Ohio House Legislature Changes Will Impact Both Employers and Employees

This week we’re doing a little different type of blog than what we’ve done in the past.  We are partnering with a CALMC member to provide information on changes being proposed in the Ohio House regarding unemployment compensation.  We think it’s important for everyone to understand what is included in the bill since these are significant changes from current legislation. Henry Arnett and Colleen Arnett from Livorno and Arnett Co., LPA, are providing a summary of the changes that are being proposed. Thanks Henry and Colleen!

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION CHANGES PROPOSED BY HOUSE BILL 382

Henry A. Arnett

Colleen M. Arnett

Livorno and Arnett Co., LPA

House Bill 382, currently pending in the Ohio General Assembly, is an attempt to increase the solvency of Ohio’s unemployment compensation fund (renamed the unemployment compensation insurance fund by the bill), so the fund can better withstand an economic downturn in the future. It does so by a combination of increasing taxes or contributions (referred to as premiums in the bill) on employers, forcing employees to pay a share of the unemployment premiums, and reducing the amount of benefits employees can receive. Highlights of the bill include the following:

MORE WAGES ARE SUBJECT TO THE UC PREMIUM: Current law specifies only the first $9,000 of an employee’s wages is subject to the UC tax. Nothing is owed for wages in excess of $9,000 during the year. Under current law, this cap increases to $9,500 in 2018. HB 382 raises the cap to $11,000. Basically, the amount of wages subject to the UC tax is increased by more than 20% over current levels (more than 15% over 2018 levels).

AUTOMATIC INCREASE IN PREMIUM RATES: HB 382 would provide for an automatic increase in the amount of premium rates for employers if the unemployment compensation insurance fund is 60% below minimum safe level, from two tenths to three tenths of 1%.

EMPLOYEES WILL START TO PAY A PORTION OF THE UC PREMIUMS: HB 382 creates a new statute, R.C. 4141.252. Under this statute, employees will start to pay a share of the UC premium. Employee “coinsurance” payments will accrue and become payable when both (1) the employee has been employed by the employer(s) for at least 20 qualifying weeks during any calendar year, and (2) the employee earned at an average weekly wage not less than 27.5% of statewide average weekly wage for those weeks. The amount of the employee’s premium payment is equal to 10% of premium paid by employer. The employer is to determine the amount of payment and withhold coinsurance payments when the employee has enough qualifying weeks and wages to qualify for benefit rights if separated from employment. If there is more than 1 employer, they each will collect the required amount based on the employment with that employer. If the employee has sufficient qualifying weeks and wages but not with a single employer, the Director of Jobs and Family Services will calculate what the employee’s payment would have been and will reduce UC benefits to recoup those premiums if the employee files for benefits at a future date.

This constitutes a major change, as for the first time employees will have to pay for a portion of the unemployment compensation premiums, rather than the current practice of employers paying 100% of the UC tax. Some employers may find it confusing as to how to calculate and collect the employee’s share of the UC premium. The bill does require that employers give notice to prospective employees, disclosing the most recent premium rate and a reasonable estimate of the prospective employee’s coinsurance payments.

BENEFITS MAY BE REDUCED IF THERE ARE OTHER SOURCES OF INCOME: Under the bill, the Director of Jobs and Family Services may reduce the maximum weekly benefit amount a claimant with dependents may receive if there are additional sources of household income that reduce or eliminate the individual’s need to receive up to the maximum level of benefits. Few guidelines are provided for this new section of law, but it may affect claimants who have a working spouse, are receiving child support, or have any other sources of household income.

MAXIMUM WEEKS OF BENEFITS REDUCED: Benefits are reduced by capping the number of weeks that can be paid at 24, as opposed to current 26. An employee may be entitled to an additional 2 weeks of benefits if certain conditions are satisfied, including that the individual was separated from his/her most recent employment due to weather conditions.

SUPPLEMENTAL BENEFITS ARE AUTHORIZED: Employees may agree, individually or through collective bargaining, to a supplemental unemployment benefit program with their employer. The program must be actuarially sound, a copy must be submitted to DOJFS, and it does not apply to any agreement entered into before the effective date of this section. Private unemployment benefits are not deemed compensation for personal services, and UC benefits otherwise payable shall not be denied or reduced because of private unemployment benefits.

For more information visit: www.livornoandarnett.com

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Updates: Labor-Management Networking, CALMC Video Presentations, Labor Helping the Community, CALMC Membership Meeting, and a Quote.

Several months ago, we wrote about the need to use labor-management committees for economic development purposes.  We explained labor-management committees provide an opportunity for labor, management and other leaders to discuss issues that can impact workers and employers.  That is exactly what happened last week at CALMC’s board meeting.

One CALMC board member asked other members, including CALMC staff, to attend a breakfast meeting to discuss state unemployment issues with a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from the community.   CALMC staff and board members did attend the meeting and provided the State Representative with information regarding unemployment benefits.  Both management and labor were represented to provide different perspectives about what is happening, not only with unemployment benefits but other worker benefits and pay.

