Workplace Health and Safety Committees Are Needed NOW!

The news reports on the coronavirus have come fast and furious with everything from the daily counts to, more recently,  lifting stay-at-home orders and re-opening businesses.  The lifting of stay-at-home orders and re-openings may be good or may be bad but  the reports offer little insight as to the plans needed no matter when the day will come.

In some locations, committees of business owners and managers are looking at new protocols and protections to keep workers safe when they return.   That sounds great but have they involved the people that actually do the jobs to get their input as to what might help? After all, who but those on the front lines know best about the challenges that occur or can occur.

In unionized organizations, joint health and safety committees have long established a positive proactive record of creating safer and healthier workplaces which has also transferred to improving lives for everybody. Two articles from the National Institutes of Health,  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318309/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4880255/, confirm the important role unions have played in improving health and safety not just in the workplace but in communities, too.

Successful health and safety committees are not limited to  unionized plants.  Many non-union facilities also have done great things.  We have blogged before about Skinner Diesel and their successful safety committee.  The owner was ready to close his shop several years ago when he experienced significant  costs associated with workplace accidents.  Before the safety committee, he tried the typical safety slogans, pictures and games but they didn’t work.  Within  a year of starting the committee,  there was a huge improvement and it has continued with multiple years of no accidents. The owner attributes it to the employees and their ability to lead others to work safely.  The business has expanded and employees have seen an increase in financial rewards and benefits.

So if these committees work, why aren’t more workplaces doing them?  There are a multitude of excuses.  Some think safety committees are a waste of time and provide little benefit or owners or managers lack the patience and think the process will be too slow or meetings will be unproductive and argumentative.  And, of course, there are some who think workers simply don’t have enough knowledge and can’t suggest good ideas or they think the ideas will cost too much.

Getting worker participation can be a problem, too, especially if workers see little benefit.  They know the difference between actual commitment and lip-service.  If workers don’t see value placed on their ideas or have concerns about repercussions participation will be low to non-existent.

What can benefit the process is trust.  Skepticism will prevail by both sides until each show a level of commitment to create a safer and healthier work environment.  Depending on the existing relationship, trust may take a long time or it may not.  More than likely  it will take some work to convince both sides that there is a sincere, sustained effort to make it happen. Conversely, both sides need to realize trust can be broken quickly and the damage can take longer to repair so honesty and sincerity are absolute necessities along with any apology that may be needed.

One of the biggest factors that continues to help at Skinner is when the committee identifies something as a possible hazard, it’s acted upon relatively quick.  The employees see their ideas valued and there is a genuine interest to create safe environment.  That helps to build ongoing trust and commitment for both the owner and the employees.

In an article on the website of the Society for Human Resource Management(SHRM), the author states  health and safety committees have a lot of benefits but below are a few recommendations the article also mentioned that can help create a successful experience.

Near the beginning of the article it talks about the process is not a quick fix.  This is extremely important for people to understand.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  Patience is essential.  It also can mean some extra work especially up front and until the committee members are working together.  In addition, the health and safety committee should be working on real problem solving and problem solving may take some time depending on the issue being addressed.  It’s important to allow that to happen.

it’s imperative to lay a firm foundation when thinking about establishing a health and safety committee.  If that isn’t done, there is good likelihood a committee will have obstacles placed before it which could lead to the committee’s demise.  The foundation items are next.

First and foremost is to make sure there is buy-in and support for the committee process throughout the organization especially at the top.  If the organization is unionized, that buy-in and support must also come from the union side.

Along with support is to make sure everyone understands what the committee is about.  Expectations for the work of the committee need to be established.  Will the committee make decisions or provide recommendations?  Will someone be overseeing the committee or will the committee be overseeing itself?  Does the committee  have a budget or is there a certain financial limit as to what they can do?  These are some of the questions that need to be decided up front before the committee is formed.

Another important item is the  committee make-up.  There should be both managers and employees on the committee.  Each bring a different perspective that is necessary.  It’s also important the committee be representative of the organization even if that means a rather large committee.  Some think large committees don’t function well but with the work we have done size doesn’t matter.  We’ve seen large committees do better than small committees.  It depends on the commitment of the members.

As a committee gets started, regular meetings are necessary to help make the process credible and  to allow the committee time to do their work.  These meetings need to be at least monthly so problem solving can take place.  If meetings are not scheduled, or are cancelled, members will lose faith with the process.  Setting meeting schedules such as the first Wednesday of every month or the last Wednesday helps everyone to realize it is an important process.  This is not to say there probably will be times when a meeting may have to be cancelled but for the most part, meeting dates and times should be established and conducted.

Getting some assistance is something the article suggests.  There is a great myth out there that putting people together automatically makes them a team.  Wrong!  How people work as a team is critically important to its work.  For example, teams go through various stages of development.  Having somebody available to help the team navigate through stages will help them be more productive.

These are just a few recommendations but what’s more important is workers, both managers and employees,  should have a voice in making their workplaces safer especially now. The process has been proven to work.  Starting a safety committee is a great way to start working together because safety is  something most everyone can agree about and that can lead to other areas where people can work together.  Check the CALMC Channel on YouTube for videos that can help with a committee process.  Coming soon is a section of videos for supervisors.

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Three Things to Remember About Crisis Communications

Effective communications are important for any organization, but it is more crucial now. During uncertainty we must take extra steps to be sure everyone is informed about what is happening.

While everyone realizes the importance of effective communications, few actually put it into practice. In a recent study, Gallup reported only 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. This study was conducted pre-pandemic, so you can imagine the strain being placed on employers by continuing poor communications.

With that in mind, here are three things to remember about communication in times of crisis.

