Industrial Relations
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03-01-2011, 02:35 PM

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Steve Tobak is a consultant, writer, and former senior executive with more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry. He's the managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based firm that provides strategic consulting, executive coaching, and speaking services to CEOs and management teams of small-to-mid-sized companies. 

Why might organizations want to establish partnership agreements with trade unions?

A trade union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts (collective bargaining) with employers.
It is certainly to the advantage of an employer to deal with a union, rather than with unorganized bodies of working men.

1. Represent Workers
The benefit to the employer who wishes to learn the real cause of his difficulties with his men is that he can deal through the union with their own chosen representatives, who, as a rule, are best qualified to speak in their behalf.

2. Productivity deals
Trades Unions can help to negotiate productivity deals. This means they help the firm to increase output; this enables the firm to be able to afford higher wages. Trades unions can be important for implementing new working practices which improve productivity.

3. Moral benefits of workers
Unions in technical trades demand tests of efficiency from their members. Some demand maintenance of a certain standard of technical efficiency, and many scrutinize moral character. The officers who find a member repeatedly out of work and constantly coming to them for another job are sure to advise him to do better work and warn him against results of dissipation.

4. No intervention of outsiders
Employers often indignantly declare that they are willing to meet their own men, but do not admit the right of outsiders to interfere in their business. If the employer is willing to meet his men fairly, he cannot find anyone so well qualified to help him settle the difficulty justly to both sides as accredited leader of an organization.

5. Train your staff – the union way
Finding money for staff development can be a challenge for small to medium-sized enterprises. That’s why many unions and employers are developing new learning focused partnerships aimed at helping staff access new training and educational opportunities. Hundreds of new union-led project and implimentations to improve workplace skills have been supported by the Government’s Union Learning Fund £15m annual budget. More than 450 Union Learning Fund project and implimentations have been run, covering over 3,000 workplaces. More than 67,000 learners access courses each year through union-led project and implimentations. In 2004/2005 the TUC and its unions helped individuals gain more than 3,500 Skills for Life qualifications and 4,500 NVQ achievements at levels 1-3. In the UK nearly 40 per cent of union members have had job-related training in the last three months, compared to just over a quarter of non-members. Having a nion at your workplace will give your employees a better chance to improve the skills needed to grow your business.

6. It’s a hazard without a union
Years of trade union experience have built an
extensive understanding of workplace hazards.
Reducing accidents and ill health at work saves
money for your business and keeps a workforce
healthy and motivated. That’s why it pays to have
a union health and safety rep on site

7. Unions can help you green the workplace
Being green is not just about being a responsible member of your community. Better use of resources, cutting back energy usage or recycling material wherever possible are all ways of making a business more cost-efficient.

8. Employee Commitment to the Workplace
Organizations with labor unions experience less employee turnover. Union employees receive decent wages and benefits, with clear expectations and a grievance procedure for any potential problems. The union leaves employees with little reason to go looking for a new job, as the benefits and expectations will be qualitatively similar at one position to the next.

9. Easier Benefits Administration
Labor unions often will help organizations select vendors for benefits, and some larger state and national unions even offer benefit plans that can be purchased by organizations or individual employees. Because benefits are spelled out in union contracts for several years at a time, benefit administrators do not need to spend considerable time and effort each year researching alternate vendors or plans.

10. Simplified Compensation Process
Unions bring fairness and consistency to employee compensation. Employers need not live in fear of one employee learning another employee's salary. Salary schedules typically are spelled out clearly in union contracts. At union shops, employers do not need to contend with the individual salary demands of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of employees. The union will negotiate salaries for the entire group of member-employees.

11. Aiding the Budgeting Process
Because employer contracts with labor unions often last several years (between three and five years is common), employers know what they will be spending on salaries and benefits well into the future. This helps organizations produce detailed and accurate budget forecasts. Few non-union organizations know what their labor costs will be so far into the future.

12. Employee Discipline
Disciplining employees can be one of the greatest management challenges at any organization. Union contracts often codify the discipline process and create a series of rules and steps that are deemed fair by both the union and the employer. A case study performed on the Internal Revenue Service and its staff union, the National Treasury Employees Union, showed that when employers and unions work together on disciplinary procedures, the end process may be seen by employees as more consistent and equitable.

13. Expertise
Particularly when dealing with skilled tradesmen, unions provide training programs that are often better than those offered through vocational and technical schools. Rather than learning their trade in college laboratories, union apprentices learn their trades where they matter most---on the shop floor. Considering this, it should come as no surprise that 80 percent of all sheet metal contractors and shop owners began their careers as Sheet Metal Workers International Association apprentices. No price can be put on quality craftsmanship and a jobdone properly the first time.

14. Contracts
The union contract benefits both labor and capital. Management has laid out its expectations in clear, plain English in a contract. Now the worker must respect these terms or begin looking for another job. With a contract, the rules of the workplace are not merely suggestions that employers hope employees follow. They are legally enforceable rules that give the employer a strong leg to stand on when terminating problem employees, even in the event of a lawsuit.


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