Friday, September 23, 2016

And the University of Minnesota faculty organizing drive drags on, or, bananas aren’t apples, but they are more like apples than like airplanes

When I taught labor relations last winter, the union organizing drive among University of Minnesota faculty was a very timely topic. After having been away for the summer, some of the students from that class asked whether faculty were unionized yet. But the answer brings to life one of the realities of union organizing in the United States—it’s a slow process. SEIU Local 284 filed a petition seeking an election with the State of Minnesota’s Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) on January 20, 2016. Over 34 weeks later, an election is not yet in sight.

In any union representation election, the election unit needs to be defined. That is, what jobs are included and excluded from what will be the bargaining unit if the union wins. This definition is initially presented by the union when requesting an election, but an employer can object on the basis of there not being a “community of interest” among all of the included workers. A major sticking point in the faculty organizing drive is whether the bargaining unit should only include tenured and tenure-track faculty (the University’s position) or should also include full-time and part-time instructors (“contract faculty”) (the union’s position). In other words, the University asserts that regular faculty and contract faculty do not share a community of interest whereas the union argues that they do. Undoubtedly, regular and contract faculty have things in common (an educational focus, instruction, academic achievement as a position requirement) and not (tenure versus annual contracts, sharply different degrees of research responsibilities). So where to draw the line?

Unfortunately, an already-slow process has been made worse by the curious choice of the Minnesota legislature to enshrine the University of Minnesota bargaining units in state law over 30 years ago. It’s clear that tenured and tenure-track faculty are in what the law defines as Unit 8. But what about contract faculty? The University claimed that they are in the “Academic Professional and Administrative Staff” unit (Unit 11) by law, so there is nothing for BMS to decide. The union claimed that the law is so old that contract faculty are new positions that need to be classified by BMS. Over multiple objections by the University, BMS agreed with the union. So a lengthy hearing was held last spring, and BMS finally issued its ruling earlier this week.

In its ruling, BMS largely sided with the union and placed contract faculty into Unit 8 along with regular faculty (although extension faculty were excluded because they are not located on the Twin Cities campus). So unless the University is successful in an appeal, an election will occur some day and will uniquely include regular and contract faculty in the same unit. But that’s still a ways off because (a) the University will probably appeal, and (b) there still needs to be more hearings over excluding supervisors (which could include me as department chair) and determining whether instructors who teach minimal classes are real employees and therefore included. So again, union organizing can often be a lengthy process.

So what about the BMS ruling? How could they put regular and contract faculty together? If this occurred in the private sector, my guess is that they wouldn't have been placed together because they would have been seen as having distinct communities of interest. But in the private sector (and probably in most states), nothing is pre-specified so the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) could put them together, or keep them separate. What the University seemingly failed to appreciate in this case is that Minnesota law has already limited the bargaining units. So BMS really wasn't deciding whether faculty and instructors go together, it was really deciding whether instructors go with faculty or go with the “everything else leftover” professional and administrative unit that also includes accountants, cartographers, athletic trainers, and over 300 other job titles. The university kept arguing that instructors aren’t faculty. But BMS ruled that they are even less like accountants and athletic trainers. Or the way I’ve bastardized it, bananas aren’t apples, but they are more like apples than like airplanes.

So whether or not this ruling makes it more or less likely that the faculty will vote to unionize remains to be seen. And if the faculty do unionize, it will undoubtedly be an interesting case study of how to include regular and contract faculty interests in bargaining and representation. In the meantime, the events of this year clearly illustrate how this can be a drawn-out process. And at a broader level, this also illustrates why legislators should be careful not to overly prescribe matters and to instead craft laws in ways that are flexible and adaptable.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Homogenization: Good for Milk, Bad for Managing Workers

Readers of my blog know that I developed and launched a massive open online course (MOOC) on Preparing to Manage Human Resources. Readers of my blog also know that I think work is quite complex. It shouldn’t be reduced to being just about money, or just about satisfaction, or just about any other single thing. Put these two things together and a major theme of my MOOC is for managers to understand the different possibilities why people work so that they can better determine what drives their own workers. These drivers might not be the same for everyone, and might not be the same as the manager’s own views on work.

Many of the postings by learners in my MOOC reinforce the need for managers to observe rather than assume and to allow for person-to-person differences. In these postings, note how each author is painting workers with a broad brush to homogenize them to all be working for the same reason. And the aspect of work assumed to be universally important is the one that individually important to him or her.

“Money is key driving motivation of employee's performance. It was and stays a primary crucial factor in choosing a job.”

“I think that a large majority of the population works for money. Can we blame them, our society has made it that way.”

“Most people work out of the personal satisfaction and the joy of doing what makes them happy and love doing it day after day. I believe that when you work out of joy and regardless of the remuneration, its bring some sort of inner peace to you, your heart also feel at rest and you are really happy at all times.”