  1. Communications must begin quickly and be focused on the facts about what is happening.

Some employers have dropped the ball when it comes to communications with employees. People want to know what is happening and the want to know it now.  Lauren Landry from Northeastern University points out with the rise of digital and social media, everyone expects a quick response to issues that arise. Landry contends in most cases, if you don’t respond within the first few hours, people typically jump to conclusions.

In the absence of complete information, speculation steps in to fill the void. The rumor mill in your organization is not in quarantine. It is still running, probably faster than ever if you are not communicating with employees. If you provide all relevant information in a timely manner, these rumors can be quelled and you will remain in control of your message.

Rumors cause insecurity among employees. Leaders – labor and management – need to consider potential stressors that fuel rumors and address them. The newfound concerns employees have about their day-to-day work and job security provides more impetus for rumors.

The Gallup study lists some of the unknowns fueling the rumor mills right now:

  • What do the ongoing changes in the business landscape mean for our company’s bottom line?
  • Now that we’re all working from home, will our office ever reopen?
  • Will layoffs happen without notice?
  • What will happen to benefits and bonuses?
  • We went digital pretty much overnight — will my role even be needed anymore?

Has your organization addressed these concerns? If not, the resulting speculation is probably worse than the reality.

  1. Keep your communications fact-based and realistic.

Stick to the facts. Employees want to know what is really happening. The moment you deviate from the facts you create new problems.

As the Gallup article points out, “Because leaders care a great deal about inspiring their followers, there can sometimes be a temptation to steer clear of negative (or real) issues. But when the inspirational messages don’t align with reality — it’s a big problem.”

Consider the communications we have received from elected leaders. It has often reflected speculation about what they want to believe or want us to accept. The result has been talking heads from both sides pointing out possible flaws in the message. Instead of quelling rumors and bringing people together, existing divides are encouraged and widened.

Leaders need to build trust through honesty. Jonathan Bernstein points out the problems that result when leaders are not completely honest.

  • Operational response will break down.
  • Stakeholders will not know what is happening and quickly become confused, angry, and negatively reactive.
  • The organization will be perceived as inept, at best, and criminally negligent, at worst.
  • The length of time required to bring full resolution to the issue will be extended, often dramatically.
  • The impact to the financial and reputational bottom line will be more severe.

Things spiral further out of control when adverse reactions to non-factual statements provide a response of more non-facts. Credibility is lost, and even when the crisis has passed, the organization will be damaged, perhaps irreparably.

  1. Don’t Play the Blame Game

Too often, the first step in problem solving is finding who to blame. The desire to blame others is an attempt to divert attention from our own failures, even if we are at fault. Blame finding also delays or prevents the search for real solutions. It also is an attempt to put ourselves ahead of the people who were impacted by the problem.

It’s really a very simple concept – attack problems, not people. Pointing fingers has no place in problem solving. Even if your actions contributed to the problem, you still need to search for real solutions that put people first. That’s what real leaders do.

Eventually, every organization will have the need for crisis communications. The best workplaces have developed a plan in advance for how to operate under these circumstances. For help developing your crisis communications plan, contact us at CALMC.

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A Few Ideas For Remote Meetings

In this week’s blog, we’re going to continue with the topic from our blog two weeks ago about remote work. That blog was about  a report from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s  Sloan Management  School citing a study that showed positive results for remote work but this week we want to take it a step further and offer a few techniques that will hopefully help others to have just as successful experience as reported in the study.

The report from MIT Sloan Management also told remote work is not for everybody but because we’re in such a unique time, remote work for some is practically necessary.  Team work is best when members have that face-to-face contact such as in their meetings but the techniques we’ll suggest can provide the necessary structure to help teams continue to make accomplishments during their time at home.

Before identifying a few techniques, there are a couple of other things that will help give a more firm foundation to make the techniques and remote work be successful. Commitment by all members is absolutely important.  Some of these techniques may feel like a slow moving process but the commitment to at least try is necessary. We tell any team we train that the biggest thing we see in whether or not a team is successful is by the amount of commitment they have.  It’s the same and probably more with remote teams.

The other thing is supervisors can play a big part in making the techniques work so the work-at-home experience can be productive.  Again, it’s necessary supervisors have the commitment to try them and take on a new role as a facilitator.  It may be some supervisors already do that role but for those that haven’t it can be a different experience and patience is needed.  Using the techniques may give supervisors opportunity to do other things as they delegate more to staff which assists with staff development.  Supervisors as facilitators is also needed in the actual workplace setting and will provide the same positive results for everybody if done correctly.

Getting connected to each other also plays a big part.  If supervisors and their teams can get together through video conferencing, that’s great!  Phone conferences can also be important.  Following up with chats or emails will help and using a combination of all the above is great, too.  Video conferencing lets everybody see the visuals which can be particularly important for some team members.

Setting up a regular schedule will help provide structure and will help maintain spirits and morale.  Plus, there may be those who would prefer knowing specifically when a meeting will take place especially if they have something to report or do at the meeting.

So let’s get started!  We’ll begin with supervisors as facilitators.

Facilitator role:  A facilitator acts as a guide and doesn’t get involved in content.  That also means supervisors will provide support in this role.  It also means more listening than talking. The team will be involved in the content, or doing the talking and discussion.  Supervisors can guide the process through questions.  These questions should be done to provoke thought and not manipulate discussion or team plans but more about getting people to think.  Teams may come up with a plan the supervisor may not like or think will work but it will be necessary to let the plan proceed and see what happens.  In other words, the supervisor as the facilitator needs to take risks.  Team decisions and plans can be learning experiences no matter if the outcome is good or bad.  A good facilitator has the necessary tools in the tool bag to help teams get stuck.  It will be no different in a virtual meeting as in a real-live version.  Supervisors need to be prepared and the next suggestions are tools that can help everybody.  It will be up to the supervisor to know when to use them.

