Employee Free Choice Act — An UNBELIEVABLE Career Opportunity For Human Resources!

by Alan Collins

Lots of HR folks complain about how tough it is to win a seat at the table in their organizations and to be taken seriously as a so-called “business partner.”

However, my experience is that as HR professionals the REAL reason we aren’t taken seriously because we spend time on the wrong things.

We spend too much time on work that is  “HR for HR sake.”  A Pepsi executive I worked with once called this “HR church work.”   That is, advocating HR programs, regardless of what the business needs, just to make people happy.   Stuff like flexible working hours.  Or improving service in the cafeteria.  Or getting excited about the latest new program featured on the Fortune Best Place To Work list.

And, I confess, I have been guilty of doing “HR church work” at times myself.

However, with the potential passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the game has changed.

If the EFCA passes, HR professionals will have an unbelievable opportunity to come to the table with added value to the business.   Because the EFCA will impact every non-union company across the country, it opens the door for HR professionals to get and keep a seat at the table and also to enhance their career.

Even if this legislation is modified by Congress or Obama, it’s still likely to greatly increase the power of unions and their ability to organize your workplace.   And I guarantee you, your company doesn’t want this.  Next to gaining a reputation as the next Enron or Lehman Brothers, the worse thing any non-union company wants is a union.

And the reason is simple.

Studies have shown that a union will increase the labor costs of a non-union company by 10-25% within the first three years. Wages at union companies are typically much higher than at non-union companies.  Just look at the auto industry.  Or the steel industry.  Or practically, any industry for that matter.

In addition, name me one management team has time to spend weeks negotiating a union contract every three years.  Or crossing picket lines if a strike occurs.  Or spending hours every week in union meetings talking about grievances, complaints and alleged unfair treatment…when all this time could be used trying to make money or serving their customers and clients.

The answer is: no one does.  And with current economic conditions, no sane company CEO (yes, there are still a few) wants to absorb this additional risk and financial burden on their P&L, if they can avoid it.

All this creates a tremendous opportunity for the HR professional that is ready to take on a lead role to ensure union free status in their organization.  This one single piece of congressional legislation can enable you to enhance your impact at the table, if you leverage it in the right way to help save your company money and mitigate risks to the business.   And this is what being an HR business partner is all about.

Here are 4 steps you can take right now to capitalize on this opportunity…

Step #1:  Upgrade your knowledge of the EFCA and labor relations.

Even if you’re an HR generalist with no current labor accountabilities, you need to school yourself on the EFCA.  If you’re asleep at the switch and a union comes in and organizes your clients, I guarantee that your HR career with that company is dead.  If I were your boss, I’d fire you myself.  And shortly thereafter, my boss would probably fire me as well.  So wake up!  Google “employee free choice act.”  Resolve to quickly become an expert on this.  Follow this legislation as it works itself through Congress.

Also, start proactively upgrading your skills in labor relations.  Make friends and set up some coaching time with the labor relations manager or labor lawyer in your company.  Attend some seminars on maintaining union-free status.  Read some books on preventative labor relations.  Check out websites such as LaborRelationsManager.com.

Opportunity #2:  Begin now doing employee relations assessments – and do them every six months.

As an HR professional, you should lead this process for every department or site that you have HR accountability for.  Start now. Sell this initiative to your boss or management team as an “employee relations assessment” or “organization health survey” or “workforce strategic review.”   No matter what you call it, your goal is to reduce long-term costs and risks to the business necessitated by the EFCA.

In doing this assessment, you will want to look at the kinds of things that a union organizer very easily use could against you when selling a union to your employees.  This would include areas like:

These are just a few of the areas you’ll want to audit.  Yes, this is hard work.  However, if your organization is weak in any of these areas, you’ve have provided an excellent platform for a union organizer to come and seduce your employees with guarantees of “more” and “better.”

Opportunity #3:  Get face time monthly with your leadership team on the status of your assessments.

This is your opportunity to shine and enhance your status as a true business partner.  Your assessments provide you with great information that will help save costs and mitigate risks to the business.   Capitalize on this by setting up time to brief your management team on the status of your employee relations assessments and how they’re going.

To add impact to your presentations, boil the information from your assessments down into a short persuasive presentation.  Stick to 5-8 pages.  Don’t bore them to sleep with a 50 page deck.  Concentrate on numbers and key insights. Quantify your data where you can.  Focus on the priority problem areas, but also recommendations.

To keep the union out, you may need to talk about spending more money in pay equity adjustments or supervisory training, for example.  But talk about this in terms of “investments” that need to be make in the business — not spending — and the ROI from those investments.  If you need financial help here, partner with a personable finance leader in your organization to help you quantify the ROI, payback periods, dollar impact in credible terms to your business leaders.

Opportunity #4:  Brand yourself as a EFCA expert and start expanding your career, impact and income.

If you get good at doing #1, 2, & 3 above, your have built yourself into an unbelievable asset to your (or any) organization….and to yourself. To reiterate, whatever they say publicly, most companies don’t want unions, so there is a huge demand for this skill.  And lots of companies are cutting back on HR staff.  The HR folks that are getting whacked are those not adding enough value.   While no one is immune, you can increase your security in your organization by being regarded as indispensable or having clear P&L impact.