Not all of these postings assert that money is the key driver, but all of them homogenize and universalize the meaning of work and therefore key motivational factors. This is not a good strategy for managers to adopt. Managers must recognize that people are different so work might have different meanings, and might be very different from the manager’s own view(s) of work. Moreover, work is complex so each individual might have multiple feelings about work. For some, work might be about money and satisfaction and accomplishment and contributing to society, as just one example of combinations of diverse factors.

Academic research can help managers understand the possibilities (for example, watch my animation), but it’s a manager’s job to figure out what makes each employee tick. Which unfortunately makes managing people hard work (and thus associated with its own meanings of work!). I will close with a final posting excerpt that reflects one of the key take-aways from my MOOC:

“The job of a manager in the workplace is to get things done through employees. To do this manager should be able to motivate employees. Motivation practice and theory are very difficult and diverse subjects. It's easier said than done. To understand motivation one must understand human nature itself. And there lies the problem. Human nature can be very simple, but also very complex.”

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Unique CTUL-Target Partnership: Filling a Vacuum

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a roundtable event sponsored by the Workers Lab that focused on the CTUL-Target partnership. CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha which translates to The Center of Workers United in Struggle) is a Minneapolis worker center that, to quote from its own mission statement, “organizes low-wage workers from across the Twin Cities to develop leadership and educate one another to build power and lead the struggle for fair wages, better working conditions, basic respect, and a voice in our workplaces.” Worker centers have emerged in many cities over the past decade to try to improve working conditions outside the parameters of traditional labor law and traditional labor unionism, particularly for workers who fall in gray areas of labor law. For example, the cleaning of retail stores is commonly contracted out to third-party contractors so it is difficult to establish a collective bargaining relationship with the retail chain because technically the janitors do not work for the retailer.

As the result of a fortuitous set of factors, CTUL and Target have formed a unique worker center-corporate partnership that is highlighted by the development and adoption of Target’s Responsible Contractor Policy. There are many aspects of this story worth telling, and CTUL’s website has a lot of information. At a high level, I think it’s a fascinating model. It’s not abdication to the vagaries of the market or one side or the other finding a way to dictate its agenda. It’s not a central authority trying to find one-size-fits-all solutions. Rather, it’s a way of creating dialogue among the parties most affected, finding common interests, and striking a balance on challenging issues for which they have conflicting goals. In other words, it’s a new institutional way to create what I’ve called “Employment with a Human Face” by balancing central employer and employee objectives (such as efficiency, equity, and voice).

As I listened to representatives of CTUL, Target, and TakeAction Minnesota describe their roles in this partnership, two things struck me. One, to have a successful partnership requires not just shifting power so that low-paid, immigrant and minority workers have some influence, but it also requires shifting mental models and mindsets. For this to be a productive partnership, Target had to shift from a defensive posture that saw CTUL’s criticism of abusive working conditions by Target’s janitorial services contractors as an attack, to an opportunity for listening, understanding, and ultimately, valuable community engagement. And CTUL had to be willing to adopt a partnership rather than conflictual mindset, too. As I’ve often written and taught about, ideas are important.

The other broad theme that struck me comes down to one word: vacuum. By contracting out its janitorial work, Target had essentially created a legal vacuum where it’s difficult for workers to effectively enforce their legal rights—the avoidance of wage theft, the presence of a safe workplace and workers’ compensation coverage, and the ability to unionize if desired. CTUL essentially filled this vacuum and shifted Target’s terrain of compliance. Because of the vacuum, Target didn’t have a traditional legal compliance concern and could ignore the janitor’s plight, but CTUL raised the specter of negative publicity for Target. So while lawsuits were perhaps not a concern (the traditional focus of corporate “compliance”), harms to the corporate brand became a concern. And Target responded. But this was prompted by a legal vacuum that in simpler times would have been filled by the enforcement of employment and labor law.

Another aspect to this vacuum was connected to remarks by TakeAction Minnesota, a community organizing coalition of progressive organizations. TakeAction Minnesota said that it had learned from CTUL that transformational shifts aren’t about a single issue win or just getting to the table, they are about shifting power, dealing directly with employers, getting a deal with enforcement mechanisms, and recognizing that there won’t be agreement on every single issue. Wait a minute, this is classic industrial relations thinking, and labor law promotes labor unions for exactly these reasons. But for whatever reason, unions are unable to be successful in certain sectors. A vacuum has been created, and it was striking to me that without even realizing the parallel, TakeAction Minnesota was highlighting exactly what unions used to do. In the areas of the economy with such vacuums, new organizations like CTUL and new partnerships like the one with Target are needed in order to create employment with a human face, and to create employment relationships that are WIN-WIN-WIN: relationships that serve workers and their families (win #1), organizations (win #2), and society (win #3).