Use a problem-solving process: Once again, it will provide structure that can quickly lose momentum because of everyone being separated and not being comfortable with the virtual process.  There are several processes out there.  The American Society for Quality has a four-step model on their website.  We use a six-step. W. Edwards Deming’s process was similar to the four-step with Plan, Do, Check, Act. This will help teams stay focused and act as a guide on the project they’re addressing plus it’s just an overall good tool to use anytime with projects or problems.  It may take several meetings to complete all the steps but supervisors acting as facilitators can help the team follow the preferred model.

Round-robin brainstorming:  Most of us think of brainstorming as being more sporadic or a “pop corn” style.  That may be a technique that can be used some times but a round-robin approach will include everybody which may be good with video conferencing.  With video conferencing it can be much easier for people to sit back and not participate.  This technique allows everyone to participate.  It’s a matter of going from one person to the next and getting only one idea at a time.  That continues until all ideas have been suggested.  One caution:  don’t stop too soon.  Sometimes when it gets quiet people think they’re done when they may not be.  People can be thinking of other ideas.  This is a much more productive approach to brainstorming and keeps people from straying on to other topics.

Consensus:  A lot of people fear consensus because they think it’s difficult to achieve.  We’ve worked with many different groups and very rarely have we had problems getting a group to come to consensus.  It’s important to let teams have time to discuss.  Problem solving is not a race but should be a process that allows teams to explore all the issues with the project or problem they’re working on and come up with multiple solutions to choose.  Getting all the necessary facts helps teams come to consensus and that’s a good question a facilitator can ask teams – “Do we have all the facts?”  Another “popular” concern people have about consensus is about the one person that will hold them from coming to consensus.  It’s important to LISTEN to what that person is saying.  That person may have a legitimate reason for not agreeing with everybody.  It can help the team come up with alternatives they hadn’t thought about.  Again, this is where the supervisor acting as a facilitator can provide support to the team.  Just as the entire problem-solving process is not a race neither is consensus.  It may not happen in one meeting especially if more information is needed.

Other meeting techniques that can help:  Make sure there is a note-taker.  Teams may need to go back and review what they decided.  Minutes of a meeting should include those who were present, the items discussed and any decisions related to those items.  Also any responsibilities that were assigned need to be included which can act as a reminder for people.  Distribute minutes as soon as possible and make sure everyone is in agreement with what is reported.  Establish the next meeting’s agenda before the end of the current meeting.  That way everybody will have opportunity to have input.  If anything comes up that needs to be added designate a contact person to add it to the agenda.  It could be the supervisor.

These are just a few ideas we have used with groups.  Whether a group is meeting live or in a virtual meeting space, the suggestions provided work.  Working with people in a live setting is not always as easy as we think but when you are working remotely, that can create even more challenges.  That’s why it’s so important to add some structure to the meeting process and keep the team focused on what they’re trying to accomplish.  If that happens, it can provide the same success others have found with remote work!  For more ideas or to have a more visual training, visit the CALMC channel on YouTube.

 

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“The Only Thing We Have to Fear….”

Lately it seems like we have plenty to fear. The Corona Virus has supplied plenty of things to worry about, and politicians have played on fear like it is a game. Others have tried to pretend facts were fabrications and don’t exist.

There is something I fear that has really shown itself: ignorance. It is ignorance that has compounded the problems we face and made them more deadly.

Let me note there is a difference between stupidity and ignorance. Stupidity means the individual does not have the capacity to understand a situation. We’re all somewhat stupid about some things. Just give me a musical instrument and I’ll prove it for myself.

Ignorance reflects an unwillingness to perceive and understand what is going on. A lot of the ignorance we’ve seen has come from smart people who simply will not accept the reality that is right in front of them or choose to deny the science behind what is happening. They also may manipulate reality into something that suit their purposes.

For example, the Governor of Georgia this week was dispensing misinformation about the virus and its spread. He then capped it off by reopening the beaches, inviting more people to congregate and spread the virus. The result can be confusion and misunderstanding about what his citizens need to do to stay safe.

Not to be outdone, the Governor of Florida, after refusing to issue a stay-at-home order, decided that he should exempt religious services from his eventual mandate. Does he honestly believe a virus cannot spread in a church, where social distancing is not likely? In this case, his ignorance could have deadly results.

Politicians have regularly demonstrated their ignorance. Whether it’s the President and his family with their constantly changing interpretations of what is happening or those who still want to downplay the reality we face that end up hurting people.

How about the train engineer in California who intentionally derailed his locomotive in a failed attempt to ram the hospital ship that had just docked. His excuse was he did not believe the reasons given about why it was there. A friend posted “information” about how New York was hiding a thousand respirators to make the administration look bad. This, along with the myriad of other conspiracy theories only get in the way of dealing with the reality of the situation and reestablishing public trust.

We also need to realize that ignorance can breed stupid actions. For example, the death threats against Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been a hero for basing his statements on scientific reality even if it meant disagreeing with those in power, show the depths of stupidity with which good people must deal.

As we mentioned two weeks ago, we have seen increasing levels of disrespect for workers during this time. Last week, unemployment applications in my home county were up over 3,000%. Even so, congress was very reluctant to provide extended paid family leave, sick leave or extended unemployment benefits. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) went so far as to claim providing better unemployment benefits would make nurses lazy and not want to return to work. He stated nurses making $15 per hour would quit their jobs to collect unemployment benefits that would be around $24 per hour.