The discussion was tremendous and identified some of the major concerns in the workplace SHARED by both labor and management community leaders.  As we have written before, much workplace legislation is outdated, and that includes legislation regarding unemployment compensation.  Funds in Ohio for unemployment have never fully recovered from the Great Recession and some of that is because of legislation that needs to be revised.

This was a great example of how conversations about economic development issues can start within community labor-management committees.  Not only does it provide an opportunity for different perspectives to be heard but it helps to build and strengthen the camaraderie of community leadership to work together on issues impacting workers and employers.

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This week we posted the latest Quick Takes video presentation on our web site. This video discusses Consensus Decision Making and its importance in any team-based problem solving process. It is a part of our series on the Tools for Problem Solving.

We want to thank everyone who has watched the videos. We recently surpassed 5,000 views for some of the presentations. They are designed to introduce a topic or provide detail on a particular facet of a process, providing a brief presentation that can be viewed at no cost anytime on any device. We currently have them grouped into three channels, Effective Meetings, Interest-Based Problem Solving, and Tools for Problem Solving.

If you haven’t seen a Quick Takes presentation, we hope you will take the time to watch one (or more). Please give us your feedback and suggestions on topics you would like to see in future videos.

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This week labor organizations in Central Ohio once again showed how they help the community and take care of those in need.  The labor kick-off for Central Ohio United Way was held this last week.  One area that’s a huge need is childhood hunger. Some children go to school hungry and are unable to perform because they haven’t eaten since lunch the day before – if then.  One of the unions has already started to provide assistance.  Transport Workers Local 208, Columbus COTA bus drivers, has been organizing a food drive for one of the local charities that helps families in need.

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Trent Taylor was our featured speaker.

Last week we held a CALMC Membership meeting. Our members and guests enjoyed breakfast and the opportunity to network with other leaders from labor, management, and neutrals. Our speaker, attorney Trent Taylor from Barkan, Meizlish Handelman, Goodin, DeRose, Wentz, LLP, provided an update on recent court cases impacting labor relations, along with a look ahead at the Janus case to be heard this year. We will have more about that case in an upcoming blog.

Pictures from the meeting can be seen on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pg/CALMC-102281063144885/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1739393092766999. Our next membership meeting is tentatively set for late February and will deal with the expansion and retention of jobs in Central Ohio. We will have more about that as we finalize the details. We hope you will join us.

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We will leave you this week with a quote that seems particularly timely:

“We have to remind our sons and daughters that we became the most powerful nation on earth by tearing down walls, not building them.” – Sen. John McCain

 

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Employee Training, Labor-Management Committees, Labor-Management Cooperation, Teamwork, Trends in Labor-Management Relations | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Leadership Can Create That “We” Culture

We’ve blogged the last few weeks about the need for both unions and corporations to have effective leadership and we gave both “to-do” lists.  One of the items on the corporate “to-do” list was to establish a “we” culture.

In most workplaces, management sets the tone for the culture but it’s also necessary for union leadership to help develop that culture in the workplace, too,  and unions, too, can develop that type of culture within their own environment.  So what does it take to develop   a “we” culture?

There are some specific ways that can help make a culture of “we” in any organization, whether it be a unionized or non-unionized workplace.  Here’s some steps of a proven process that can get things started:

  1. Bring leadership people together to discuss the need for the change in culture. As with any significant change, it’s important to make sure everyone will be supportive of it.  If they are not, the process will probably fail.  It also will be important to stress lip service is not enough.  It  will require  actions supporting the words.  A good approach is to put together a group of employees, not just senior management or union leadership people, but a broad representation of employees to  develop a plan of action.  Some people call this a steering committee.  And just a reminder, if it’s a unionized organization, unions pick the people they want represented in this group.
  2. Explain to all within the organization why culture change is necessary. The steering committee, or group charged with implementing the change, should set up employee sessions so everyone can learn about the change.  The group, along with the person at the top, need to speak to members or staff of the organization.  This is where leadership skills are important.  A vision of the future must be presented that will help to create enthusiasm for the change but it’s also important to remember people will be skeptical  and that’s why it will be important to keep everyone informed about what’s going on.  It also will be important to use many different forms of communication so people know how the change is progressing.  Mistakes are going to happen and this is something else that needs to be acknowledged up front at the beginning and as the process moves forward.  If not, the process will lose some credibility.  Patience also needs to be emphasized especially in this on-demand world.  Changing behaviors can be one of the most difficult tasks to make but it definitely is possible.  We’ve seen it work with many groups.
  3. Culture assessment. The steering committee should plan a cultural assessment.  This will help to provide two important things for a group.  One, it will provide some information on how to make the culture change.  It will help to identify areas that may need some extra attention and additional work.  The assessment will, of course, be a measurement tool to see how the change is going.  Another assessment could follow in another year that would help to determine how culture change is progressing and, again, where improvements are still needed.    This is something that can be ongoing and done at specific intervals but to allow measurable time.
  4. Develop teams. Teams can help to address areas  in the assessment.  Teams can also help move the change forward.  Teams can also be the center of the change.  A “we” environment  engages employees to help work on and decide on day-to-day actions.  This is sometimes difficult for some managers because of the risk that prevails.  But if there isn’t that element of risk, there must not be new ideas coming forth.  It must be a culture of doing the same thing, the same way from way back when.  That’s not about being competitive and innovative.  Who else but those who actually do the job know how things can be improved.  The more employees are involved, the better they feel about the organization to move it forward.  It can help to make a more productive culture.  In an article from Harvard Business Review, October 2016, the author says failure is necessary if an organization is going to try new ideas and new ways of doing things.  He also says management must understand this is also about learning and that, too, is important.  A steering committee can help to decide how to set up teams.  Teams could be by department, could be cross-functional or temporary or ad-hoc teams.  That is a decision to be made by the steering committee.
  5. Seek training. Putting people together and be productive is not always as easy as people think.  This is the great myth out there that putting people together make a team.  That doesn’t necessarily happen especially when culture change is taking place.  Training can be on different topics such as problem solving, communication, meeting skills, or just general group dynamics that can help groups learn how to work together and get things accomplished.  Again, a steering committee can address it and determine what needs to be included in the training.  Training also doesn’t mean that people are failing or that they don’t know.  It’s taking the knowledge people have and putting it together to enhance what is already there or to make it better.
  6. Facilitation. Once training has been completed, it can be difficult to actually put the tools learned in training in actual practice.  Facilitation can help groups utilize the tools on real life issues or projects.  This helps to make the training more worthwhile than spending money on something that might not be used.  How long facilitation should take place depends on the group and what the group is working on.  The important part is not to stop too soon.  Facilitation could also help steering or leadership teams put forth their plan.  Facilitation can help groups organize their work because facilitators have specific skills that can provide that.  It is not a sign of weakness to ask for assistance.  It’s when it’s not asked for is the sign of weakness.

