What You Should Learn From Union Organizing

Friday, April 17th, 2009

It’s hard to imagine an organization with a union that didn’t deserve to get it. Scratch the surface of the glossy smiling faces on the annual reports and you often find far different pictures of what is going on.

Once again Wal-Mart is crying foul about organizing at their company. (Union Intensifies Efforts to Organize Workers at Wal-Mart, The Wall Street Journal. 4/17/09)
This has been going at Wal-Mart for a very long time. Seems like Wal-Mart should have learned a lesson or two along the way, but doesn’t appear that they have. Their approach continues to be to fight the union.

And if I were a leader at a company like that, I might fight as well. But, if I did, I would be missing a far more important point. People aren’t happy. Managers in organizations often say, “But all those gripes happened long time ago.”  And that’s just plain wrong. People don’t risk losing their jobs over issues that have already been resolved. Workers aren’t idiots. They (like us) are motivated by self-interest.

My experience suggests that unions take hold because management fails to listen to the voices of workers and lower-level managers repeatedly over many, many years. Leaders who have the courage to listen to complaints and seriously try to make things better, can begin to build a workplace that matches the PR-spin of their annual reports.

I am not trying to trash Wal-Mart, but given their size and their repeated public fights against organizing, they provide an object-lesson for the rest of us. If you want ideas to help you have conversations throughout your organization to find out what’s going on, take a look at the collection of free articles on my website. (And if you currently work in a union environment, it is often easier to have those conversations since union leadership often is willing to speak truth to power.)

I wish you well.