What’s in a Name?

Disputes often arise from good intentions gone wrong.

Source: Paul Lemon/Shutterstock
Source: Paul Lemon/Shutterstock

In a recent case, the Prairie North Health Region (PNHR) tried to amend its practice for employees wearing name tags.   The change was to have the full name (first and last), job title, and picture of the employee on an identity badge, rather than just the employee’s first name.  As noted in the article, the purpose of implementing this change came as a result of the employer wanting to promote a patient first philosophy and to equalize the balance of power between patient and health care provider.

Click Here to Read the Article.

The union representing the workers, CUPE Local 5111, disagreed and filed a grievance in order to stop this change in practice.  The grievance, as noted in the article was based on several grounds, with the allegation of violation of employee privacy as the primary concern. The matter was not resolved internally.  As a result, the dispute went to arbitration for a final resolution imposed by a three-party panel of arbitrators.

The arbitrators’ decision fell on the side of the union.  The employer had to rescind the new policy and had to implement new cards showing only employee first names, job titles along with a photo.

Click Here to Read the Case.

As you will note, this case is extensive.  It shows the amount of critical detail, witnesses, testimony, legislative impact, evidence of past practice and presentation of other precedent setting cases required in order for this matter to be resolved through a board of arbitration.  It was definitely a costly exercise for everyone involved.

Clearly, our names and our right to protect our own personal privacy has value.

One wonders, however, how much the value of good intentions truly cost all of the parties in this case.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who would benefit from employees wearing name tags with first and last name?
  2. Why do employees, in this case, have a ‘greater’ right to privacy than patients?
  3. What elements of this case would prevent it from being resolved within the applicable grievance resolution process?
  4. Why, do you think, a case like this would proceed to arbitration?
  5. What lessons would you take from your reading of this case?

 

Top down, Bottom up, New Union Trends!

Where Are Unions Going? How Should HR Respond?

The union movement, like any organization, is constantly changing for growth or survival. It seems that the current trend in unionization is downward. Unions are trying to reverse that trend.  Over the last decade membership in unions has declined for a variety of reasons; such as, a loss of manufacturing jobs, globalization, and privatization of traditional public sector jobs.

This following video discusses what unions are doing and how employers can respond.

Click Here to View the Video.

Mr. Sundeep Gokhale, a lawyer at Sherrard Kuzz discusses union organizing trends, including how unions are taking a more globalized approach to increasing their membership numbers. Union leaders are now putting pressure on employers to accept unionization, following the voluntary unionization of the workforce at Magna.

The following article highlights some of the new creative tactics unions are using to raise awareness and increase membership rates.

Click Here to Read the Article.

Some tactics are outlined below:

  • Improve membership by being proactive and creating a network of non-unionized youth
  • Instead of picketing hotel services, unions are replacing striking with street theater to negatively influence the public relations brand of the hotel
  • Spending money to aggressively organize the service sector and the white collar sector

UNIFOR, the largest private sector union, is planning to spend $10 million on organizing new members.  What will HR’s response be? Whether being unionized is good thing or a bad thing is an individual organizational perspective. Remember that what most employees want, is their fair share of the surplus value that they help produce. If that is not happening then unionization becomes a more appealing option to workers.  It seems that the combination of worker unrest and greater organizing tactics from large unions will result greater union membership growth in the coming years.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Your VP of HR is trying to be proactive to ensure a unionization drive does not happen in your organization. You have been asked to create a union prevention action plan, what will you present?
  2. What would promote private sector workers to unionize?
  3. What would promote service sector workers to unionize?

Whose Job Is It Anyway?

The Role of Human Resources in Labour Relations.

One of the trickiest elements that Human Resources professionals face is the need for clarity of the Human Resources role when working with managers in a unionized environment.  Viki Scott, of Scott & Associates, provides excellent insight into the pro-active role the Human Resources professional should play with regard to conflict management and manager management in a labour relations setting. View her interview, below.

Human Resources has a unique role in walking the tightrope between management and union representation.  While it may be difficult at times, part of this unique role allows for the benefit of accumulating organizational knowledge from each particular situation in which the Human Resources professional is involved.  When the Human Resources professional works with managers on an individual basis, she or he is able to collect an inventory of situations that may or may not have had successful resolution.  This should allow the Human Resources professional to share that accrued insight with managers on a pro-active basis.  If the Human Resources professional is able to intervene pro-actively, they should be instrumental in preventing workplace situations from escalating, due to the breakdown of workplace relationships and the escalation of unwanted employee and management behaviours.