Culture is something that is really important.  It’s the one thing that can excite people or drain people.  There can be a lot of help or very little help and it can be because of culture.  When people feel valued, when they feel like they play a significant role in the success of the organization, and they know they are empowered the results for the organization are enormous.

Two weeks ago, we mentioned the new book by Rick Wartzman, The End of Loyalty:  The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America.  Corporations stopped being loyal to employees starting in the ’70s according to Rick.  That loyalty, he said, shifted to shareholders instead.  The culture was no longer the “we” culture.  The thing is corporations can provide for shareholders with a “we” culture and maybe even better, too. That return of investment can be huge not just for shareholders but for employees, too.   Here we have outlined a start that can help create that “we” culture.

P. S. Don’t worry, the everyday work can get done while changing culture!  It’s part of that proven process!

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Do You Know: What is the Most Important Skill for Labor and Management Leaders?

Over the past few weeks, we have written about the responsibilities of both labor and management in meeting the needs of today’s workforce. Today, I want to focus on the most important quality for both: leadership.

Do not confuse leadership with management. You manage things, you lead people. Leadership is much more difficult and requires higher level skills. Instead of just telling people what to do, leaders work to effectively use the skills of all team members and provide opportunities for growth. They want to bring the tram together to effectively solve problems.

The success of any labor-management collaborative process depends on effective leadership on both sides. Leaders are not found on only one side of the table. The parties must recognize both sides as equal players in the process. If one part of the team demonstrates a condescending attitude toward the other or tries to dominate them, it will be impossible for the group to work effectively.

All members need to know they can trust the other side to be honest and follow through on what they say they will do. Strong leaders recognize their responsibility to help teams become effective problem solvers and to support the work of the group. If a weak leader cannot deliver on their commitments, the process is doomed.

Researchers have defined several leadership styles, such as avoidance, hands off, coercive, autocratic, and others. Effective leaders in any team-based process must use a collaborative style. They must work to build consensus, provide coaching and support to help the team work, function as a part of the team, and be certain they have the information and resources they need to carry out the task.

Leaders who use an autocratic style will destroy a team. It often seems this type of leader is destined to sabotage the work of the group. For example. we worked with a labor-management team working to improve communications in their organization, among other things. The CEO of the organization attempted to micromanage every team decision, including the color of paper to be used by a newsletter. Needless to say, the team members did not want to put forth the effort to work on more issues.

If labor and management want to improve their workplaces, they must work collaboratively and engage employees. This requires strong, effective leadership on both sides of the table that supports the team and makes its success a priority. Without good leadership, teams will flounder and members will stop their participation.

Maintaining an effective leadership style takes conscious effort, training, and coaching. CALMC can help your organization develop effective leaders, both labor and management, to get the most from your team process.

Posted in CALMC, Change Management, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Labor-Management Committees, Labor-Management Cooperation, Systemic change, Teamwork | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time To Get Back To The “We” Era

The last several blogs have focused on unions and how they have helped the U.S. both socially and economically.  We also looked at unions themselves and what they need to do for any future comeback.  This week, we’re going to flip to the other side and  look back at corporate America.  We’ll give corporate America a to-do list just like we did last week with unions.

A new book looks at corporate strategy from post World War II through today.  The book, The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America, is written by Fortune magazine writer, Rick Wartzman.  The Aspen Institute recently had Rick discuss his book with New York Times economic correspondent, Neil Irwin.  The book discussion provides a good explanation into the income inequality problem facing the U. S. today.

