How Do I Hire a Labor Relations Consultant?

labor relations consultant is a specialist in all areas regarding relations between company management and employees and can also work with management to protect the organization’s reputation during times of crisis. That is the simple job description, but the reality is labor relations is a complex construct that involves everything from leadership training on staying union-free to strike planning. 

Of course, the ideal time to hire a labor relations consulting firm is when there is no union threat, but it doesn’t always work that way. Often, leaders are surprised to discover a union is trying to recruit their employees or get an unexpected notice from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that a formal union organizing campaign is in progress. This elevates the need for a careful, legal and effective response. A labor relations consultant can help your company find union vulnerabilities, identify staff training needs and provide a host of other services. The first step is hiring a consultant or consulting firm that is a good fit for your organization, who has an excellent understanding of labor laws and can help you to identify your unique labor relations issues. 

Following are some critical questions to ask when selecting the right consultant.  

What Are My Goals in Hiring a Labor Relations Consultant? 

Organizations hire labor relations consulting for different reasons. The goals depend on the stage of unionization or the type of labor relations issue needing resolution. In every case, the overarching goal is to promote positive employee relations by developing and implementing the appropriate strategy. Organizations may be at a very early stage of proactively developing a strategy for staying union-free or may need a plan to identify problems or address a specific situation like a union organizing campaign in progress. 

Following are some typical goals for hiring a labor relations consultant. 

This type of consultant can also do a workplace assessment that serves different purposes. For example, you may want to identify opportunities for motivating employees or developing potential leaders. Some companies decide they need professional expertise in designing employee engagement surveys and assessing data. The labor relations consultant can provide expert advice in developing positive personal relations, which lead to numerous benefits, of which staying union-free is one among many.  

What is My Timeline? 

The timeline as to when you hire a labor relations consultant depends on the reason for needing the assistance of an external resource. The ideal time to hire a consultant to stay union-free is before any indication of union involvement. It’s wise to hire a consultant to conduct a union vulnerability assessment and jointly develop strategies to close gaps. This approach is more likely to keep the company union-free while also leading to a management plan to develop positive employee relations in the future. This is a proactive approach rather than a reactive one. 

However, companies sometimes wait until they find signs of union activity before partnering with a consultant. There are even companies that wait until there are only a few weeks before a union election vote before hiring a consultant. An expert consultant can step into any situation at any time and use his/her expertise to address the circumstances. Never tell yourself, “It’s too late to hire a labor relations consultant.” 

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What Kind of Relationship Do You Want With the Consultant? 

Labor relations consultants use different approaches. You want to determine the kind of relationship you want with the consultant and hire a consultant that is most likely to develop the right relationship with you as a client. Not all consultants work the same way. Some may work independently and then present a report.  

Frankly, that’s usually not a good management consulting approach. You want to work with a consultant who gets input from managers and supervisors and becomes a partner in achieving goals.  

An effective consultant has these four important qualities.

  • Works jointly with management to develop the appropriate solutions 
  • Stays in communication with management 
  • Shares insights during the consulting process 
  • Addresses the specific concerns of management and employees 

The consultant should be transparent about the work plan, findings, and reasons for recommendations. 

What Kind of Labor Relations Consultant Skills Are a Best Fit? 

There are two broad areas that a skilled labor relations consultant is prepared to address. The first area is developing positive employee relations and improving organizational culture, both of which support staying union-free. The second area is helping a company address a union organizing campaign in progress or managing in a union environment

When you hire a labor relations consultant who is an expert, the person’s skills should match the management area of concern. For example, a consultant hired to address a union threat or a union organizing campaign should have expertise in helping companies manage a union campaign needs. The person needs proven skills in quickly educating managers and supervisors on union tactics and the TIPS and FOE Rules, improving management and employee communication within the organization, negotiating union collective bargaining contracts, and so on.  

A consultant hired to improve management-employee relations and train managers, and supervisors on the warning signs of union activity needs expertise in developing an organizational culture of inclusion, training managers and supervisors on building positive employee relations and employee engagement, fostering employee teamwork, and building an employee relations team. 

Expert labor relations consultants have skills in areas like the following: 

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How Do I Know a Labor Relations Consultant is Qualified? 

There are many management consulting firms in business today, but not all of them are suitable for every business. You need a qualified labor relations consultant that you can trust to do an efficient and thorough job that produces measurable and specific results. 

  • Qualifications of consultant - Check the consultant’s qualifications which include education, certifications, and experience in your company’s industry, area of need in your organization, and specific union. Many labor relations consultants gained their first experience working in human resources or even for a union at one point. From there, they build on a career focused on staying current on the best strategies for developing empowering positive employee relations and helping organizations stay union-free.  
  • Do a background check of the consulting company – Verify the labor relations consulting company has a good reputation and success rate. Only do business with a credible consulting firm with a history of strong client performance. 
  • Ask for references – Ask if it’s possible to get client references, recognizing confidentiality must be maintained. Research online reviews of the company and ask questions.  
  • Assess consultant’s access to a support network - The labor relations consultant you hire will have a depth of experience but should also have access to a network of resources should the need arise. They include experts at the consultant’s company in areas of labor law and employee relations, labor law attorneys, union-focused materials, website developers, leadership eLearning for rapid training, etc.  

Labor Relations Consultants Bring Expertise When Most Needed 

IRI Consultants, along with our team at Projections have broad and deep experience in helping companies like yours stay union-free and better manage in a union environment in a way that leads to decertification. We also offer management consultant expertise in developing positive employee relations that are so critical to sustainable business success. Our greatest satisfaction comes from helping people in organizations be the best they can be. 

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