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Two Views on the Proposed NLRB Changes and the UAW 9/23/2011

By: Doug Grima; Stephen Sestina

With the proposed changes in the National Labor Relations Board it is apparent that the union and management share polar opposite viewpoints. Union’s smell fresh blood and management is (and very well should be) fearful that the changes will affect their ability to maintain their union free status.

With the UAW publicly announcing their goal of organizing a foreign transplant auto company like Volkswagen, these changes are significant. Two labor specialists from Permanent Solutions Labor Consultants offer a unique perspective to how these changes will affect the UAW’s latest push to go after transplant companies. One spent his career inside the union. Late in his career, he decided that there was a much better way to positively affect the workers employment experience. The other built a career as an executive in the corporate world, crafting programs that promote positive employee relations that eliminate an employees desire for third-party representation. Doug Grima, a former UAW Local President, offers his take on the issue based on his personal experiences from life inside the union as a labor leader. Then, Stephen Sestina, a former human resource executive with Toyota Industries offers his perspective based on his experiences in a leadership role with a large transplant organization.

Doug Grima – Former UAW Amalgamated Local President

As a former labor professional with over 35 years experience inside the union, I have represented union members in virtually every capacity. Starting as a union member, working my way up to committeeman, EAP representative and ending up as President of one of the largest amalgamated UAW locals in the State of Michigan (over 6,000 members in 80+ units), I was at one time completely entrenched in the union movement. I lived and breathed “union”. I was extremely proud to be the President of Local 174 (the home of Walter P. Reuther – the most important person in the history of the UAW). During my time inside the union, I negotiated many contracts, worked on arbitrations for my membership and assisted with numerous organizing campaigns.

When I started my “union” journey, I believed in what I was doing. I believed I was helping my membership. However, there was a paradigm shift in the 1980’s when executive union leadership began to consistently “go down the toilet”. It was then that my view of the union started to change as well.

In recent years (and in my opinion), UAW President, Bob King, has done very little except take dues from the membership and pad the coffers for the International. In my experience, the UAW has become somewhat lazy when it comes to representing (or even caring) about their membership. In fact, the UAW only really cares about collecting initiation fees and dues. They have no choice but to organize to stay afloat as the union coffers have fallen drastically. The UAW is looking to the NLRB proposed changes to decrease the number of days management has to campaign to 10-15 days. Remember, Bob King has made several comments that the very survival of the UAW depends on organizing a foreign transplant company. These changes will make this a whole lot easier. From my experience, the union has basically been sitting on the sidelines, planning on where to put dues money for further organizing attempts and waiting for the changes in election procedures (since the Employee Free Choice Act was shot down) so that they can launch blitz campaigns and rebuild their dwindling membership numbers. Trust me when I say this, the unions will not share the same “Lets Work Together” approach that King speaks about in the public eye. They will lie, cheat and steal to save the UAW.

As a former Union President, I dealt with the unscrupulous International UAW and their organizers. As President, I worked on many organizing drives. I personally dealt with organizers who were trained to lie and twist the truth to the workers in the plants. The workers were led to believe that once they joined the union they would be given pay increases and increased benefits that simply never came to fruition.. As a Local President, I was the one left with the job of explaining to the workers that the raises and increased benefits were not a “sure thing” and that they had to be accomplished through collective bargaining. I did my best to try and keep their spirits high but in my position, I was also the one that had to explain to them that they were going to receive less pay and/or less benefits as a result of collective bargaining when the International provided little to no support during negotiations.

Inside the Local, workers become engulfed in rage when they realize that the organizer was able to look them in the eye and lie. They realize that the organizer has no problem lying because once the workers vote the union in, the organizer moves into the shadows and is never seen again. The organizer has nothing to do with the negotiation of the contract.

Lying and twisting the truth is a “way of life” for UAW organizers. They are trained to do this. As a former President of a large and active Local Union, I can attest to this because I personally witnessed it. I was in my position because I wanted to do right by my membership. I began to complain about the dishonesty in the tactics that organizers were using to the UAW Organizing Department that was headed by Bob King. King’s department would consistently tell me that the organizers were “only doing their jobs” and that it was my “duty” to negotiate a contract that would get the results that the workers wanted, including the “pie in the sky” raises promised by the organizers. This was outrageous, and so started my battles with the lies and backhanded practices of the UAW. They had no shame and no problems with these tactics.

A large number of organizers who worked under King’s direction were made up of people who never worked in a plant and were never even UAW members. King would hire college students to serve as organizers because he said that they would work 24/7 without demanding overtime wages (as a union member would). These same organizers are the ones lying and manipulating the truth. They are the ones telling the workers that they are being treated like slaves, that they are being paid unfairly, and that they are not being treated with dignity or respect. In addition, the work they are doing is at a low wage and they are working way more than 40 hours per week.

The organizers ability to lie, under direction from the UAW will certainly give management a huge disadvantage. The UAW will delay the filing of a petition at any transplant company until the organizer twists the truth, tells their fair share of lies, creates issues between management and the workforce and creates enough havoc inside a system that appears to be currently in good working order. Once they have done this and have built enough support inside the system, they will file their petition. With the shortened election period, management will simply not have enough time to fight back. By the time a petition is filed, the workers will be so “programmed” to the union lies and manipulation that it will be extremely difficult, if possible at all, to win the trust and support of the workforce back.

Stephen Sestina – Former HR Vice President with Toyota Industries

As a former human resource executive in both unionized and non-unionized organizations with more than 35 years of experience the proposed changes by the NLRB strike me as a significant point in labor and in how management runs operations. My personal experiences encompass plant, regional and corporate positions with companies like Quaker State, Monsanto, Akzo Nobel, WMX (formerly Waste Management), Sanyo and Toyota Industries North America. All of these would have been affected if these changes occurred when I was in one of these positions.

