Unions @ Work

How to Get Along with Your Union – Four Tips from a Career in Labor Law

by Timothy F. Murphy

Shameless Plug Warning: Our clients – and all of us here – have been lucky to work with great lawyers with decades of experience in labor and employment law. We have all learned a lot from them about the law and about the right way to do things. Over the past few years, several of those lawyers have retired. I thought it might be worthwhile to ask them to look back for any lessons learned worth sharing with you.

John H. Glenn spent 39 years here at Skoler Abbott practicing traditional labor law. He has plenty of war stories about dealing with unions (one of which involves nearly getting his car tipped over by striking workers and, yes, he was in it at the time).

But when I sat down with him recently and asked him what he had learned over his career about dealing productively with unions on behalf of clients, this is what he had to say:

  1. Treat union representatives (and workers) with respect;
  2. Keep the lines of communication with the union open; and
  3. Avoid surprising the union whenever you can.

His fourth tip was to train your supervisors on what’s in the union contract, especially on what “just cause” means. One big advantage to doing so, according to John, is saving time and energy during contract negotiations by not discussing real or perceived contract violations by supervisors raised by the union.

Don’t mistake John’s lessons for being “soft” on unions. He understood, as did his clients, that there is a time to dig in and bargain “hard”—just don’t make it personal and don’t forget that the people across the table should be treated with dignity and respect.

When you think about it, John’s lessons would work just as well in a non-unionized workplace because they revolve around treating employees with respect and training supervisors. Just substitute employees for union and company policies for union contract and there is something here for all employers.

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