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Effectively Managing Unionized Workers

It is feasible to manage unionized workers without severe issues. But it is dependent on how you treat your employees. If you treat people fairly, for example, by not discriminating against them, paying what they are due, speaking with respect, listening to their thoughts, and is concerned, it is far less likely that they will cause you problems.

In 2022, more than 16 million workers in the United States were represented by a union—an increase of 200,000 from 2021. Not only that, but evidence suggests that more than 60 million workers wanted to join, or form a union, but couldn’t.

Unionization efforts have primarily served as a last-ditch attempt by employees who feel neglected, insulted, unheard, and underappreciated. They are frustrated individuals seeking relief from what they believe is hopeless in their relationship with their employer. Common issues for union organizers are the demand for higher wages, and better work hours.

Managing unionized workers can be difficult if they feel like that in their organization. Some organizations suggest that unionization is avoidable if there is a sense of emotional connection, appreciation and recognition within the organization. So, if your company already has unionized workers, how can you better manage it?

The History of Unionized Workers

unionized workers

In 1935, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). This made it clear that it is the policy of the U.S to encourage collective bargaining by protecting workers’ full freedom of association. The NLRA protects workplace democracy by providing employees at private-sector workplaces the fundamental right to seek better working conditions and designation of representation without fear of retaliation.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent federal agency created in 1935 and vested with the power to safeguard employees’ rights to organize, engage with one another to seek better working conditions, choose whether or not to have a collective bargaining representative negotiate on their behalf with their employer, or refrain from doing so. 

The foundation of this law, and this board made it possible for labor unions to be what they are today.

Who are Unionized Workers?

Unions are becoming less critical in the workplace due to rising globalization, consolidation, technological advancements, social media, a transitory workforce, and alternative work arrangements, to mention a few. As a result of these developments, professionals are under tremendous pressure than ever to discover innovative methods to operate efficiently in a unionized workplace. Before defining tactics for doing so, it is critical first to grasp the significant differences between unionized and non-unionized work settings.

One such distinction is the presence of a collective agreement (a written union contract) that outlines the nature of the union-management relationship. Employers cannot engage in individual contracts with employees in a unionized setting since the union is the exclusive negotiating representative for a group of employees.

From the standpoint of an organization, it must run the business within the constraints of the collective agreement. A recognition provision certifies the union as the only negotiating representative for employees covered by such a collective agreement.

Seniority issues, prospective and actual labour conflicts, and salaries are often based on years of service rather than merit, separating the unionized workplace from the non-unionized environment.

What are the Challenges of Managing in a Union Environment?

unionized workforce

The difficulties of managing union employees are numerous, particularly for a novice manager. Your ability to manage unionized workers as you desire will be limited.

Collectively negotiated terms and conditions in most unionized sectors can be more restrictive. As a result, you will have to operate within the parameters of the agreement reached between the firm and the unions.

You will be unable to perform certain things with your team members after the union steward begins their duty. It is one of the most challenging conditions for any manager to work in. No competent manager wants to be in a situation where they cannot fully control their employees. However, there are efficient approaches to handling unionized workers.

Best practices for managing unionized workers

Build a Good Relationship with the Union Steward

A staff union representative, also known as a shop steward, is an employee whose coworkers elect to advocate and safeguard their interests in the workplace. The staff union representative is there to perform their job, just as you are there to do yours.

To successfully manage personnel in a unionized setting, it is critical to have a solid working relationship with the union steward. Use the rapport you’ve built with the employees and shop steward to solve difficulties and defuse stressful situations.

Allow the steward to speak to you about any workplace problems your employees may have before they become official grievances.

Every day, your primary task as a manager is to guarantee that your people execute their jobs and deliver the outcomes you expect. Management in a unionized context is challenging, expensive, and time-consuming.

However, it does not abdicate your managerial obligations. Your reputation as a manager will improve if you manage your people properly.

Manage Poor Performance

Although you may have limited autonomy in managing your team, you are liable for the overall results. It might become an accepted standard if lousy performance is not appropriately controlled. It is inappropriate to ignore bad performance practices. You have the power to handle underperforming staff, whether they are unionized workers or not.

