
Load reduction must be taken into account. Few managers want to turn down a profitable business, but when accepting too many orders causes more resignations, the company may be better off with lower sales. Rejecting orders is a dumb tool. Rising prices increase profit margins while reducing the amount of work that needs to be done. If the price increase does not match the company’s customer relationship, it may be able to cite longer lead times. Instead of shipping the product this week, tell orderers that shipments will be out next week. Another option to consider is to stop selling products with lower margins or to close places with lower efficiency.
The last alternative to consider is the payment of bonuses for workers stressed by an insufficient number of colleagues or by colleagues with low results. The “heavy duty” bonus should not continue when the crisis subsides, and may focus on employees who are stepping up to meet short-term needs.
Trade unions occur most often when employees feel they have been treated unfairly. Businesses in which employees feel fairly treated and adequately compensated are unlikely to require union representation, making the job of a business manager easier and the company more profitable.