This presented three immediate failures in reasoning. 1) Nurses (LPN and RN) make more than $15 per hour unless they are grossly underpaid. 2) You can’t quit your job and collect unemployment. 3) Apparently the Senator has not been paying attention to the tremendous, dangerous work being done by nurses during this crisis. His willingness to demean these professionals, particularly now, shows the lack of respect he and many of his colleagues have for workers.

It is said that ignorance is bliss. If that is true, there are a lot of happy people out there. Unfortunately too many of them are in charge. That’s what I fear.

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Let Teams Make The Decision

Last week’s blog identified some of the challenges we all are facing with the onset of the coronavirus.  Some workplaces have had to close and some are staying open.  Workers such as barbers,  beauticians, restaurant workers and others are facing unemployment.  Workers in organizations that are open face their own concerns and fears about health and job uncertainty.  And then there are other workers who continue to have a job and may be fortunate to work from home or work remotely.

While working from home currently seems to be the panacea for some workplaces, some in the recent past have been considering  abandoning remote work or at least have been questioning its worthiness.

The Society of Human Resources (SHRM) last year reported some of the larger workplaces that had been using remote work for such things as to save on office space costs and provide an employee benefit had decided to eliminate it.

According to the SHRM article, employers had different reasons for wanting to end remote working.  Some were concerned employees wouldn’t have everything they needed or had the skills needed to work from home.  Others were concerned supervisors’ would be unable  to manage remote work or they wouldn’t have the skills to manage the work.  There were also some who had trust issues with the entire work from home process.  They were afraid employees would take advantage of it and not do work or be less productive.

But MIT Sloan Management gave other impressions recently of remote work.  They  reported  on a study done over two years by one of their professors and a University of Minnesota professor.  The professors had been included with others on a workplace project.  The workplace called in experts because they realized they had some problems.  They paid good wages but employees were extremely stressed and turnover was high plus they were having trouble attracting new hires.  The professors conducted a  workplace assessment and found employees had to immediately respond to emails, go to meetings and maintain chat messaging.  All of that prevented them from leaving work on time and also meant late commutes home.  Based on the results of the assessment, the professors decided to start an experiment.  Some workers were placed in a controlled setting of teams that allowed them to make decisions about their daily work routine. Some of the teams decided to work two or three days from home and some continued to work at the office.

Another article from MIT Sloan gave additional information about the experiment including employee reactions. Many of those working from home said they preferred it because they could get their work done.  There were not the interruptions they had at the office.   One employee said she got more accomplished since she no longer got involved with issues that prevented her from staying focused on her work.

There was also another benefit for the managers and employees working from home.  They enjoyed the ability to flex their hours while they worked from home.  Instead of working their regular time, they could address personal obligations and there was no question about the work not getting done.  By flexing hours and addressing their personal obligations, it also meant working late in the evening or on Saturdays but that was okay because it met their needs.  Not only were people trusted but the work got done!

Those that preferred working at the office were better off, too, as the requirement to immediately respond to emails, or go to meetings or maintain chat messaging was changed to something more doable.  The people working in the office said they  liked being around co-workers and being able to separate the work issues from home life.  But the most important takeaway from everyone was their overall ability to make a choice between working at the office and working from home.

In addition, the decision to alter the work routine was not mandated by a few but by teams of people who actually did the work, both managers and employees. Just as many other good teams have done, the teams in that workplace looked at the problems they were facing, gathered information and came up with a solution that was acceptable to everyone.  The information they looked at included what they did, their personal work style and what needed to be accomplished. Executives and upper management of the workplace were willing to take the risk and support the teams’ decisions which was extremely important!

The stress and turnover problems that caused the workplace to call experts in initially  were minimized but, unfortunately, another problem occurred.  The workplace was bought by another organization.  Despite data showing positive results for the workplace, everybody ended up back in the office again as new management didn’t like the work arrangements.

It’s true, just as the study revealed, remote work isn’t for everybody.  For some, it’s easy to maintain a focus on work, create an at-home routine and  work alone.  For others, though, as in the experiment, being able to go to an actual work setting is better. It becomes an individual style just like personality or learning styles are different for everybody. It’s also true not all work environments can support remote work such as with a factory setting.  In situations like we’re currently in, remote work on a temporary basis may be the best and only option but everybody needs to be involved in the discussion, planning and decision making.

But it also means more permanent remote work possibilities should not be overlooked because they can be productive and done in a successful way that also allows organizations to show support for employees. As with many new things, it may mean a different set of tools and a new way of thinking and doing.  Training for both employees and supervisors may be needed.  It also may mean some real risk-taking and trust. It also can be a change of thinking or believing that most people want to do a good job and should be respected for their abilities and knowledge.

All of those things shouldn’t be the sole determinant of whether or not to do remote work.  It may be part of it but what’s really more important is exactly what happened at the workplace in the experiment – the ability for teams of people to make their own decisions.

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Three Things to Remember During the Pandemic – **ALSO** Important CALMC Information

If you are like me, you are spending a lot more time at home practicing “social distancing” It’s a term that describes my high school days, but now has new meaning.

I want to share some things to think about this week, and also share some news with you.

  1. Teachers are the Largely Unsung Heroes of the Pandemic

In just a few days teachers revised the system of instruction, replacing face-to-face teaching with on-line and distance learning. In doing so, they have demonstrated not only their skills, but also their ability to work in teams and collaborate.

Rewriting the entire curriculum delivery including methods to engage students in their learning is a significant feat in its own right. What is even more impressive is the speed with which it was accomplished. Lessons are now on line, classes are being run with video, chat rooms, and discussion boards, and teachers have set up virtual help sessions. Real learning is taking place, and the development process is continuing as the uncertainty about schools reopening grows.

Looking ahead, students will have the opportunity to finish the curriculum for this year and be prepared to move on to the next class in the fall. They have accomplished all of this without the support or suggestions from the U.S. Department of Education.