To enhance potential career opportunities for you down the road, make sure you publicize and let others know about your EFCA expertise by doing the following:

Truthfully, you may not be ready to do everything on this list.  But I laid all this out because I don’t want you to underestimate the value of this skill to your career and the value it can enable you to provide your organization.  You have the potential to save companies millions of dollars while mitigating their risks.

In the worst case scenario, if you do lose your job, being an EFCA expert and publicizing your expertise makes you very attractive in the marketplace as an HR professional.  It also differentiates you from the pack.

So let’s wrap this up.  In summary, the Employee Free Choice Act, if it passes, will present an absolutely incredible challenge for organizations who want to remain union free — which is just about every business leader and CEO in America.

However, the opportunity it provides for you as an HR professional to enhance your career, impact, and income is just as incredible.  

The time to act is now!

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About the author:  Alan Collins is Founder, Success in HR. He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at Pepsi where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.  His new book, Unwritten HR Rules, can be found here.

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17 Responses to “Employee Free Choice Act — An UNBELIEVABLE Career Opportunity For Human Resources!”

  1. Michael Haberman, SPHR Says:

    Alan:
    Great post. Great way to put a posititve spin on EFCA and a great call to action. I will be pointing people in this direction.

  2. admin Says:

    Michael, thanks for your feedback – very much appreciated! I’m strong anti-EFCA, but if it’s passage is inevitable (as it looks like it might be), let’s figure out a way to leverage it to make our mark in our organizations while helping our organizations at the same time. A true win-win.
    Best,
    Alan

  3. Michael Haberman, SPHR Says:

    Alan I have linked to you in my post of today. I am also very anti-EFCA, but I agree with you whole heartedly.

  4. admin Says:

    Michael,
    Thanks much for the link and your help in getting the word out about this opportunity for HR.
    Best,
    Alan

  5. Ed Nangle, SPHR Says:

    Alan well written and very specific, will use your comments and suggestions in teaching my HR Certification Classes through Kennesaw State University.All too often we only look at the downside,,,its time to make food out of fodder..Thanks ED

  6. admin Says:

    Ed,
    Thanks for the comments. I’m honored that you’ll be able to share this more broadly in your classes at KSU. Best, Alan.

  7. Michelle Daniel Says:

    I am in Michael’s class at KSU, thanks for your insight. I will certainly be following your steps listed above.

  8. Tom Loeffert Says:

    Alan,

    Good to hear from you via Linked In. This is great info. I plan to pass along to out Global ER/LR head who used to be my boss here at Gap. We are a clear target if this bill passes and our people are well behind the curve on this.

    Hope you are well and look forward to reading your book!

    Tom

  9. admin Says:

    Tom,
    Thanks much for feedback – very much appreciate your help in passing this on. Companies will definitely need to put more focused attention against this if it passes, in whatever form – and should begin their preparations now. Will definitely keep you posted on the book.
    Be well,
    Alan

  10. Jenny Williams Says:

    Alan,

    This was a great read. As a HR professional who has worked in unionized plants and run successful campaigns against organizing, Opportunity #2 is a CTQ (critical to quality) for HR professionals in non union settings. The key here is really knowing where you stand before organizing efforts happen and resolving issues proactively. I will definitely share with other colleagues.

  11. admin Says:

    Jenny – thanks. You are absolutely on target, #2 is where the real, roll up your sleeves, down ‘n dirty hard work is…and thus, where the biggest payoff can be. If you don’t do #2, everything else falls apart. Really appreciate your adding this perspective.
    Best,
    Alan

  12. Tom Vitro Says:

    Alan,

    Great article. I’m sure you have lit a very important fire under many HR professionals out there! I like this angle: EFCA is a scary but real threat AND it will likely do wonders for those savvy HR people who view it as not just a threat but an opportunity! Nice work.

    ..Tom

  13. admin Says:

    Tom – thanks for taking time out to read this. I very much appreciate and value your comments. You’re right, hopefully, HR folks will see the opportunity inherent in this and will step up and seize the challenge.

    Take good care,
    Alan

  14. Davetta Haywood Says:

    Great article. I teach Labor History for one of the Electrical Unions and we discussed the EFCA for an entire class. I actually incorporated the information that we discussed in one of the major assignments because I felt it is so important for them to understand. “Not only should you understand it, but live it”, I would tell them constantly. Reading from your perspective was extremely interesting and I will certainly discuss it in the classroom this fall.

  15. Al Duff Says:

    Alan: Your article is spot on. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to represent the State of Colorado as the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry brought a delegation to Washington to meet with our US Senators and Congressman. Being an expert in each of our respective organizations is absolutely the right thing to do and can bring very visible and tangible results. Well done my friend.

    Al Duff

  16. Patrick Says:

    Great article, but there was one misprint you can corect for the next article:

    “In general, you want to find out if your employees see their direct bosses as Obamas or Hitlers. Hint: you want Obamas.”

    Correction for next time: Even though anyone is better than Hitler, you don’t want Obama either. You need to list a “real” President on the article.

  17. Alan Says:

    Patrick – great point…the example is out-of-date and has been corrected. Thanks. Alan

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