Labor Relations Training: How You Can Put Knowledge into Action

Your frontline supervisors and managers are some of the most influential people helping your organization stay union-free by developing and maintaining positive employee relations. Higher-level executives, Human Resources professionals, compliance personnel, and senior-level managers make the policies based on legal and ethical standards. Still, it's your supervisors who are expected to routinely interpret, implement, execute and even defend the policies within boundaries of labor laws.

Your organization is responsible for ensuring employee rights are protected and must depend on the frontline supervisors and managers to act and behave to keep the organization safe from legal problems and proactively maintain positive employee relations 

Are Your Supervisors Prepared for Employee Union Questions?  

An employee approaches their supervisor and says, "My neighbor works down the street - where they just got a union -, and now she's making 75 cents an hour more! I think a union could really help us out around here; what do you think?"   

The way your supervisor answers that one question will immediately impact what the employee does next. If she's not satisfied with the answer or feels intimidated for asking, you can bet she will find other employees and ask the same question. Or she will contact a union representative at the union that just won an election where the neighbor works. She'll hear all kinds of union promises – many they shouldn't be making and can't keep – about higher pay, more benefits, flexible schedules, and a safer workplace. But the union lies sure sound nice to the employee. 

A supervisor is the "front line" of labor relations and must recognize and respond to employee situations that could potentially cause union issues. There is the very real risk of Unfair Labor Practices charges being filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), even when your leaders think they are doing the right thing or make one mistake. In uncertain times like today, having the skills to proactively manage positive employee relationships and union relationships, if unionized, has become more than important – it's critical.  

Labor Relations Training Focuses On The Information Your Leaders Need

What you learn fades as time goes by. When your leaders complete supervisor labor relations training, and a union organizing campaign has not been conducted for a long while or unions have not been a presence in any way, cognitive offloading takes place. Information not used regularly will recede in memory because the brain can only juggle so much at one time. There is solid science behind this statement. The information must be reviewed periodically to keep it in the active part of the brain.  

The Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve addresses the decrease in the brain's ability to retain memory as time goes by. The theory, verified through many subsequent studies over the years, says that humans begin losing memory as days and weeks go by unless the learned knowledge is reviewed repeatedly. Ebbinghaus' research found that memory retention is 100 percent when information is learned but drops at an exponential rate to 40 percent within a few days. After that, memory retention decline slows down, but learners forget an average of 90 percent of the information within the first month. Two of the most important factors affecting the rate of forgetting are the: 

  1. Meaningfulness of the information  
  2. The way information is presented 

When time goes by, and there is no union activity, memory fades. In the past, many managers might have been told not to say the "U" word, so they put unions out of their minds, and knowledge gained from training fades. But we are now in the Proactive Era, and you want people talking about unions but in the right way! You want employees coming to your supervisors to ask questions about unions and their rights, not turning to coworkers or union representatives whether they will come to your leaders' first hinges on having positive employee relations built on trust.  

A supervisor is the "front line" of labor relations - they must feel confident recognizing and responding to employee situations that could potentially lead to a union. #laborrelations #laborrelationstraining

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Labor Relations Refresher Training 

Refresher training on unions reviews important back-to-basics labor law to re-establish a knowledge foundation, strengthen communication skills and share new labor laws. The first step is refreshing supervisor knowledge through online supervisor training so they are prepared to answer questions thoughtfully and legally.  

How often should labor relations training for supervisors take place? The answer is: Regularly! Hermann Ebbinghaus addressed the forgetting process with the spacing effect, which is relevant to refresher training. Applying it to supervisor labor relations training: 

What Information Needs Refreshing?

Knowing the importance of labor relations training for managers and supervisors, the next question is: What critical information needs refreshing? Employer and employee rights are based on the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) provisions, and these provisions are interpreted and administered through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). One of the biggest challenges supervisors and managers face is avoiding saying something that violates the NLRA and leads to Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs) charges. It's easy to do, even when intentions are good. 