Managing an employee’s performance issues necessitates a set of measures. First, it is fair and appropriate to inform someone underperforming of their shortcomings as soon as feasible. People will only work on something they know exists. All performance complaints must also be communicated to employees in the presence of their union shop steward.

The ultimate purpose of informing employees of the problem is to assist them in succeeding and correcting bad performance. As a result, you must give the individual your full support for them to improve.

Be Fair to Your Employees

There are many wrongdoings by managers that can lead to unions enforcing legislative measures to defend employees’ rights to a safe and healthy workplace or for everyone to be treated fairly and equally without prejudice.

Make sure you pay individuals what they are worth. If you want a staff member to stay at work longer than they should, you can ask them to, but make sure they are paid in accordance with the collectively established terms and conditions.

Also, if you want your staff to work on weekends and holidays, you can ask them to do so, but make sure they are compensated in accordance with the terms and conditions. Just like any other organization, a unionized busineses must adhere to labor laws!

How Celayix can Helprules engine for employee scheduling

A common struggle for managers of unionized workers is handling the employee schedule. More often than not, when it comes to unionized workers, shifts are designated based on seniority of who was there longest.

The Celayix rules engine allows managers to input rules such as seniority so that you can use our automated scheduling tools without having to worry about union rules. You can set seniority manually, or you can use start date – whatever works for your unique situation! If you’re seen to use automated tools like this that eliminate bias, your employees will be happy to know that rules are being followed.

Always Admit Your Errors

A manager’s work can be highly demanding and stressful. Even the best managers might feel overwhelmed when dealing with unionized workers. You must deal with many grievances or attend hurried meetings to resolve worker complaints.

Sometimes, you need to catch up on some of the most critical aspects of your career. When you ignore details, you risk making poor judgements that may harm your team.

But, if you make a bad judgement, don’t try to excuse yourself or hunt for scapegoats. Simply confess your error. It will instil trust and respect in your unionized workers.

Build Sustainable Trust with your Unionized Workers

Establishing and maintaining trust in a non-unionized workplace is challenging enough, but it is far more difficult in a unionized atmosphere. When a shop steward constantly scrutinizes how you handle your employees, it can cause tension and distrust. That’s not good for anyone.

Pay attention to anything that might lead to mistrust. Be proactive in resolving issues that are affecting your connection with staff. Do not wait to be told since trust is not something to be taken lightly.

No manager wants to supervise employees who are skeptical of every choice they make, even if they are well-intentioned.

Make Yourself Available Everyday

open door policyYou want your employees to feel comfortable bringing complaints to you rather than their shop steward. As a result, your office door should always be open to anyone who expresses genuine concern.

Also, be sure to handle all employee issues as soon as possible. Because if you do not resolve their difficulties, they will go to union representatives, where all sorts of things will surface beyond your control.

Unionized Workers should be Involved in Decision Making

Another effective method of managing well in a unionized work setting is to empower employees. Sometimes the person closest to the action, rather than the boss, must make a choice.

Concentrate on more significant concerns rather than becoming engrossed in minor details that your team members can handle. When you make all of the decisions, your front-line employees lose control over their day-to-day jobs.

The farther you are from the action, the more adversely your judgements will influence individuals. You want to avoid creating a situation where people rely on you for everything. If you continue to be engaged in everything your employees do, they will begin to believe that you do not trust them.

What else can you do?

It is completely feasible to manage unionized workers without any severe issues. But it is dependent on how you treat your employees.

If you treat people fairly, for example, by not discriminating against them, paying what they are due, speaking with respect, listening to their thoughts, and is concerned, it is far less likely that they will cause you problems. Some other tips that can work in managing unionized workers are:


​​At the end of the day, managing unionized workers doesn’t have to be rocket science. Yes, it can be more difficult than managing non-unionized workers, but it’s not impossible. Remember that Celayix can help when it comes to employee scheduling and other elements of workforce management for unionized workers! If you’d like to learn more about how, sign up for a free live demo and ask any questions you might have!

Written by Nippun Arora

Written by Nippun Arora

Nippun is a Marketing Specialist, primarily creating content and email marketing. He has been working with Celayix for over 2 years.

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