One additional side benefit is also emerging. Parents who are now responsible for keeping their students on track are developing a new appreciation for teachers, their skills, and their patience.

Bear in mind that, in most cases, teachers have developed all the new material and methodology on their own time with no additional compensation. They have freely shared their material, methods, and ideas with colleagues in their schools and other districts around the country.

That’s what happens when teachers don’t have to worry about teaching to standardized tests!

  1. Stick to the Science

Have you heard that if you can take a deep breath and hold your breath for more than 10 seconds without coughing or discomfort, you are not infected with the Corona virus? How about advice that you should take a few sips of water at least every 15 minutes as this will wash the virus down through your throat and into the stomach? Once there, your stomach acid will kill all the virus. Maybe you’ve heard that gargling with salt water will eliminate the Coronavirus?

These three examples have one thing in common – they are completely false.

Misinformation such as this can hurt people if it deludes them into thinking they do not need to avoid the virus or get tested. Clinging to simple solutions or what we would like to be true can be harmful.

In recent years scientists have been discredited when their research is not in line with political views or current fads. Some people ignore scientific evidence and cling to the opinions of a celebrity or rock star with no training in the field. Recently, we are hearing that vaccines will be available quickly (they won’t), there will be plenty of test kits available this week (there aren’t), or a vaccine for one disease will mysteriously work on the Coronavirus (possible, but not likely). Each of these was planned to distract people from the facts and build false hope. Although medical professionals and scientists point out they are false, much of the public clings to them because of who spread the message.

The implications from all of this for our workplaces is the danger they present in trying to limit the scope of the disease and getting people back to work. Workplace health and safety is not a labor or management responsibility, it is in the best interest of both to improve these areas. By sticking to the facts, objective evidence, and quality scientific research we can be better at solving problems.

  1. Remember the Workers

From the pandemic we again see evidence of how our leadership values (or doesn’t value) workers. Examples of this include:

Efforts to provide paid family leave for workers. This issue has divided our politicians along party lines. Even in our current situation, family leave provisions were weakened in the legislation as it made its way through Congress. Extended leave will not be available for people who are sick with COVID-19. Those workers would only be able to take 10 days of paid sick leave, but only if they work at a company with fewer than 500 employees. Also, companies with fewer than 50 workers can apply for hardship relief and get out of providing both sick and family leave.

Companies have used a variety of techniques to avoid responsibility for family leave. Employees of a major grocery chain with over 400,000 employees reportedly told the political newsletter Popular Information that due to that policy, they wouldn’t be paid for work they missed due to illness ― which all but ensures they’d go to work sick. The company would, however, provide every associate with a $25 gift card to “show how much [the company] appreciates and acknowledges you.”

On the other hand, the cuts to worker leave can help fund the huge bailouts coming to the airline, travel, and hospitality industries.

Long term impact on the economy. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin warned that without government intervention, the unemployment rate could rise to nearly 20%. Tens of thousands of workers have already lost their jobs with more added each day. First-time unemployment claims increased by 33% in the last week. Mass layoffs can mean loss of health coverage in the middle of a pandemic.

How does the government respond to the news?  The Trump administration’s Labor Department sent an email to state officials this week asking them to report new unemployment claims only in “generalities” to avoid spooking financial markets, The New York Times reported.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Corporate Responsibility

Keep an eye on corporate response to this crisis to gauge their level of corporate responsibility. The results can be surprising.

The New York Post reports video game retail giant GameStop called itself “essential retail” in a memo to employees, instructing them to keep stores open — despite local governments nationwide issuing lockdowns amid the coronavirus crisis. Employees reported wishing the stores would close to protect themselves and their families.

In the past we have been critical of rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft for their treatment of their drivers. I want to commend them this week, as they have announced plans to provide funds for drivers affected by coronavirus. According to The Hill, an Uber spokesperson stated the rideshare company will make funds available to drivers infected or quarantined due to the virus to make up for up to 14 days of lost revenue. Lyft stated that it would provide similar compensation to its drivers, and DoorDash and Instacart are also reportedly considering providing funds to their drivers. This will be particularly helpful to drivers, as in most states

unemployment insurance programs are not available for gig workers or part-time workers who lose their jobs.

The most important message today is practice social distancing and remember the needs of workers who are either laid off or are working under even more stressful conditions than normal. Also, be sure to remember the dedication shown by teachers in revising the entire system of instruction for their students.

I’ll close this topic with a quote from Isle of Palms, SC, Mayor Jimmy Carroll. “People need to prepare but they don’t need to be crazy.”

 

Some quick notes about CALMC, our response to the pandemic, and new online postings.

This week, we made the decision to close the CALMC office until at least April 6. This is being done out of an abundance of concern for Meredith and myself as well our families and our clients.

Even though the office is closed, we are still working. You can still reach us by email (preferred) and phone. Contact information is available on our website. We will reassess our reopening date in advance of April 6.

In the meantime, we want to increase the learning opportunities we offer in our on-line libraries. We posted a new Quick Takes video, the second part of our look at Frequently Asked Questions about consensus decision making.  This video and the others in the series are available from the On-Demand tab on our website.

We also added a new podcast, the fourth part in our series about the life and career of Eugene Brundige, a labor leader, agency manager, and neutral. This segment covers his career as an arbitrator and a neutral. You can also find our podcasts on the On-Demand tab of the website.

A couple of weeks ago we told you about our CALMC Membership Meeting that focused on an upcoming project, A Soldier’s Journey Home. If you missed it, we encourage you to go back and learn more about this great effort to help a wounded veteran.