It's critical that supervisors understand the basics of labor law and what they can say and not say to employees. Just as important is presenting information in a way that clearly lets the employee know they can choose or not choose a union. If the employee talks to a union representative, it's certain the employee will not get both sides of the picture. Unions have more leeway than employers. That's a fact. The supervisor labor relations training to refresh knowledge includes topics like the following. 

  • Information about the NLRA and employee rights 
  • Role and authority of the NLRB 
  • Department of Labor (DOL) on employee rights  
  • TIPS and FOE rules 
  • Unfair labor practices (ULPs) 
  • Company philosophy on unions 
  • Union authorization cards  

However, the labor relationship refresher training needs to accomplish more than just sharing information about the NLRA provisions and ULPs because your supervisors need to be able to apply the information in real-world settings. They need wise words. Employees will approach supervisors with unanticipated questions about unions, and it's important to be able to respond in a positive factual manner. The supervisor labor relations training should share: 

  • How to apply the TIPS Rules to real conversations with employees 
  • How the FOE Guidelines can help supervisors know what to say 
  • How to use a Personal Opinion Statement 
  • Understanding the influence of unions 
  • Key phrases to listen for in employee questions about unions 
  • Behaviors and words the NLRB considers intimidating  

Laborwise Leadership training is specifically designed to help your leaders learn the Power of the Positive as the most powerful strategy for staying union-free. Your supervisors must be prepared to answer questions at any time. Unions make promises, but your supervisors only want to respond with FACTS.

Why Conduct Labor Relations Training?

So the question is: Can your managers and supervisors respond to employee questions without violating their rights and setting the company up for ULPs or a union organizing campaign? It's a delicate balancing act that makes the labor relations training courses safety nets.

Why should you conduct labor relations refresher training? The five main reasons are:

  • Labor laws change 
  • Knowledge is forgotten 
  • Skills must be practiced 
  • Employee questions are asked without warning 
  • Cannot anticipate what the employee questions will be 

The inability to predict employee questions makes supervisor labor relations training a proactive strategy to stay union-free. Your supervisors need to know the trigger words in employee statements that point to an interest in unions so they give the appropriate response. It takes carefully crafted wise words to avoid interfering with employee rights. 

Summing up the discussion on supervisor labor relations training are three lists. 

Ask yourself: Can your managers and supervisors respond to employee questions without violating their rights and setting the company up for ULPs or a union organizing campaign? They may need a #laborrelations #training refresher.

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11 Reasons Why Refresher Training is Beneficial for Supervisors 

Why should you conduct labor relations training for supervisors? The three main reasons are:  

  • Labor laws change 
  • Knowledge is forgotten 
  • Skills must be practiced 

These are the three broad reasons for conducting labor relations training for supervisors, but within these reasons are more details. 

  1. Employers face continuous new employment challenges, so relying on past issues and challenges leaves the organization vulnerable.  
  2. Supervisors have the most daily contact with employees. 
  3. Important for supervisors to know how to reinforce, improve and maintain positive employee relations 
  4. Reinforces the fact a labor union could appear at any time, even if there hasn't been a union organizing campaign in years 
  5. There is a pro-union trend with the support of the President, Democrats, and many state governments, so unions are more active than they have been in years. 
  6. Reinforces the organizational union philosophy and policy 
  7. Ensures supervisors are trained well so they don't become catalysts for union organizing. 
  8. Unions regularly change tactics, from using social media and apps for organizing to changing focus to topics like social justice (you can't anticipate how an employee question will be worded) 
  9. If unionized, a well-trained supervisor is unlikely to become a barrier to ratifying a new union collective bargaining agreement.  
  10. If unionized, the supervisor becomes an important person in maintaining union-management relations. 
  11. Supervisors learn to identify situations in which supervisors should inform management or seek assistance (know when expert guidance is needed from a labor professional to avoid saying something that will lead to a ULP. 

Sometimes, it's as important to know when to leave a conversation to someone more skilled, like a labor relations professional, than to jump into a conversation and risk saying the wrong thing. The labor relations training courses are designed to help supervisors make realistic assessments of conversations and behaviors that point to unions.  

Ten Benefits of Labor Relations Refresher Training

Many ULPs, EEOC claims, and litigations are due to a lack of knowledge of the nuances of labor relations. The NLRB is actively litigating cases for employees that involve supervisor and manager lack of awareness of employee protections. The benefits of labor relations training for managers and supervisors are many. 

