Employers seeking employees relations in a non union environment

A union is an association of workers established to improve economic and social conditions. The union’s basic job is to bargain with employers to determine the best wages and working conditions for its members. Most unions can provide employment services, insurance, and certain benefits also. In the United States there are no formal ties between the government and unions as there are in other countries. They may however, be involved in the political activities such as lobbying for legislation and supporting specific favorable candidates. There are two different types of unions. The first of which are Craft Unions these included specific work such as electricians and carpenters. The second is Industrial Unions, they include any and all jobs within a given industry such as automobile or steel industry. There are also separate Union systems for government employees or professional occupations, such as nurses and teachers.

A labor union is as defined in the dictionary, an organization of wage earners formed for the purpose of serving the members’ interests with respect to wages and working conditions. Today there are about 16 million workers in the U.S. that belong to a labor union. The pressure upon the employers to raise wages and improve working conditions in a major goal of the labor unions. Labor unions have been around for a long time. The earlier unions were called craft unions, consisting of only a couple members who worked in the same craft. The way unions negotiate for an employment contract is by collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is negotiation between the representatives of organized workers and their employer or employers to determine wages, hours, rules, and working conditions. When in collective bargaining, the unions represent its members in negotiations rather than have each worker negotiate individually with an employer. In order for the collective bargaining process can start a union shop must be organized. A union shop is a business or industrial establishment whose employees are required to be union members or to agree to join the union within a specified time after being hired. Once a union shop is formed the union will look to negotiate a labor contract, which is a written agreement between the employer and the union representing employees. The labor contract sets the conditions of employment. Although many union contracts are worked out through collective bargaining, there are times when this process fails to bring agreement between the union and management. In looking to achieve the union’s goals, labor unions may use a variety of tactics. For example: striking, picketing, boycotting, slowdown, and in some cases illegal methods. A strike is when workers stop working for the purpose of gaining concessions from management. Strike is labor’s most powerful weapon because of the financial loss imposed upon the employer. The downfall to a strike is that is that it also costs participating workers a loss in income. Picketing is similar to a strike; it takes place when workers march outside a business carrying signs. The main objective of picketing is to discourage workers from entering the workplace. A union boycott is a refusal to buy services or goods from a business whose workers are on strike. Unions tell their members to tell their friends and family to boycott the products of the company. Unions also try to get the general public involved and support their cause. When there is a boycott on a certain brand name the boycott is called a “primary boycott”. If there is a boycott on a store because they sell a certain brand name this is called a “secondary boycott”. A slowdown is when workers, on purpose, decrease their output in order to force concessions from their employer. Because the workers are not on strike workers can still collect their pay. Some Unions have resorted to tactics that are illegal. There are three main tactics. The first on is secondary boycott, which has been discussed previously. The second is strong-arm methods were unions hire thugs to force management into accepting the union demands. The third method is called jurisdictional strike is one caused by dispute between two unions over which one can represent certain workers. Management sometime will put pressure on unions when there is a breakdown in labor-management negotiations. Some important management tactics are lockouts, injunctions, and strikebreakers. Lockout happens when management shuts down a workplace in hope of bringing the workers to the companies’ terms. Sometimes a court will issue an injunction to halt a strike. Injunctions are very uncommon. Strikebreakers occur when management hire new people to replace the people that are on strike. Strike breaking, in my opinion is the best way to handle a strike. If people don’t want to work they shouldn’t. There are peaceful ways decisions can be solved without strikes or lockouts. For example: fact-finding, mediation, and arbitration. When there are labor disputes, the government might assign a “fact-finding board”. This board investigates the problem and suggests a solution. In mediation a third party is brought in to analyze the situation and offers a solution. In the arbitration method of settling labor problems a third party is brought in and the management and Union must abide by the solution as set by the third party.

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“What is a Labor Union?” http://ibewfifthdistrict.org Antell, Gerson. Economics: Institutions and Analysis. New York. ASP, 1997 The World Book Encyclopedia, World Book L 12. U.S.A., 1998


Dr. Joe McBride

Dr. Arjan Keizer



I certify that this assignment is the result of my own work and does not exceed the word count noted. Number of words: 1500 (Excluding references, title page)

Assess the advantages and problems facing an employer seeking to manage employee relations in a non-union environment.

The issue of the ‘non-union’ firm has come to the forefront in Britain principally because it has been seen as an exemplar of one strand of the new industrial relations (Beardwell, 1993). During her reign in the 1980’s, Margaret Thatcher was a staunch opponent of Britain’s powerful trade union and her government brought about its downfall (BBC News, 2004). As the overall level of union membership and density has fallen in Britain throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, researchers have begun to pay more attention to the non-union employment sector (Beaumont and Harris, 1993). Employee relations in non-union settings remain largely uninvestigated by industrial relations researchers (Mcloughlin and Gourlay, 2007). Non-unionism is more paramount in certain parts of the country and in certain sectors in the UK such as High technology firms which are frequent exemplars of new human resource management techniques designed to substitute for unions. The term ‘non-union’ is concerned with a situation where trade union recognition is absent; in some situations non-union does not mean the complete absence of a trade union (Dundon and Rollinson, 2004). Examples of non-union representation are joint industrial councils, peer-review dispute resolution panel, European works style-council (Kaufman and Taras, 2000).

