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Prevent Union Organizing
What is the connection between change management & labor unions? First, let's say that change has changed. The goal of change management is no longer managing a single event with a beginning and end. Change is ongoing in today's dynamic environment when there may be sudden supply chain shortages, an increase in turnover as employees keep the Great Resignation alive and well, planned mergers and acquisitions as companies adapt to the post-pandemic business environment, new technologies changing competitive status, a change in executive leadership, a need for a business transformation or reorganization, a desire to change the organizational culture, and unexpected union organizing.
Gartner research found that a typical organization has conducted five organizational-wide changes in the last three years; 75 percent expect to increase the number of major change initiatives in the next three years; half of the initiatives fail. Some change is adaptive, and some change is transformational, but all change impacts employees, which is the connection between change management and labor unions.
Change management is more complicated today than ever because employees are activists and rigorously question management decisions. People naturally get upset when there is a need to terminate employees or change employee benefits and work schedules. For example, some employees are terminated when a company builds a new manufacturing facility with state-of-the-art technologies to replace the need for workers or closes an existing one. A change in patient loads in a healthcare facility and a labor shortage pressure employees to work longer hours, requiring significant schedule changes. New technology implementation may include automation of current workloads and a need for skills upgrading or reskilling.
They now target both union and non-union companies to force desired changes. Chances are that your organizational leaders manage multiple change processes simultaneously, making it easy to forget the full impact on employees. This is precisely what gives labor unions an "in" into your workforce. It also provides labor unions opportunities to express a public voice to push their agenda and talking points to the media.
All leaders in your organization are responsible for change management. As our team at IRI Consultants frequently discusses, making change a part of a positive organizational culture and not a labor union attention-getter depends on your leaders always being labor-wise leaders and demonstrating role model behaviors for ensuring change is harnessed for success. Change management is impacted by many internal and external pressures, including regularly changing customer demands, government regulations and employment laws, technologies, customer and employee demographics, millennials moving into leadership positions, and social and cultural expectations. Remaining competitive and keeping labor unions away while addressing so many changes at once is a balancing act. One misstep and one of three things will happen.
Traditional change management practices aren't effective in the age of employee pro-union National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) activism. Top-down directed change management best practices don't work in a workplace where employees want a voice in decision-making, transparency about organizational strategies and goals, and their needs met. Those needs are varied today and include more employee voice in business operations, management decision-making, contracts, compensation and benefits, work schedules, and expression of corporate social responsibility.
Some of the traditional change management practices that are not a good fit today include:
It's breathtaking what your leadership is expected to balance today in an environment where labor unions always look for a way to connect with disgruntled and actively disengaged employees. It's the foundation of the connection between change management and labor unions. The pandemic led to profound changes in employee attitudes and expectations about work and work norms, workforce structure, adoption of new collaboration and work tools to accommodate a hybrid workforce, and internal communication processes.
The changes kept on coming after the pandemic too. For example, employers faced intense resistance to forcing employees to return to work onsite full-time and had to revisit their policies and allow flexible schedules. It's a change process still in progress.
As CNN and many other news media reported, a Chick-fil-A restaurant owner in Miami decided to give employees the option of working 12-14 hour shifts, meaning they could get their full-time hours within three days. The employer and employees benefitted.
Owner/Operator Justin Lindsey said, "I think people want to work in this industry, but they want some things to change, and I think that's what this has shown — is that there are things that if we change it for the better, we're going to make a lasting impact." The staff consisted of 18 store leaders and 20 frontline workers, a bigger staff than many of the Starbucks stores that are unionizing.
Chick-fil-a employees are not talking about labor unions. The author of the CNN article writes, "The restaurant is just another example of businesses experimenting with non-traditional shifts ever since the pandemic upended the 40-hour workweek. Although the majority of companies have been reluctant to change, some firms, and even some bosses, have urged flexibility as a way to entice and retain workers by offering them a better work-life balance."
Change management doesn't necessarily involve a major upheaval like a merger or acquisition. It includes your leaders recognizing opportunities for smaller innovative operational and Human Resources changes that meet employee needs. The Chick-fil-a example made managers and frontline staff happy. Still, it did require the owner Lindsey to determine how he could change the schedule to please employees without causing operations and customer services to suffer.
It's generally accepted that Chick-fil-a is not a focus of labor unions, despite the union organizing trend in the restaurant industry inspired by Starbucks, because of careful hiring and management's sincere efforts to accommodate employee needs like time off, good pay, steady schedules, raises based on performance, and opportunities to advance.
Twitter, a large global company, was bought by Elon Musk, bringing intense labor union attention placed on the company. Musk announced changes right after the buyout deal closed, and one is a massive layoff as he tries to improve the bottom line. This is an ideal example of the relationship between change management and labor unions. Mashable published an article titled The time is right for Twitter employees to unionize in the topic category "social good." It addresses worker concerns about the platform, employee voice, and the terminations and their impact on those who remain employed. There is a lot to unpack about the situation.
Some critical points are made. Tech worker activism was inspired by employees who want a voice in the formation of company policies. The union organizers are using phrases like "Musk is bulldozing over employees," "worker power," and "strength in numbers" Musk has made his dislike of unions known in the past. Still, the current union organizers believe the NLRB will hold him accountable for opposing union organizing.
An important point to note is that the Twitter buyout is driving employee activism and civil rights groups to take action. The coalition #StopToxicTwitter has more than 60 civil rights groups as members and is escalating calls to Twitter advertisers to suspend their ad campaigns on the Twitter platform. Said Jessica J. González, co-CEO of Free Press, one of the advocacy groups in the coalition, "We are witnessing the real-time destruction of one of the world's most powerful communication systems." The issues go far beyond terminations for this particular change management process.
Rapid change usually makes people uncomfortable and even fearful. It's safe to say that change always leads to some employees becoming unhappy and disengaged. A study of the psychology of resistance to change addressed the fact that one of the biggest problems any organization faces is employee resistance to change which begins with attitude. The researchers examined the role of:
One of the important points the researchers make is this: "Unaware of the potential benefits associated with the organizational change, employees often develop a sense of fear and perceive the introduction of change as an unfair act. Therefore, they develop negative attitudes and exhibit adverse reactions toward change – a phenomenon is known as resistance to change." Employees who develop resistance to change are more likely to unionize. Your change managers must influence employee attitudes.
Employee and team issues can escalate and spread when negativity takes hold. Today, it's easy for employees and union organizers to use social media to connect with each other. What elements should be included in your change management strategy?
Change happens on a small and large scale and can either get the attention of labor unions or lead to employees contacting union representatives. Labor unions can also alter change plans, even if your company is not unionized, by holding protests or publicly attacking a project they don't like because they fear it will negatively impact the employment of union workers. For example, a public battle was waged over the workforce in new electric vehicle battery plants. The auto manufacturers didn't want a union workforce in the EV plants, and most have now changed their stance. The connection between change management and labor unions is strong whether or not your workforce is unionized. If already unionized, the labor union has a lot of say in how the change will be handled.
IRI Consultants is always ready to assist your leaders in leadership training and development, labor relations readiness, organizational development, and strengthening positive employee relations and employee engagement so that change management doesn't become a labor union opportunity for organizing. Contact us today!
With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.