There is a saying, that past behaviour predicts future behaviour.  By relying on what is learned from working with the behaviours of others in the past, the Human Resources professional can and should play a critical role in shaping the best of management behaviours for future success.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why would managers benefit from coaching by the HR professional in any unionized organization?
  2. Why should HR professionals not take ownership for management roles?
  3. What impact does a negative relationship or behaviour issue have on the work environment?
  4. What is the difference between consensus bargaining and wage bargaining?
  5. Why is consensus bargaining more prevalent in this current economy?

Do We Need Unions in Order to Manage Effectively?

In our study of Industrial Relations, it is natural that we look at the management perspective within a unionized context.  The typical perspective in this setting is that the union represents the voice of the workers in the necessary fight for equality, transparency, and the breaking down of traditional hierarchical barriers.  Management, on the other hand, is represented as the ‘master’ in the ‘master-servant’ relationship.  In this type of traditional hierarchical paradigm, management is seen as unbending, unwilling to listen, and unable to connect with employees.

Source: Stankovic/Shutterstock
Source: Stankovic/Shutterstock

There is no doubt that these types of relationships continue in varying degrees in all of our Canadian workplaces.   There is, however, a significant shift in executive leadership and management style that is now starting to change this polarized perspective.

Peter Aceto is the CEO for Tangerine Banking Services in Canada.  In a recent interview, Mr. Aceto describes his non-traditional approach to effective leadership.

Click here to read the artcile.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Aceto’s approach to working with employees and breaking down hierarchical barriers seems more like that of a traditional union leader than that of the traditional CEO.  It presents a fundamental opportunity for change.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify two management practices that the CEO of Tangerine has implemented that would typically be fought for by a union.
  2. What benefits would a union bring to this type of a workplace environment?
  3. What are the risks to this type of management style in a non-unionized workplace?
  4. How does this non-traditional leadership style appeal to you?

Promises Made, Promises Broken

Simply put, the collective agreement is an employment contract.  As you will remember from your employment law studies, any employment contract that is formed between two parties, must have an offer, acceptance, and consideration in order for that contract to be enforceable.   In a unionized environment, each time the collective agreement is renewed through the legitimate process of collective bargaining, these principles of offer, acceptance, and consideration remain in play.  Once the parties have agreed to the terms of renewal, they have a contract between them.  Signed, sealed, and delivered.

Source: ALEXSTAND/Shutterstock
Source: ALEXSTAND/Shutterstock

The collective agreement is not a one sided ‘union’ contract that the employer can ignore.  It is a contract between two parties.  Nothing will harden and sour the relationship between an employer and a union more than the perception that the employer is ignoring the terms of a negotiated, settled, and accepted collective agreement.

Let’s look at this from a personal perspective.  If I agree to sell my house to a buyer, we negotiate the sale of the house and everything that is agreed and committed through a signed contract.  If that contract includes the agreement on my part to leave all of the window dressings in place, then I leave them in place!   I don’t take them with me or destroy them – That is not what I agreed to do.  If I do take them with me, I should expect a very unfavourable reaction from the other party because I have deliberately broken the contract between us. Actions are similar with collective agreement administration.  If the employer agrees to something during the life of the agreed upon contract, and then breaks that agreement, the union is going to react in a negative way.  This result should not be a surprise to anybody with the responsibility for administering a collective agreement.

Yet, it happens, as is discussed in the article, below.

Click here to read the article. 

It is easy to be an armchair critic and wonder why the employer, in this case, would have agreed to a commitment of no layoffs during the life of a collective agreement if they knew they could not afford it. We must remember that any contract negotiation is never straightforward and we have to live with the results.

What are the Human Resources lessons to take from all of this?  Effective HR planning and preparation for realistic implementation of a collective agreement is critical!  And, do not make promises you can not keep.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What types of terms could have been negotiated into this collective agreement?
  2. What could the employer have done differently in order to lessen the impact on unionized employees?
  3. Identify three specific pieces of information that an HR practitioner could have included as part of collective bargaining preparation?
  4. What steps would you advise the union to follow in this case?