This week, we added photos from the meeting to our Facebook page. You can view the photo library by clicking on the link.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Managing Change, Sharing Economy, Workplace Health and Safety | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Did You Know TV Shows Can Help With Leadership Skills?

We don’t ordinarily think about television shows as being learning tools but there are a couple of shows that  have provided some lessons on leadership skills.  Each represents a completely different style.

One of those shows is NCIS: New Orleans and, if you’ve been watching, you know the character, Sebastian, is kind of evolving from his forensic role.  In an episode from a couple of weeks ago, Sebastian attends a leadership training session and ends up as team leader.  He gets a call from Hannah, a lead team member from the New Orleans group, and while on the phone with her, he asks her for advice on being a team leader.

Hannah gives great advice.  She tells Sebastian he needs to respect everyone’s differences plus he needs to understand and acknowledge his team members’ strengths and weaknesses.  She tells him he needs to tell his own strengths and weaknesses so he can relate better to them.  The other important thing Hannah says to him is he needs to allow them a voice in solving the problems they face and LISTEN to them.

Sebastian follows Hannah’s advice as he takes full responsibility for a failed mission and explains the reasons to his team.  This prompts his team members to also tell their strengths and weaknesses.  As Sebastian listens to them, he agrees with them about their strengths but as they tell about their weaknesses he reminds them who they are and what they can do to overcome those weaknesses.

In another segment of the episode, Sebastian again takes Hannah’s advice and shows compassion on a team member when the team member explains with good reason why he had to break the rules and bring his cell phone to connect with his son. Sebastian, again listening to the team member,  says as the team leader he’ll take responsibility for the phone and will hand it over when the son calls.

While the NCIS: New Orleans episode provides a positive model for effective leadership skills, another show offers a great example of an ineffective leadership style.  On Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, Briana, Grace and Robert’s daughter, has taken over her mother’s company.  Briana is anything but a leader.

She is very demanding of employees, including of her sister who is an employee.  In one episode a typical expectation of any employee is shown when Briana tells her sister she needs to stay at work to help with reports instead of going home to her kids.  Briana has no problem telling people when they’ve done something wrong but rarely tells them when they’ve done something right.  Providing praise is not her strength. She also is quick to point out the faults in others but she sees no wrong with what she does even when she clearly is in the wrong.  Briana has a difficult time when people want to leave the organization.  It’s difficult for her to understand because she believes she provides the best possible working place.

Despite the shows being designed for entertainment, they do provide some examples of leadership styles that can be typical of the workplace.  Even though they may give the impression leadership skills are easy to pick up, as in one or a few episodes, they still help demonstrate a skill set.  Sebastian’s style is very much the participative management or coaching style that works with teams and their development.  An article in Forbes magazine also emphasizes many of the skills from the NCIS show.  The article says some of the skills Briana displays may be tempting but they aren’t the skills of good leaders or managers and that her leadership style is not what’s needed in today’s workplaces.

In a high-performance work system, leaders encourage the involvement of employees and want them to be creative and  come up with new ideas.  It’s the same type of behavior exhibited by Hannah and Sebastian.  As Hannah said, it’s important to allow team members to have a voice and LISTEN to them.  This may require being open-minded and taking some risk but it helps with development not only for individuals but also for an entire team.

Leaders, like Sebastian, are coaches.  They recognize the abilities of employees.  They know their strengths but they also know where employees may need a little more assistance and support.   Good leaders help with success not just with individuals but to make the entire team successful.

If an employee or team needs some additional training, good leaders make that happen.  They know their investment in that training will translate into rewards for everybody on an ongoing basis.  It’s  part of the respect and belief leaders have in the people that work for them.

When leaders follow these types of behaviors it does great things for the workplace.  Issues of low morale go away, relationships and communication improve.  It also increases productivity and decreases turnover costs as people are more likely to remain.  The overall atmosphere is one where everybody can be proud to call their workplace.

As far as Briana’s style goes, there may be times when leaders have to take a “command and control” approach.  Crisis situations may be one of those and employees understand that.  In fact, they expect it.  But they also expect to be treated dignity and respect and allowed to have a voice in the workplace.

But, as Hannah said, it’s not easy being a leader.  There is no specific instruction for it.  There are, though, certain characteristics leaders do need to demonstrate.

We’re going to be posting on our CALMC Channel on YouTube some short videos on basic supervisor information in the near future that gives some information about those characteristics.  Keep watching for them on the CALMC Channel!

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Three Things About a Union-Based Charitable Project

This week, our Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee membership meeting featured a presentation about a national charitable project that will be coming to Columbus this spring. The project provides an opportunity for local unions, other groups, and you to become involved.

  1. About the Project

A Soldier’s Journey Home is a not-for-profit organization primarily comprised of current and retired firefighters and retired veterans from over fourteen states. Originally organized over 14 years ago by firefighters who survived the 9-11 attacks, they now focus their charitable efforts toward severely injured veterans.

Each year the organization selects a severely wounded veteran and builds a home for them and their families. This year, they will build the Melroy Cort Family an ADA compliant mortgage free smart home just outside of Columbus, Ohio.  Their home will be constructed in 12 days starting on June 1st and completed on June 13th 2020.

More information about Cpl. Cort and his story can be found on the organization’s web site. We first heard of the project at a meeting we attended and wanted our membership to know more about it. Our membership meeting featured John Capretta from the Columbus Division of Fire and Local 67 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, who helped bring the project to Columbus.

Success of the project comes from a partnership between the volunteers from A Soldier’s Journey Home and the local community. Members from several union locals in the Columbus area will assist with building the home. Along with other community groups, they will also provide and serve meals for the volunteers, logistical support, and meet other needs to enable the project to be successful.