During my time as an HR executive I negotiated with the OCAW, IUE, Teamsters, URW, USWA, ICWU and the IBEW. I have also been involved with organizing attempts by the UAW, IBEW and OCAW. In addition to union organizing attempts I have also been through several union decertifications. The main point here is that I have gone toe to toe with the union, seen their tactics in action, understand how they work, and am qualified to speak from a corporate leadership point of view

As a Human Resources Management professional I would like to address what I have seen as the unions approach to organizing transplant companies. The unions have painted a picture that the transplant companies are taking away American jobs and that they are lowering the employees standard of living by not paying "higher wages" and not providing comparable benefits. In addition, the union's implied that the transplant's safety record was not as good as American companies.

As a Human Resources Manager and executive for several transplant companies I was able to show our employees that their standard of living was not lower, that their benefits were very comparable in the industry and that they worked in a very safe environment.

The union's statements that transplant companies were taking jobs away from Americans is the furthest from the truth. Transplant companies were providing Americans with jobs while the American industry was losing market share because of poor quality and laying employees off in union plants.

We informed our employees that we took a three-pronged approach to keep their standard of living equal to others in the industry by offering competitive wages, benefits, and bonuses. We also informed the employees that they were not paying union dues, fines, or assessment to a union which meant they were able to retain their hard earned money for themselves and family and not give it to someone they didn’t know or to some cause they did not want to support. They were given benefit information that showed they were receiving top quality benefits without any form of contribution, again saving them money.

We also showed employees that in the long term we were able to offer stable employment during difficult economic times (we found ways to cut costs not employees) while many union shops were laying employees off as soon as difficult times were on the horizon. This allowed the employee to continue to receive a paycheck while their friends at other companies were out of work. Providing steady employment allowed our employees to maintain their standard of living.

Safety was always paramount in my companies. We established safety committees, had regular safety audits, investigated all accidents and developed countermeasures to ensure that an accident would not occur again. We had employees involved on safety committees and our safety record was well known by all of our employees. Our plant safety record was better than the national average for our industry.

How did we stay non-union in a heavily unionized area; communicating the facts to employees, against the myths that are portrayed to them by unions are the best deterrents to avoid a union. As a Human Resources manager and executive it was always necessary to ensure that wage and benefit surveys were conducted to ensure employees were paid adequately. Communication programs were developed to continually inform employees at all levels of the company’s policies, procedures, and actions. Regular meeting were held with employees by all levels of management to get feedback from employees of their concerns and how they can best be addressed. An open door approach was use to allow all employees to speak to any member of management including the President to air their concerns. And most importantly, all employees were treated with dignity, courtesy and respect at all times.

These listed above items allowed me to maintain a union free environment for a plant and company. I highly recommend to anyone who wants to maintain a union free environment to follow the above suggestions.

What will a company's human resources department have to do differently to maintain a non-union environment? Looking to the future, the question is what affect will the proposed NLRB changes have on today’s human resources manager or executive (if implemented)?

My first recommendation for the human resources professional today is to have good communications with their employees. To continue with these communications programs and always listen to what your employees are saying because let's face it when you stop listening that's when the union organizer is there to listen to the employee complaints. Always treat your employees with respect, courtesy, dignity and respect.

As a former Human Resources Manager the proposed changes in the union recognition election process that would change the time for an election from the now 42 days to a 10 to 15 day period would be devastating to any corporate culture. This would cripple the ability of any company an opportunity to fully educate the employees about the union and the lies that they will tell the employees for the sake of getting cards signed in order to join the union.

Secondly, the shorter time for an election definitely plays into the hand of the union. The unions have a tendency to use what I call a "blunder bust" effect, which means throw out all kinds of information true or not. The idea here is to overwhelm the company. If the NLRB shortens the time for an election to be held the company will not have appropriate time to respond to all the garbage presented by the union. The result is,an enormous advantage to the union with the employees and the company becoming the biggest losers.

The human resources professional must take the lead in this area. He or she needs to have a campaign response team in place and a set plan ready to be implemented at a moment's notice. All team members have to know their assignments and address all issues as they arise. Time is of the essence. Material should already be drafted; speeches ready and individuals identified to deliver those speeches and letters to homes should also be drafted.

Your management personnel should be trained to identify any union activity i.e., buzz words, union material in the plant, challenges to management authority and be ready to respond.

Your approach must be aggressive and immediate and your labor attorney and labor consultant should be notified.

You must be involved every day, out on the plant floor talking with associates, feeling the pulse of the plant and you must keep your processes, policies and procedures up to date.

Thirdly, the “Micro Unit”; this would be a terrible thing to allow to occur. A “Micro Unit” is a small group of employees who perform he same job function and can be organized without having to have other employees in the same organization included This gives the union a big step inside the company and allows them to have a big “wipe saw” effect against the company. You may be asking yourself what do I mean by wipe saw. Simply put, if the union gets an item for that smaller group that no one else in the organization has, they will use it as leverage with other employees and say, “Look what I can get you and together we can get more”. Which in turn enhances their ability to organize the whole plant!

As a human resource professional you need to emphasize the continuity of the whole group. Reinforce that everyone is a team and should stay together as a team. Ensure everyone is treated with fairness and consistency so no wedge can be driven between your employees. Have open and honest communication and address any issues immediately so no division occurs amongst your employees. If a transplant company is already promoting positive employee relations as we were when I was there, the UAW will have no teeth in their plan. This is what being proactive is all about. The NLRB changes affects activities after the petition is filed. There is little the union can do to use the proposed changes to their advantage if they can’t get to the point where a petition is filed after being blocked by positive employee relations that are applied in a proactive manner.

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