Strategic Human Resource Planning: A Union Perspective

By Stratton-Devine, Kay | Human Resource Planning, September 1992 | Go to article overview

Strategic Human Resource Planning: A Union Perspective


Stratton-Devine, Kay, Human Resource Planning


North American corporations have demonstrated an increasing interest in planning strategically for their human resources over the past 15 years (see, for example, Alpander and Botter, 1981; Kelleher and Cotter, 1982; Dyer 1983; Dyer, 1984; Burack, 1985; Ulrich, 1986; Boroski, 1990; Schuler and Walker, 1990). The corporate world has realized that linking organizational goals and strategies to human resource (HR) objectives and programs is a key determinant of gaining a competitive advantage (Ulrich, 1986). Consequently, more focus is being directed toward strategic human resource planning (SHRP).

While more firms are embracing the notion of SHRP, little is known as to whether or not unions are adopting parallel practices for their human resources, i.e. hired staff. This article proceeds from the conviction that SHRP can benefit unions, as well as corporations. A union's success, much as a corporation's, hinges upon the quality of its human resources, as even the best union strategy has little hope if the right people are not in the right place at the right time to implement it.

Because of the dearth of information pertinent to union SHRP, this article will first offer a fresh perspective of union patterns, or themes, formulated as a result of investigating the current status of union SHRP within a small sample of Canadian unions. Second, an actual illustration of one organization's strategic planning process is presented, followed by procedural issues that should be considered in linking the strategic plan to human resource planning.

Strategic Human Resource Planning and the Management of Unions

Just as top executives agree that the HR function is critical to business success (Rhodes, 1988), it would seem that unions must have effective human resources if they are to optimize their role. Consequently, the objective of SHRP for unions should be to build initiatives that link HR planning to organizational strategies.

Today, unions must formulate strategies to cope with a plethora of environmental and workplace challenges, such as rapidly changing technology, complex legislation, and increasing globalization. In conjunction with this operational strategy making, unions must determine what human resources are requisite to ensure the success of their plans. In other words, unions need to incorporate HR considerations in their planning; they need personnel who can understand and implement whatever strategies they formulate.

Furthermore, most unions require expertise in areas such as economic analysis, law, technology, global issues, public policy, and marketing, as well as in the traditional union activities of organizing, negotiating, grievance handling, and education. For example, responding to the introduction of new technology in contract negotiations may require union personnel who are well versed in such technical developments; or, the recent trend of protecting the environment may require staff who are knowledgeable about "green" issues. Some unions are also attempting to form alliances or coalitions with various interest groups. To accomplish this, a union requires personnel who are knowledgeable about, and sympathetic to, the interest groups' causes. Through implementing SHRP, unions may be able to identify the people requirements needed to best achieve some of these organizational strategies and goals.

To gain insight into what some unions are presently doing in terms of linking strategy with HR planning for hired staff, a qualitative research project was conducted. Following are the results of this project, based primarily on Canadian data. At the outset, it should be made clear that the results of this study pertain only to the organizations included in the sample, and that any generalization is inappropriate until a more representative sample can be analyzed. We believe this is a good start, however, to initiating further research on how unions manage their human resource functions. …

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