  1. How You Can Be a Part

Both before and during construction, help will be needed to make the project happen. Volunteers do not have to be proficient in construction as there are a variety of ways to help. Financial contributions, food donations, and other items are needed.

At our meeting, unions and community groups expressed a desire to help with everything from labor to meals to furniture. We expect the project will receive media coverage and local volunteers will be recognized.

Want to be a part of the project and help a deserving family? Email John Capretta for more information about the opportunities available for you or your group to be part of providing a soldier’s journey home. Your contributions are tax-deductible.

  1. There Are Opportunities to Help in Your Community

This project is just one example of unions working together to help others in their community.  While they may not all be on the scale of this project, they do help children, families, and communities. If you are a union member, ask your local leaders about the things your locals or the Central Labor Council do. If you are not in a union, your support will still be welcome. Contact the Central Labor Council serving your community or ask your local United Way.

 

Unions do not do these projects solely to receive publicity, they work to help their communities. Your support will help them accomplish this purpose.

We will keep you posted about the progress of A Soldier’s Journey Home this spring. If you want to learn more about the organization visit their web site, which also contains videos showing the construction of homes over the last few years.

 

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Employee Involvement | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

We Have Decisions To Make

We’ve blogged before about reports from the Boston Fed.  They’ve had  a  series of articles on the need for good jobs, flexible scheduling and, recently, the impact of technology on the workplace including the future of jobs.

One of the articles on technology, tells about the improvements technology has been making for the tedious, routine parts of a  job.  It frees a person to do other parts of the job technology can’t do and allows a person to do those things quicker.   The article cites some jobs that benefit from the  improvements.  Teachers, health care professionals, and manufacturing workers are some of those who can be helped from AI.  Other articles have also mentioned some jobs, such as mining jobs, can see safety improvements because of technology’s ability to pinpoint problem areas.

Currently, the article says, AI is not the threat to humans as some have said.  A lot of companies can’t afford technology, or AI, which means, it will take awhile before AI will replace humans on a significant level.   The article does suggest this is a time for society to explore this issue of technology and decide how much of it do we actually want.

The University of Oxford did a survey about a year ago asking Americans their thoughts on technology.  The survey didn’t provide a definitive response about technology.  Only a little over 40% of those surveyed supported or strongly supported technology and over 20% were opposed or strongly opposed to it.  The results of the survey did show that those with college degree, larger income, or those with a tech background had more support than those with less education or smaller incomes or without a tech background.

It also appeared there was somewhat of a misunderstanding as to what AI and other technical approaches could do or how they were currently being used.  For example, many did not realize large tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google or Netflix use AI.  Most saw virtual speakers or searches as automation instead of AI.  While Americans believe the tech industry needs to be monitored, they see AI or high-level machine intelligence as a low-level threat in comparison to climate change, weather-related issues, natural causes or cyber attacks.

This last week, the Columbus Dispatch reported an Amazon grocery store opened in Seattle without  cashiers.  People pay for items by scanning them through their phones and using cash, credit card or bank account.  Amazon thinks by eliminating the cashier it will reduce the wait at check-out and will allow employees to focus more on helping customers or restocking shelves. It is very much a self-serve environment. Customers also do their own bagging as they are given reusable bags for the items they purchase.  All the time a customer is in the store and making a purchase, data is being collected on that customer.

Some grocery stores like Kroger or Meijer have already started check-out lines without cashiers so in many ways we may be used to the idea of not having the cashier or bagger but are we okay with this as jobs are eliminated through the increased use of technology?

In a PBS Frontline episode, they show how self-driving trucks are being used in the western part of the country especially by a major appliance producer.  The developer of self-driving trucks sees humans as the culprit of many trucking accidents and believes self-driving vehicles will make transportation safer. A person is in the truck but only becomes the driver if something occurs the truck can’t handle.  So far, the driverless trucks have been doing fine and travel on a major interstate between Arizona and California without any issues.  The data collected is showing that.

Frontline, though, compares this with the deregulation of the trucking industry back in the 80s which caused unions to lose big in the industry. That created a significant loss of income to drivers.  Frontline showed a couple who are individual trucking operators.  Their earnings are about $150,000 a year which sounds great but they said when maintenance and gas money is taken out or unexpected repairs to their truck are deducted, the money they have left is just enough to cover regular expenses. Gasoline costs run about $100,000 a year.  Oil changes run $300 a month and an unexpected repair can be $13,000.  When repairs are being made to the trucks, their business is down.  It depends on the repair as to how long they are down.  The wife said she had to  use her son’s piggy bank money to take him to the doctor.   Now imagine what happens to the family if the trucking industry uses more driverless trucks. Even with a driver in the truck there is no guarantee that person will make a livable wage.

How about that data being collected through AI? Frontline used China as an example of how data is collected on people.  One example they pointed out was an online app for a personal loan.  The algorithm, or AI, picked up 5,000 pieces of information on an individual in eight seconds.  That same thing happens here in the U. S.  That data collected is valuable to other companies as it provides lots of good predictable information on customers.  China and the U. S. are competing for the increased use of AI.

Most of us are aware of Amazon’s Alexa, the virtual assistant.  Asking Alexa to turn up the temperature or turn on lights may be convenient but using Alexa to do that also is giving Amazon and more than likely others access to more information about us just like the loan app.  There is also a business Alexa for workplaces which does much of the same as regular Alexa.  It can set up appointments, order supplies, schedule breaks or possibly gather other information on us.  As both CNBC and CNET suggest, it might be a good idea to turn off Alexa or Siri if you don’t want your words to come back and haunt you in the workplace.  Virtual assistants can determine not only what we’re saying but how we might be reacting or what we’ll be doing in the future.