  1. Keeps supervisors informed of changes in labor law and impacts of NLRB decisions 
  2. Helps supervisors maintain positive employee relations 
  3. Helps to avoid unintentional mistakes due to lack of knowledge that leads to a ULP or getting employees even more interested in unions 
  4. It helps supervisors understand the real impact they have on employees and the organization by what they say and do 
  5. Can ensure supervisors are familiar with updated resources and how to access them regularly to stay current in between training courses, like the union-focused website and all online supervisor training resources that include FAQs about unions and links to online documents and policies  
  6. May avoid a union campaign if employees are getting knowledgeable answers. 
  7. Reduces potential grievances and NLRB unfair labor practice charges 
  8. It helps the organization steer clear of activities like wrongful termination claims. 
  9. Improves ability to recognize signs a union is active and resolve them before they become grievances. 
  10. It helps supervisors identify gaps in their knowledge.

10 Signs Your Supervisors Need Labor Relations Refresher Training

Online labor relations training for managers and supervisors shouldn't be used only as a response to labor law violations. Walter Orechwa, Founder of UnionProof and A Better Leader, identified six of the signs an organization doesn't have the labor knowledge it needs, and it comes down to being informed and developing positive employee relations. So some of the signs there is a need for labor relations training for supervisors include when employee engagement and employee relations are suffering. 

  1. It's been a long period of time since the initial training. 
  2. Labor laws have changed, and NLRB decisions have changed employer requirements and exercise of rights, i.e., surveillance, social media, etc. 
  3. Supervisors don't understand how unions operate today. 
  4. Supervisors don't recognize obvious or subtle signs of organizing
  5. Grievances or complaints are regularly filed by the supervisor's team. 
  6. The supervisor always sends an employee to someone higher up to get answers to questions about unions. 
  7. Illegal supervisor work behaviors become evident. 
  8. The supervisor regularly fails to follow Human Resources policies which are based on labor law. 
  9. Department culture doesn't have a UnionProof culture
  10. Department has low employee engagement scores. 
Teach Managers How To Respond To Unionization

Trained Supervisors Lead to Positive Employee Relations

Keeping supervisors trained is important because they have what higher-level management wants – a relationship with employees. The supervisor is the person who can first discern employees are thinking about or talking to unions and the warning behaviors. They are the people who can leverage employee engagement so that employees feel comfortable asking questions. Do your supervisors know the early warning signs of disengaged employees? Do they know how to: 

The conversations your supervisors have with employees should become opportunities to share information about unions and opportunities to reinforce positive workplace experiences because management and employees work together. Your leaders can remind employees that working directly together to resolve concerns benefits everyone and name those benefits.  

Supervisors can also share personal experiences with unions because real-world experiences carry a lot of weight. The primary goal of labor relations training online is to maintain employer-employee relationships that lead to a motivated, productive, engaged, and high morale workforce. 

Words Matter 

Words are important for so many reasons. It matters what supervisors say to employees to ensure they don't trample on employees' legal rights—words matter in maintaining positive employee relations. Words matter when employees want to talk about unions. Words matter to avoid sounding retaliatory when employees exercise their rights. 

Keeping up with all of the required labor law training is a daunting task. Fortunately, not as daunting as it once was because supervisor labor relations training online makes training available 24/7 for supervisor convenience, intuitive and interactive. Content can be relevant, easily updated, and adaptable to employer needs and changes in the law.

Labor Relations Training for Supervisors  

Don't let your supervisors forget important labor law information or risk them saying the wrong things. Keep refreshing training opportunities. Along these lines, the A Better Leader team at Projections, Inc. developed a specific course called Wise Words to help your supervisors learn the right words for responding to employee questions about unions and the actionable steps to improve employee engagement and strengthen positive employee relations. 

This course, along with the many other leadership courses, continues the strong support we give organizations dealing with constant change. It's what LaborWise Leadership is all about – helping organizations stay union-free through effective leader communication no matter the situation at hand. 

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

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.

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