Consulting to Union Officials

By Harris, Jeffrey | The Journal of Employee Assistance, April 2018 | Go to article overview

Consulting to Union Officials


Harris, Jeffrey, The Journal of Employee Assistance


In our exploration of the many ways in which an EA professional can be an effective management consultant, I felt it was important to include some reflections on how to be an effective union consultant.

In fact, EAP core technologies states: "EAP core technology is: Consultation with, training of, and assistance to work organization leadership (managers, supervisors, and union officials) seeking to manage troubled employees, enhance the work environment, and improve employee job performance." (italics mine)

According to the AFL-CIO, "Union members work together to negotiate and enforce a contract with management that guarantees the things you care about like decent raises, affordable health care, job security, and a stable schedule." It goes on to say that, "Unions don't protect low-performers or harm the employer." To explore union services in more depth, visit https://aflcio.org/whatunions-do.

Unions: A Culture Within a Culture

A union is a brotherhood--and out of their history of struggle, they have become protective, insulated, and careful with their trust.

Unions are non-profit entities led by a board of directors who are rotated in/out through elections. The board must work in the trade or industry represented, and are granted either a full hiatus or limited release time from the job to serve the interests of the union. Most unions have a business agent, an employee of the union who has special training in contracts and negotiation, and who leads collective bargaining on behalf of employees, who are called members.

Each work department or division has a shop steward, who helps the union organize and, along with union directors, may represent members in the filing and testimony of grievances on behalf of members, when it is perceived that the supervisor or organization has misinterpreted or breached the labor stipulations spelled out in the memorandum of understanding (MOU).

One of the many elements that make union consulting unique is that union representatives likely have little management training and are often co-workers who may share the same pay grade and supervisor. That is to say, they may have few supervisory skills.

What Matters to Union Leadership

As EA professionals, we address the needs of the referred individual in order to maximize assistance for this person (union member). It is common for union representatives to mistrust management, so you would be welladvised to avoid the perception that the EAP was a tool of management intending to disadvantage union members.

For instance, be sure to avoid the error of arguing for the importance of profits (they know profits are important, but don't expect them to prioritize it). You'll have better luck making your arguments to labor leaders if they are built on themes of job retention and job safety because a union rep wants, "union brethren to keep their jobs and I want their jobs to keep them in one piece. Tell me how an EAP helps."

From the start, clarify the role of the EAP, its policies with union representatives, being sure to stay within your boundaries. …

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