In his new book, Rick says corporate America, following the end of World War II, was very concerned about another financial disaster occurring.  They believed that if they increased pay and benefits it would help to prevent another depression.  In addition, corporations had a greater concern about taking care of their employees, and for those that didn’t want a union shop, there was increased pressure to provide good pay and benefits packages.

But once the 1970s hit, corporations changed their focus based on a prevailing economic theory that continues today.  Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman came up with the free market capitalism theory which stated the only concern corporations should have is to the return on investment for their shareholders instead of to communities and employees.  Corporations that once wanted to take care of their employees saw things differently and shifted their loyalty.  Rick said it was the end of the “we” era in corporate America and ushered in the “I” era.

There were also other problems at that time according to Rick.  Corporations became lazy and production quality was sloppy such  as in the auto industry.  Global competition was increasing, too, which created additional pressure on corporations especially with inferior products being produced.   Another problem Rick cited was the emergence of corporate raiders who would take what they could from a company for maximum investment and profits and then sell it off usually leaving it for dead.  This created massive layoffs.  Layoffs, themselves, were a problem as companies were rewarded on the stock market for having cut costs for shareholder gain.

In addition, executives were rewarded as they increased shareholder return.  As executives worked to increase greater returns for shareholders they also discovered they could increase their own pay either by additional salary, bonus, stock options or all the above.  This only weakened or diminished the incentive to take care of workers because increasing employee wages and benefits would  only decrease any return for shareholders which in turn decreased the paychecks of executives.  It also hurt development of new products because that, too, was viewed as an additional cost.  Entire companies lost out and closed as less and less development was done.

Other things also have not helped with employee wages.  Rick mentions the increase use of technology has not helped and the pounding on unions by corporate America has caused them to be almost non-existent.  Unions threaten the cost cutting measures executives want that can provide greater profits, shareholder return and increased salaries.  Public policy changes, too, have been extremely weak or non-existent that would counter some of the activity stemming from this and the 1970s.

But now, a lot has changed in the 40 years since the theory of free market capitalism was introduced.  It’s  means corporate America must change also.  Last week, we listed some things unions need to do within their structure.  This week we have a list for corporate America.

  1. Stop the war on unions.

Overall opinion of unions is growing stronger.  Younger workers prefer unions over corporations, and not just by a little, quite a bit more.  Attacking the other side or trying to weaken unions will not continue to benefit corporate America with anybody, and in particular, younger workers.  Millennials and generations younger Identify with union causes.  These younger workers also prefer working together on outcomes that satisfy everybody, not just a few.  Labor-management committees definitely will suit this group.

  1. Unions can help if you create a partnership.

We have blogged over and over how labor-management committees have helped reduce costs, looked at new processes that were more efficient and identified ways to improve customer service.

  1. Capture the enthusiasm of your workforce.

As corporate America continues to look for workers, all workers and younger workers will be looking at them and how they treat employees and society.  Any age group, millennials or any other are enthusiastic when included in the day-to-day decisions of the organization and all want to share in the responsibility of success in an organization.  That enthusiasm needs to be captured, not discouraged.  There are lots of great ideas that can bring about new products, new ways of doing things and maybe even with less cost and waste but they have to be listened to. Don’t provide lip service!  Walk the talk!  We all know sincerity when we see it.

  1. Turnover expenses can be high. Avoid it!

As jobs become more plentiful, people will look for better places to work.  Millennials and younger generations have very little patience.  They’re more used to the instant gratification of technology.  If workers see a workplace based solely on shareholder and executive paybacks, they will quickly leave.  This will only add increased costs on those seeking to reduce.  Even though a lot of organizations prefer not to do training, there still is an element of training as new employees must adjust to the workplace.  It’s much less expensive to maintain employees than to constantly look for new ones.

  1. Invest in employees.

Rick Wartzman suggested employers need to go back to training employees.  Each organization is unique.  Expecting to find employees doing a specific skill just exactly the way the organization does it will not happen!  Don’t just train to train.  Train smartly and use it.  If you train employees  yourself, it can quickly provide some return on the bottom line plus build some loyalty back into the organization.  There are some workplaces that provide their own training and see benefit from it.  Quit blaming others for not having skilled workers and don’t rely on everybody else to do it for you!

  1. Look to European counterparts and see what they’re doing, especially in Germany.

This was a suggestion Neil Irwin provided.  Companies in Germany are doing quite well and they see stakeholders as not just shareholders but customers and employees, too.  All are seen as equals and have something to offer.  It doesn’t mean that everything needs to be done like the Germans but it doesn’t hurt to look into it.  Be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things!

  1. Return to the “we” culture.

Show employees you actually care for them.  Quit treating everything as a cost!  Just this last week, a story in the news was GM was outsourcing jobs to Mexico because of cost.  Stop that!  It demonstrates that  “us vs them” culture or that continuing “I” culture.  Some companies have created a  “we” culture and are getting a tremendous return with  everybody receiving a share!  Get to know some of the communities you reside in and help out.  Some smaller communities need your help desperately.  It’s good corporate responsibility.  It might increase business!