Non-union firms differ in quite substantial ways; Guest and Hoque (1994) identify four possible types of non-union establishments. Firstly is the ‘good’ establishments (otherwise known as a ‘full utilization, high involvement model’ (Kelly, 2002) which have clear HRM strategies and make extensive use of a range of the sort of practices associated with a positive form of HRM. These establishments also exhibit high levels of commitment and high involvement management. Secondly are the establishments referred to as the ‘ugly face’ of non-unionism, which have a clear strategy but make little use of HRM policies. Next are the establishments which do not have a clear HRM strategy but appear to have adopted a large number of innovative types of HRM practices; referred to as ‘lucky’ face of non-unionism. Lastly, are those establishments described as being ‘bad’ which adopt little or no HRM practices and have no HRM strategy (Kelly, 2002; Guest and Hoque, 1995). At the same time the extent to which ‘union substitution’ based on new ‘human resource management’ techniques is widely practiced, even in areas where it is frequently claimed to have been long established such as ‘high technology firms’, has been questioned (McLoughlin and Gourlay, 1992). Companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and McDonalds have been well known for their deep-seated ideological commitment to non-unionism (Edwards and Edwards, 2003). Large non-union firms tend to adopt formalized approaches characterizing their union substitution policies and strategies. These approaches are regarded as ‘best practice’ and indeed as exemplars of innovative HRM according to managerial accounts (Marchington and Wilkinson, 2005). Leading companies such as IBM have been developing and implementing new work systems, often referred to as ‘high performance workplaces’. Traditional top-down command and control system has given way to decentralized decision making and enhanced opportunities for employee involvement and participation (Kaufman and Taras, 2000) .These companies were praised – IBM , M&S and HP for their ability to offer employees more than could be achieved by trade unions through negotiations. Younger and smaller establishments are more likely to be non-unionized (Marchington and Wilkinson, 2005).

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There are several advantages for employers seeking to manage employee relations in a non-union environment. For example, In IBM Corp. , the National Labor Relations Board ruled that non-union employers may lawfully refuse an employee’s request to have a co-worker present during an investigatory interview that the employee reasonably believes could lead to discipline (Lautz, 2004). This means that employers are free to conduct investigatory interviews with employees one-on-one in situation where disciplinary actions might be involved. Although, this is might not be in favour of the employee involved. In non-union firms, the employer can keep their company activities internal rather having an external arm which could cause division within the employment relationship. This supports the neo-unitarist approach which views trade unions as an unnecessary interference in management’s right to manage (Dundon and Rollinson, 2004 ) while neo-pluralist approaches incorporate more sophisticated HRM practices being developed rather than necessarily in place of, collective bargaining (Brunstein, 1995). In addition, management can focus better on the individual employees rather than making the employment relationship a case of “them” and “us”. Issues such as increments in benefits can progress faster within employees and their employers, which creates a sense of mutuality and security between both parties. The employer retains the decision-making power on employee relations; management are able to determine pay rates based on work performance or merit rather than being told that all employees will be paid the same amount regardless of how hard they do or do not work. On other hand, in an ‘ugly’ establishment this ‘power’ can be used to strategically deprive workers of their right and exploit them. However, this is not always the case. In a ‘good’ establishment, the employers feel more at ease about their interactions with their employees and no cause for trade union intervention since there are positive HRM policies in place (McLoughlin and Gourlay, 2007). On other hand, the word ‘positive’ is relative and some employees might not feel that their employees are implementing ‘positive’ HRM policies. In a ‘good ‘and possibly ‘lucky establishments’, cases of redundancies might be taken lighter, where employers have built a certain level of trust amongst their employees to let them go as perceived needed by management. In ‘good’ establishments nonunion representational plans are more likely to involve mutual discussions and deliberation between the parties than overt negotiation and bargaining as most unionized firms. In addition, there’s more of a problem-solving approach than taking of votes or rigid positions to avoid polarization which is commonplace in unionized firms. In a ‘good’ and ‘lucky’ firm it is possible that the employment relationship is open and honest which could allow the transmission of ideas to managers in order to improve organizational performance. This could in turn present employers as valuable receptacles of knowledge, based on the assumption on the unitarist approach that employers and employees have a common goal.

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On other hand, there are problems that employers face in non-union environments. In instances where employees are dissatisfied or effectively express their grievances may have little option but to leave the organization (Redman and Wilkinson, 2009). This problem can b attributed to the ‘bad’ or ‘ugly’ establishments who do not take up any HRM policies. The effect of this is employees could end up resulting to other forms of industrial conflict such as ‘go low’ or even sabotage labour activities (Rose, 2008).

In addition to this employers who do not have good alternative policies to trade unions soon find dissatisfactions among employees which could manifest themselves in higher rates of absenteeism (Rose, 2008). In comparison with the United States and Canada Walter and Madland (2009) looked at the wage and benefits for the average worker in the private sector which was $37.02 per hour in September 2009, compared to $26.38 an hour for the typical non-union worker. While in Canada, non-union part-timers earn $10.60 an hour compared to $17.31 for union workers. This means the union wage advantage for part-time workers is almost 70 percent (AFL, 2009). In these types of non-union establishment employers might find that employees come to a realization and insist on having a form of union intervention to bridge their wage gap with their unionized counterparts.

In conclusion, non-union firms might be viewed as a harbinger of a future pattern of industrial relations. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that the ideological motivation to remain non-union free is not a universal phenomenon, but is often tempered by different managerial styles of action. The frontline supervisor is the employee’s direct link with the company and the person who will have the most immediate impact on day-to-day working life. Supervisors have to be trained in the positive employee relations techniques that make unions unnecessary. Successful union avoidance means advance preventive maintenance training of supervisors about unions, the proper way to deal with employees and how to avoid employee relations errors that lead to unionization. Enlightened employers are, however, learning that simply being anti-union is not an effective long-term union avoidance strategy, particularly with the new, more independent employee.

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