Employers oftentimes do not see the benefits of allowing the presence of unions within the company. More often than not employers only see the downside of unions. Employers should not perceive union as a threat to the continued existence of the company. Instead, unions can be seen as partners to achieving corporate goals. It is suggested that employers should not attempt to evade unions either by monitoring activities of union officers, requiring as a condition for employment that employees shall not join unions, or by closing down their companies at the first sign of union membership. Instead, they must be able to learn to work with the unions.
Studies show that workplaces with unions are more likely to have two kinds of policies that are at the top of management priorities – flexibility policy and high performance work system. (“Unions Benefit Employers as well as Employees” 1)
There is a general perception that unions have tendency to resist flexibility policies or those policies that give the employers sufficient discretion to implement changes in the workplace such as to reduce the number of personnel in the workforce, to reduce the number of persons occupying management position, and to transfer some work to independent contractors. On the contrary, according to Policy Studies Institute, employers are better able to implement their flexibility policies in unionized workplaces. The reason may perhaps be due to cooperation that may be established between unions and the employers.
In addition, according to Policy Studies Institute, “workplaces with a union presence are much more likely to have a range of “high performance work systems”, which are at the centre of firms’ drive to increase productivity and customer service. These systems include two-way communications, team-working, staff incentives, interchangeable employees, and continuous training and development” (“Unions benefit employers as well as employees”, 2005, p.1)
There are several reasons why unions may help achieve high performance work system in workplaces. The first is that unions help provide a different perspective for making management decisions. There are situations when companies may impose decisions which from the management’s point of view may promote the interest of the company. It is better that the management should first consult with the unions before they decide to implement the decision.
It must be stressed that oppositions by unions against company decisions should not be taken negatively since conflict in workplaces is not necessarily detrimental to decision making process. It is said that different perspectives often result in better quality decisions that are more likely to be acceptable on the for the employees. (Rubinstein, et. al., 1993) Wal-Mart may benefit from unions by making them an integral part of decision making of the company.
Another reason why unions may help achieve high performance work system is that unions help enhance collective and individual voice of the employees. (Dr. Caroll Gil and Denny Meyer, 3) Companies are not always aware of employee grievances at least until the problem has escalated. Unions as the true representative of the employees may help bring to the attention of the management grievances which may affect their productivity or performance of employees.
In addition, employers who have developed a positive relationship with the unions can not only determine these grievances but they can also cooperate with the unions in finding mutually acceptable solutions to these issues. Wal-Mart may benefit from unions by knowing the concerns of their employees before these problems escalate to court actions.
One of the reasons why conflicts happen within the company is because of the absence of effective communication between employers and the employees. Employees are naturally suspicious of the actions of their employers. Employers are also suspicious of the actions of their employees. These suspicious and doubts can be unhealthy in the workplace.
They can, however, be removed if there is an effective communication infrastructure within the company. According to Black and Lynch (2001), Unions have an infrastructure that facilitates lateral communication and coordination. They act as lubricant to communication making negotiations easier and less expensive instead of hiring external entities to help in negotiation with the employees. Wal-Mart is a company that needs to enhance its corporate image and this could be done by improving its communication with its employees.
The presence of unions within a company helps increase employees’ trust and commitment. Employees know that unions will truly represent and protect their interest. They know that if ever changes are introduced in the workplace, their own unions will ensure that their interests are protected. This may eventually lead to improved performance on the part of the employees, loyalty, higher productivity, lesser turnover and increased morale which are beneficial for the company (James Arrowsmith, 1). A high level of trust and commitment means lesser litigations and civil suits filed against Wal-Mart.
Unions and Federations are institutions that have brought significant changes to our society. They have not only been instrumental in pushing for reforms in our labor laws they have also helped improve the lives of our workers. With the extensive protection given to unions and the rights of the working class, it is time for the management to cooperation with the unions to better harness the strength of unions. The management must start seeing unions as effective partners to the achievement of corporate goals and objectives.