  1. Finally, encourage public policy that helps everybody, not just corporations.

Encourage Wall St. to embrace hirings more than lay-offs.  Look for new economic theories instead of those that emphasize, cut, cut, cut!  Expenses need to be watched but they don’t need to be cut so much that puts more money back in the pockets of some and less to none for others.

Not all corporations are bad.  Far from it.  There are some very good companies out there who are doing very positive things and treat people with the respect and dignity they deserve but the overall corporate message that comes out must be the one that changes and it must emphasize the loyalty that once prevailed.

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Reshaping Unions for the Future – Involving Younger Employees

In earlier articles, we’ve offered some thoughts on the role of unions in the workplace. Today, I want to share some other ideas on unions and what they need to do to maintain relevance with today’s workers.

Last week, we discussed the growing popularity of unions among younger workers. While the AFL-CIO has initiated programs such as Working America to carry the needs of all workers, union or not, to legislators, some local unions are not picking up on this effort. As a result, newer workers in union shops may not recognize why their membership and involvement is important.

When I began my working career I was in a public-sector organization where union membership was completely voluntary. After I started on the job, absolutely no one from the union approached me about joining the union or the reasons why membership was a good idea. It was about two months after I could have joined before a steward said anything to me about membership.

It seemed to be the union just assumed I would join. Although I did join a short while later, it was primarily due to actions of management toward the workforce, not being recruited by the local.

As I look at some unions today, I see the same kind of attitude. They take for granted that new members will embrace the union and support their efforts. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. New employees may not understand the role of the union or the reasons they should become members. They may see it as little more than the organization that deducts money from their paychecks.

Unions need to be proactive in overcoming this attitude. We suggest they consider these steps in addressing new employees.

Begin by answering the question, “What is the vision of the Union?” Ask yourself why the union is important and what you want to accomplish. Address why these issues are important to workers, their workplace, and their personal lives. Consider how you address these goals and how they fit into the everyday activities of the union.

Any organization flounders without a vision. It cannot move forward without an idea of the direction it wants to go. The vision should be forward looking so that it remains relevant to all employees. Developing a vision and/or mission statement can help frame your thinking about what you should be.

Convey the vision to all employees, being certain new employees hear the message. It should tell these employees why being members is relevant and important to them. Tell them in a variety of ways so they are likely to hear the message in a way relevant to them.

Let them know the history. Unless they were raised in a union household, new employees are not likely to understand the history of unions and the benefits they have won for workers. They may believe their working conditions were established by management on their own initiative. Let new members know the history of how the current situation came to be and what the union is doing now on their behalf.

Do not leave the impression being a union leader is only about fighting. Be sure to include examples of how cooperation between the union and management has helped resolve workplace concerns.

Determine the issues and needs of new members and work to achieve them. Do not assume the things veteran employees want are relevant to new members. Their ideas may address social issues of importance to them in addition to workplace concerns. The best way to find out what interests new members is to ask them. Individually or in small groups, meet with new members and listen to what they tell you. Follow up a short time later with the things you have done or are doing to capitalize on their ideas. Tis will let them know you listened to them and giving their opinions in the future is worth their time.

Encourage them to become active in the union. Shortly after I joined the union I was elected to be a steward. Leaders in the union recognized my interest and energy and capitalized on it.

In some unions, new, energetic members are viewed as a threat. Existing leadership may fear if new members become active in the union they could end up challenging current leaders for their jobs. By discouraging involvement, the established union loses the opportunity to benefit from the ideas of the new members and build their commitment. This is particularly significant as more veteran union leaders are preparing to leave the workforce.

Provide training for potential new union leaders. Capitalize on the interest of new members by letting them know more about the role of the union and the skills necessary for leadership. Recruit potential new leaders to participate, and use the training to help identify individuals with leadership skills that will make them good stewards and officers.

Remind new members that merely joining the union is not enough. Building and maintaining the union is essential, and their active involvement is critical to that process.

Recognize that one you begin this process, you cannot stop. This needs to be a continuous process to build the long-term future of the union and commitment of its members.

Accomplishing these tasks will require the commitment of current union leadership in developing an involvement process. CALMC has worked with several unions to help them identify their needs and develop training for new leaders. Let us know if we can help you shape the future of your local.

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Did You Know Unions Are More Popular With Younger Workers?

We’ve been blogging on the need for unions and how they can help improve the country  and how they helped  in the past.  Last week’s blog said there is the possibility of a union comeback actually occurring.  There is potential to do that but the question is how can it happen.  How can membership increase particularly with younger workers?

In our blogs, we’ve been citing poll information from Pew Research on unions.  Almost two-thirds of Americans now view unions favorably.  That favorability rating increases even more when it’s broken out by the age group 18-29.  Just about three-fourths of that age group see unions as favorable.  That’s a great start for a comeback but does that translate to more millennials as union members?  Not necessarily.

According to some information from Generation Progress, only about 5% of workers in the age category of 16-24 belong to a union and that rate doubles for the age group 24-35.  That 10% is a lot lower than other age groups.  Why are there not more millennial union members?