While there are some good things AI can do such as help with problem solving or customer service needs or identify good personnel policies, the issue will be how data from the virtual assistant is used and what happens to that data once it’s been used.  More than likely multiple organizations will have the data, not just at the workplace level or Amazon level.  The use of virtual assistants in the workplace raises significant security and privacy issues for workplaces that are just now being addressed.

This is the reality of technology and why professionals say it’s something society really needs to think about.  It’s obvious from the University of Oxford survey people do not realize the extent of technology.  Some don’t think about when they get on Facebook, data is gathered in the most minute ways about them.  That information may not stay just with Facebook.  It goes elsewhere.  Just clicking a simple thumbs up can provide more information about ourselves than we realize.

When it comes to jobs, the Frontline episode is not as optimistic as the Boston Fed article.  The people they interview remind viewers about the changes in jobs over the years because of technology.  Examples include the typing pool or telephone operators.  White collar jobs may see greater loss than blue collar jobs.  White collar jobs are more analytical so that’s why they’re more vulnerable.   Plus, if a job remains but is changed through technology what will happen with the  pay structure? With some jobs, we’ve seen pay inequality increase.

So this is what we have decide.  How much technology do we want and how will it be used?  Not all algorithm usage is or will be used in a good way.  Organizations like  Amazon, Google or Facebook aren’t going to stop at collecting data or developing new technology on their own.  History has shown that.  Every time you use Alexa or another virtual assistant more surveillance takes place and your privacy diminishes.  Jobs can be altered or disappear.  Technology is great for some things but what they?  That’s what we have to decide.

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Three Things About Current Labor Relations

Conflict levels between labor and management has been increasing. No doubt about it, the current administration does not hesitate to enact policies and rules designed to hurt workers. This was evident again tis week in actions taken against federal employees, information about wage growth, and the increase in strikes.

1,         The Department of Defense Can End Collective Bargaining

Under a memo from the President, the Department of Defense can choose to end the collective bargaining rights for 750,000 civilian employees in the agency. Trump gave the authority to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to abolish unions from the Pentagon because of the need for “flexibility.” He stated collective bargaining might force the department to “sacrifice its national security mission.”

This is another attempt by the administration to accomplish what it called for in a 2017 White House memo which advocated “eliminating employee unions” at the Defense Department as part of a multi-pronged effort to weaken organize labor.

Obviously, these memos have resulted in a strong response from legislators and public employee unions. American Federation of Government Employees National Secretary-Treasurer Everett Kelley said in a statement, “This administration will not stop until it takes away all workers’ rights to form and join a union, and we will not stop doing everything we can to prevent that from happening.”

So the battle begins (or continues) between labor and a management that has shown hostility toward unions and workers. I wonder how much of our tax money will be spent trying to destroy the unions through these practices versus what could be gained by working cooperatively with labor to find ways to improve flexibility. Unfortunately, this battle is likely to continue to the detriment of workers.

  1. Wage Growth Remains Stagnant for Over 40 Years

This week, the Economic Policy Institute reported their study showing “slow, uneven, and unequal” wage growth for vast majority of U.S. workers over the past forty years. They reported this occurred while ‘the highest earners (95th percentile) continue to pull away from middle- and low-wage workers.”

They went on to state, “Without the wage growth spurred by exceptionally low unemployment in the late 1990s and the last five years, wages for most workers would be lower today (in real terms) than they were 40 years ago.” It does not appear the loudly touted growth in the economy is being felt by most of the workforce.

It is not a coincidence the 40-year period covered by the report coincides with the decline in workers who are part of organized labor. Without collective bargaining, employees have suffered losses in real wage growth and often in jobs.

  1. Employee Strikes Increased in 2019

One of the outcomes of the traditional labor-management relations has been an increase in the number of strikes. The Huffington Post reports there were 25 work stoppages involving at least 1,000 employees, with 425,500 workers involved last year. Between 2010 and 2019, the average number of strikes each year was 15.

They reported “the number of strikes is largely a reflection of the tight labor market, which has shifted leverage from employers to workers, coupled with the relatively slow growth in wages. Unions feel more emboldened to carry out strikes when many companies can afford to meet their demands and may have a difficult time finding replacement workers due to low unemployment.”

Contrary to the belief held by those opposing unions, neither organized labor nor workers want to walk off their jobs. It is an extreme action predicated by actions that lead to employees believing there is no other solution. It is not the desired outcome, but is often the only recourse available to them, and securing wage increases is not always the primary issue.

Last year, educators lead the way in walking off the job to improve their working conditions, as they were involved in 13 of the 25 major work stoppages and made up more than half of the workers who went on strike. Key issues in many of these were reductions in class size, providing adequate equipment in classrooms, replacing outdated and sometimes crumbling textbooks, and eliminating excessive levels of standardized testing to provide more time for classroom instruction and learning.

In the private sector there were 10 strikes involving at least 20,000 workers, including the six-week strike at General Motors. This involved 46,000 workers at dozens of facilities.

The underlying thread in each of these has been the desire by those on the right to destroy unions and the protections they offer employees. As a result, worker wages have stagnated and working conditions have become increasingly dominated by employers.

The resulting situation is analogous to tightly squeezing a fully inflated balloon. As you squeeze tighter, the pressure increases until the balloon finally bursts. The pressures placed on workers by the trends reported here has resulted in an increasingly hostile environment for workers, resulting in work stoppages and other outcomes.

We can continue playing these games or we can choose to work together. We have seen many organizations and unions choose to work together in a mutual effort to improve the workplace. Both labor and management have seen the resulting positive changes that benefit everyone.

If you or jour organization would like help in starting a cooperative process or enhancing what you already have, contact CALMC.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Labor-Management Cooperation, Right to Organize, Trends in Labor-Management Relations | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment