The value of creating a strong relationship with the union leadership is the one of the best things you can do to ensure a stable and efficient process. Trust is an essential component to the success of both parties and without it, tension can erode months of progress. The best way to create a lasting relationship is to include the union leaders early and often. Far too often, union leadership is cast aside, in fear of escalation between the two groups. However, if you can approach the situation as partners, the process will move with more efficiency and ease.


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John O’Leary, a consultant and contributor for relays an experience that illustrates the inefficiencies of poor communication between parties. In one instance, he attended a school board meeting where the school’s management was prepared to unveil a new bussing system. Before the meeting started, dozens of district bus drivers filed into the room, holding signs and chanting in protest. It took more than an hour to return order to the meeting. Instead of discussing the cost effective properties of the new bussing system, the entirety of the meeting was spent restoring peace.

If unions expect to be left out of the process completely, or, they’ve been excluded in the past, they’ll no doubt be tension between employees and employer. Employees may take the issue personally and will be unable to understand the effectiveness of the issue at hand. While the school district simply wanted to improve the efficiency of their bus system, their employees were not kept in the loop, and thus unable to understand the motive behind the change in the contract.

When this happens, union members are stripped of their ability to communicate. This is damaging in many ways. First, this approach perpetuates a system of fear and distrust between unions and management and pits employees against their workplace. This is the last thing an employer wants: an unmotivated staff, sharing an angry passion. Second, this approach is inefficient and can cause the workplace to lose time, money, and valuable employees.


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Consultants should prepare you to meet and speak with union leadership on a weekly basis. How will that help? To start, it will increase your level of communication and direct involvement significantly. The easiest way to develop trust is to understand and empathize with the union leadership. The more the union sees you and trusts you, the fewer problems you will have. In turn, this will result in fewer grievances because you’ve already established a structure where they feel comfortable discussing issues in a safe environment. This safe atmosphere demands that you maintain a high level of customer service and adopt a philosophy that the union is always right. While this philosophy may seem hard to accommodate, it will guarantee that the workers will never bring you issues that are phony or unsolvable.

In fact, dealing with the union leadership is like dealing with you spouse. The better foundation you build, the stronger storm your relationship will weather. A relationship that you as an employer can rely on will make your company’s operation smoother, more efficient, and less problematic. Be prepared to keep the lines of communication open and your company will reap the rewards of a successful relationship.

Stephen Koppekin Consulting, Inc.