The Generation Progress blog says many don’t join because they don’t have access to unions.  The reason millennials see unions more favorably is because unions are involved in social causes.  Millennials also prefer working in groups rather as individuals and unions represent groups of people which they like.  In addition, millennials also like the emphasis of everybody working together to support outcomes.  Another reason millennials may not join is because of all the political attacks that have been placed on unions.  A lot of these attacks are not accurate but millennials have no way of knowing that.

Unions need to counter the negative attacks so not just millennials but all people learn about unions.  This may mean coming up with new ways of doing things or new ideas on communication especially since millennials communicate differently than other generations.

One of the ways the AFL-CIO has been addressing that issue is through  Working America.  This is  community organization effort that is taking the voice of all workers, both union and non-union, to local, state and federal legislatures.  Working America wants to raise awareness on the issues working Americans feel are important.  This type of activism can open a door to millennials to work on causes along side unions.  It’s something millennials like and it also helps to counter the negative image as unions work with the public and the public learns more about them with real-time learning.

Another opportunity has also emerged to help unions connect with millennials.  In fact, this opportunity has been created by a millennial to help attract other millennials to unions.  Larry Williams, Jr. developed UnionBase so union members can connect with each other and other union or non-union workers.  Larry knows how unions changed lives and the significance unions play in helping to make improvements.  He learned about unions while working at the Teamsters and realized he needed to help them reach out better to younger workers.

In 2010 some unions and their affiliates, Cornell University’s  Industrial Labor Relations Department and some other schools and groups got together to find out what was necessary to get more younger workers into unions.  The group identified different communication strategies such as social media, blast texts and face-to-face as necessary means to attract younger workers.  They also said unions needed to address issues that are important to younger workers.  For example, child care issues could be important to single parents. The group also recognized younger workers may not be able to spend the time helping with union needs as other generations had done.  Younger workers, especially single-parent workers, have at-home demands when they’re not working and it could be difficult for them to help with union activities.  Some unions had addressed the issue by having child care available during union events.

These and other ideas unions are working on to increase membership and improve their outlook is encouraging.  We at CALMC have seen changes in recent years and we do have a caution for unions because we see it as a concern.  It will be important that union leaders LISTEN to membership and their issues.

Millennials and younger generations, in particular, work in different ways.  They like group work.  They’re willing to work to get solutions everyone will support.   It sounds like millennials would like cooperative environments!  They like to work on problems and come up with new ideas to solve them.    They see things differently and bring a different skill set that can help solve existing problems. It sounds like they would be great members!  The problem is, though, younger people and their ideas are not always seen that way a lot of times.  Their ideas are seen as  too “far fetched” or unrealistic or just won’t work.  There can be a tendency sometimes, also, to look at younger people as a problem instead of looking at it as a time to change. Union leaders need to be very careful they don’t ignore the ideas or simply just disregard millennials and younger generations.  They need them and their new ideas.

It’s  true some ideas or ways of doing things may not work but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t at least be taken  into consideration whether it’s in workplace meetings or union meetings.  The reality is we’ve seen union leadership resist new ideas or change to the point they are willing to stop any opportunity for voice not just between management but also between other union leaders and members.  That’s when nothing happens.  That’s when members become dissatisfied, discouraged and want to quit.  They lose their will to fight.  Unions and their members must have open minds and be ready for change.

We have heard union leaders say the issues members  think are important are not worth it because  more important issues need to be addressed.  We know what the issues were in one union and they were legitimate issues any worker would be concerned about but the leaders didn’t want to address them.  That’s a concern, too,  because membership becomes discouraged.  Again, it’s about listening.

We also have seen union representatives not being available when members are losing their jobs.  That is when union members need their union the most.  Unions need to remember they also provide a service and their members are customers.  Union representatives must be available even under the worst circumstances.

It’s not to say all union representatives do this because we have seen some great union reps be available to those who need help and attend the same meetings of those being laid off but for those that don’t, or don’t represent the membership well,  they have a difficult decision to make because no union has the luxury of ignoring its membership especially when fighting for survival.

It’s great to learn about the new opportunities unions have to counter the negative images and work on increasing membership  but there are some things unions must look at and be willing to change.  It’s not to say that’s not happening because there are some very good unions out there that are doing the right things and that is what gives us hope.  In another week or so, we’ll be addressing some other internal issues union leadership must address so they can have a clearer message and be ready for new members because there is real potential for growth.  Obviously more and more people view unions favorably and want their help to make improvements in our lives and in our country just as they always have done.

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Is the Pendulum Swinging Back?

We have seen a significant shift in power in labor-management relationships over the last 20 years. It has served to unlevel the playing field and disrupt cooperative efforts. Now, there are signs that a shift in power may be starting.

It is not a healthy situation when one party has (or thinks they have) complete control in any situation. The controlling party has little incentive to engage in a cooperative process or do anything not in their immediate self-interest. Even “doing the right thing” is insignificant to many.

Around 25 years ago, labor was perceived as being in control. Negotiated agreements strongly favored unions with regular wage and benefit increases and employment guarantees. In the 1980’s, the pendulum began t0 swing back, as the Air-Traffic Controllers strike, was broken by President Reagan, the myth of supply-side economics, changes in the economy such as increasing imports, and other factors. These lead to a loss of jobs, demise of many manufacturing and other industries, and resulting wage concessions and other give-backs in contract language.

Labor was made the scapegoat for economic decline. Unions were vilified, contributing to their decline in public perception, membership, and power. Punitive anti-union legislation helped further the stresses on labor. The unwillingness of some unions to look at how societal changes were impacting them also was a contributing factor.

Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but it appears there are signs the pendulum has begun to swing back. Three examples of this are:

Increase in positive public perceptions of unions. An August Gallup Poll found 61% of Americans said they approve of unions, the highest percentage since 2003. This is 5% better than last year and 13 points above the lowest approval percentage in 2009. Thirty-nine percent said they thought unions should have more influence, the highest total in the 18 years Gallup has asked this question. Those who want unions to have less influence was at a record low.

An increase in positive union perception can help stem the tide of political losses for unions and help in organizing efforts.

Failure of supply-side economic systems in Kansas and other states. Forbes Magazine reports the extreme tax-cut efforts of Governor Brownback resulted in below-average growth in the state, a deepening of deficits, and resulting deep spending cuts. Brownback argued his supply-side scheme would increase economic growth, but the outcome has been the opposite.

Forbes reports “The state’s budget deficit was expected to hit $280 million this year, despite major spending reductions. Kansas falls well below national averages in a wide range of public services from K-12 education to housing to police and fire protection, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute’s State and Local Finance Initiative. Under order from the state Supreme Court, the legislature has voted to increase funding for public schools by $293 million over the next two years.”

As a result, the Republican legislature in Kansas passed a series of tax increases in an effort to restore sanity to the Kansas economy, overriding Brownback’s veto in the process.

The only winners in supply-side systems are the few at the top of the wage gap. This has created the huge wage discrepancy currently damaging the economy. A demise in supply-side can also be a trend that helps workers regain their economic status and well-being for their families..

NAFTA re-negotiations. The current administration demanded the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the process is currently underway. The Wall Street Journal and other sources report negotiators are encouraging Mexico to adopt a more pro-union stance and increase wages paid in that country.

Currently, the minimum wage in Mexico is $4.80 per day. This creates an inequity that has led employers to move jobs to Mexico while conditions and lax enforcement of worker protections continue to harm their workers. Experts believe weakness of unions in Mexico have contributed to this problem.

These are just three examples of a possible reversal of worker losses. We will report on other examples in future blogs, but we hope they signal a trend in increasing the influence and status of American workers.

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Did You Know Unions Help With Democracy?

The last couple of weeks we have blogged about the role unions have in the U. S.  We began Labor Day week with a historical perspective on workers and how unions helped to shape our country.  Last week, we blogged on the moral and economic justification of unions.

This week, we’re continuing with that economic and moral justification by focusing more specifically on income inequality and how it also relates to U. S. democracy.

According to the International Monetary Fund(IMF), income of labor has decreased for the last 15 years by about 3.5% thus helping to create the income inequality problem in the U. S.   They cite three reasons for this problem.  One of them is the breakdown of labor unions and policies.  Labor has also identified the other two reasons IMF cites as concerns of unions.  They are trade practices and technological changes. Trade practices hurt U. S. labor markets when production is being done in other countries with an adequate labor supply at  less expense so it becomes much cheaper to produce a product in a country other than the U. S.   The other problem cited that is helping to create income inequality is the advancement of technology.  The IMF says union membership has declined more than 15% since the early 2000s.  They believe this has hurt the ability of wages to increase as fewer workers are covered under collective bargaining processes or the bargaining power of unions has diminished.  Diminishing bargaining power has meant unions have either had to maintain the same wage with no increases or, in some cases, have been threatened layoffs or closures if wages aren’t reduced.  Anti-union legislation at the local or state level has also diminished some of the capability of unions to negotiate better pay for members.  Corporations have been much more aggressive in anti-union campaigns.  While the IMF responds to the concerns about trade and technology, they say they can’t pinpoint a real cause for the reduced power of unions or the decline in memberships so they have no recommendation on how to improve the situation.

On the other hand,  the Economic Policy Institute(EPI) says stagnant wages have started much earlier than what IMF reported.  EPI says it started in 1979 and is now extending to those with a college education.  EPI says wage inequality has been exacerbated not just through economical means but also because of the lack of legislation which has caused those with greater income to see more gains than those with less income.    Like IMF, EPI also believes diminished union power has contributed  to the problem.  But unlike IMF, EPI has some suggestions to improve the ability of unions to assist with wages.  They suggest policy makers need to do more to encourage union membership because when unions win, everybody wins especially for those in lower wage jobs.  Unions set the wage standard for entire industries not just organized workplaces.  Low-wage occupations see a greater increase with unions which benefits all occupations and narrows wage gaps between low earners and high earners .  Had these wages kept pace with productivity levels, the increase to the hourly worker would have increased over 60%.

EPI also says instead of focusing on policies that restrict growth, legislators should focus on policies that help improve the opportunity for union participation.  Federal labor laws that are over 70 years old need to be updated to help increase union membership.

For example, this week in California, lawmakers are looking at applying other measures to cap-and-trade policies for automakers in California.  In order to receive cap-and-trade incentives, automakers, such as Tesla, must show they are acting in a “fair and responsible” manner to unions.  The UAW has been having difficulty with organizing at Tesla because of management efforts.  This may help to ease the organizing tension and help with membership gains.

In another example from an op-ed in The New York Times,  Benjamin Sachs, a professor from Harvard Law School, suggested separating union activities into two distinct plans.  One would be as unions currently function, representing workers through collective bargaining agreements, and the other would be organizing any worker for political purposes only.    In other words, he says, workers would not have  collective bargaining representation in the workplace but would be organized just for political objectives.  A designated location could be established where workers could meet to determine their political objectives.  Dues would not be collected other than payroll deductions agreed to by the worker for political expenditures.  If the designated location was the workplace, retribution would not be allowed by the employer.  This, he wrote, would be better for lower to middle income workers than what is occurring now.

Benjamin Sachs, in his suggestion, said the inability of people to be heard from their government is a failure of democracy.  As wage inequality worsens, it breaks down democracy.  An article in Psychology Today points out people tend to be less hopeful.  Income issues cause hard decisions to be made.  For some, it can mean eating or going to a doctor to get well.  People become less willing to participate in community and society events such as voting.  They feel their vote has little impact on legislative action.  This also leads to even more social problems.

Unions, on the other hand,  help with the democratic process.  They give voice to the needs of working Americans just as they did in the 1800s and 1900s.  Not only do they speak up about wage inequality but they provide a mechanism that shows people how a democracy works.  As we blogged Labor Day week, Senator Wagner encouraged union membership when he wrote about the Wagner Act.  The intent behind it, he wrote,  was to give people an opportunity in a democratic process where they could vote on issues that impacted them and vote on the leaders they wanted to represent them.  His concern was the political process in the United States was too big and too broad to help people understand it.  Unions, he thought, could be a teaching ground.  Today, unions see that and members get involved.  They volunteer during elections to help maintain a democratic process so American people continue to have a voice on important issues.  They also make sure people are able to get out to vote and take them if need be.

Unions aren’t just about raising wages and  speaking out on wage inequality.  They know and see the problems associated with wage inequality and other social safety net issues that can impact the strength of a country.  Unions give the voice that individual Americans can’t always achieve.  They talk to legislators and provide the expertise to help shape legislative policy.    Unions fight for those less fortunate who may not be a member of a union but because unions are there for them and have been for many years, we as a nation benefit from it.   In recent polls from Gallup and Pew Research, almost two-thirds of American people now believe unions are needed.  They believe unions can help improve their lives.  They believe income can improve and when their income improves so does their daily life and when their daily life improves so does our nation.

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Did You Know: Another View On The Importance of Unions from a Surprising Source

Last Monday was Labor Day, the holiday where we are supposed to celebrate American workers and their contributions to our society. Part of that should also include the essential role unions played in creating our strong economic system.

Last week we wrote about the role of unions in building our economy. This week, we want to look at what someone else said about this topic, Pope Francis.

The American Jesuit Review reports Pope Francis recently made supporting remarks about the importance of unions. He stated “Labor unions that protect and defend the dignity of work and the rights of workers continue to have an essential role in society, especially in promoting inclusion.” He added “There is no good society without a good union”

The article states the Pope went on to say “Labor unions must guard and protect workers, but also defend the rights of those ‘outside the walls,’ particularly those who are retired and the excluded who are also excluded from rights and democracy.” He added, “There is no justice together if it isn’t together with today’s excluded ones,”

He also pointed out work without respect for the person “becomes something inhuman.” That lack of respect is shown when companies move jobs to areas where workers are paid less, politicians act to reverse wage gains enacted in cities and communities, and right-wing politicians seek to enact “right-to-work” laws which will hurt workers.

It’s not often I get to quote Pope Francis and Jesuit publications, but his remarks about unions are very appreciated. (His Holiness should feel free to quote me anytime he chooses.)

The economic role of unions in building equality can be seen by looking at what has happened to our economy as union membership has declined. In a recent article, Newsweek points to the role unions played in building economic equality and the middle class. They cite a Harvard study which found:

  • Reductions in union jobs account for 33 percent inequality among men, and 40 percent among women since the early 1970s.
  • While losses cut across racial lines, black workers have been hardest hit. Since 1983, the percentage of black workers in a union has declined2 percent, compared to 43.6 percent for white workers. As a result, more than half of black working people make less than $15/hour.

Unions offered workers a path to the middle class, better working conditions, access to health care and other benefits, and collective political power. Not only did union members receive these benefits, but employees of nearby non-organized companies also received higher wages and better conditions in order to keep those companies competitive for the workforce. The article states union and nonunion workers fighting for minimum wage increases have won raises for another 20 million workers, and set 10 million on the road to a living wage.

The role of unions in helping shape our society is undeniable, and their importance in securing economic growth and fairness remains today.

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