Friday, January 30, 2009

President Moves Closer to Organized Labor - We Need to Move Closer to Our Employees

Below are some remarks made today by President Obama at a signing ceremony for certain Labor Executive Orders . . .

“I also believe that we have to reverse many of the policies towards organized labor that we've seen these last eight years, policies with which I've sharply disagreed. I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem, to me it's part of the solution. (Applause.) We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement. We know that strong, vibrant, growing unions can exist side by side with strong, vibrant and growing businesses. This isn't a either/or proposition between the interests of workers and the interests of shareholders. That's the old argument. The new argument is that the American economy is not and has never been a zero-sum game. When workers are prospering, they buy products that make businesses prosper. We can be competitive and lean and mean and still create a situation where workers are thriving in this country.

"So I'm going to be signing three executive orders designed to ensure that federal contracts serve taxpayers efficiently and effectively. One of these orders is going to prevent taxpayer dollars from going to reimburse federal contractors who spend money trying to influence the formation of unions. We will also require that federal contractors inform their employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Federal labor laws encourage collective bargaining, and employees should know their rights to avoid disruption of federal contracts.”

This is unfortunate for American business and American employees and preliminary to the real goal of organized labor for the last 30 years -- to eliminate the secret ballot election which provides employees an opportunity to express an informed choice after hearing both sides, not just the side of organized labor. Under EFCA (the misnamed "Employee Free Choice Act," employers would have to recognize a union if that union was able to get 50% +1 of their employees to sign union cards. In many cases employers don't even know its happening until well more than 50% are signed up.

What is ironic is that organized labor, who wants their own bailout in the form of EFCA, won 61% of the secret ballot elections they petitioned for last year and for the last two years in a row the percentage of workers who are represented has gone up, not down.

I will be speaking on EFCA and how employers can retain their rights to express themselves and employees keep the right to a secret ballot in trainings I will be providing for individual employers and industry associations. I will begin this effort in February and it will extend at least the ultimate outcome on the EFCA legislation. If your company has an interest in how to avoid this damaging legislation and its effects, contact me at: 214-432-5701.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Big Three Will Survive . . . But Probably Not Here

In the event you are wondering whether the Big 3 automakers will ever build another assembly plant in the United States, the simple answer is "NO," and here is the reason why:

The good news? At least one of the three should get up off their death bed and compete successfully in the global marketplace.

Friday, January 16, 2009

SAMM Featured In L.A. Times - A Lesson To Be Learned

Save A Mexican Mutt (SAMM), the non-profit rescue my wife and her partner founded six years ago, took from the streets and adopted out more than 150 dogs in 2008. It is a labor of love and the organization's work was recognized earlier this year in Fortune magazine.

Yesterday, SAMM was featured in the Los Angeles Times. Here's the link:

The hard work of Kelly and her volunteers on behalf of the animals reminds me of a lesson some, but not all, employers have learned: Involve your employees in charitable, giving work.

A few years ago I was involved a union counter-organizational effort in San Diego, California. The employees of the company, with the aid and assistance of management, had learned to never be satisfied, to complain about everything. No foul was left uncalled. Indeed, every little event became a major issue proving what they already believed, that they were abused, mistreated, and unappreciated. It was one of the more miserable workplaces I've seen in some time.

Rather than try and convince these employees and their managers that life really wasn't so bad, I decided to show them just how bad life can be. And so I called a few local charities to see who needed help and who might provide the lesson these employees and their managers needed.

I came upon a battered women's shelter in need of food and clothing. The company came up with a thousand dollars but rather than just give it away, we involved the employees and their supervisors in shopping for the merchandise and delivering to the shelter. Once there they had little choice but to hear some of the stories from women who had been beaten, whose greatest fear was that the person who was supposed to love them the most would come home and physically abuse them.

There was not a dry eye in the house and, in short order, the complaining stopped -- on both sides of the aisle. They recognized and were embarrassed about their complaints, if only because like most of us, they had nothing of import to complain about. We are the fortunate, the blessed, the lucky.

In these tough economic times, it may be difficult to do your employees many favors bought with dollars, but here is one favor you can do for them -- find a worthwhile charity that needs help, not just money but help and involve your employees in the effort. The lessons will be worth more than most can understand -- until they have seen it.

P.S. In San Diego, I'm told the employees still go to the women's shelter after several years, still help, and that all is well.

We wish you well in 2009.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

There's 7.2 and then there are the Real Numbers

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that 7.2% of all Americans who want to work are unemployed. That's the highest unemployment rate in 16 years, not surprising after employers shed a shocking 524,000 jobs in December, capping a yearly loss of 2.6 million as the deepening recession claims more victims.

I was thinking about the numbers this afternoon when, like most Sunday afternoons, I took the SUV to be washed. For 50 pesos in San Miguel de Allende, less than $4 U.S. dollars, Juan and his workers will wash it by hand, top to bottom, inside and out. Today I waited for my car and talked to a couple of Juan's helpers as they worked. Tiring of my street-level Spanish, one of the workers drying my car spoke to me in English. Not just English, but the real thing -- no accent.

"Where did you learn your English?" I asked.

"In Tampa, Florida," he replied. "I lived there from the time I was three until last year -- 23 years. Then I returned here," he said gesturing to the vehicle and then the city below. "Not exactly my choice of work, but I take what I can get."

I nodded but said nothing.

"I have a high school diploma," he offered proudly, "and a year of college. But there's no work up there."

"Nothing?" I asked.

"Oh, I might be able to get a job in a car wash," he laughed sardonically, "but here I can live on a car washer's pay. There, no way," he lamented.

"So, why San Miguel?"

"Juan is a relative," he replied. "He hired me. He knows I have a child back in Tampa I need to support. Kind of ironic, isn't it? We used to cross into the United States to get work so we could support our families here. Now I come to Mexico to support my child there."

He shook is head and went back to work. In a few minutes he walked over and said, "Your car is ready." And then he came closer and whispered. "I want you to know something," he said. "If you have work -- any work -- any work at all -- I need work. I really need work."

As I drove home, I stopped thinking about the numbers and thought of the people I know back home who are out of work -- other lawyers, HR professionals, and first line managers to CEO's. But it dawned on me that I know more people like Carlos -- people qualified to do more than they have an opportunity to do, good people, hard working people, people who are not technically "unemployed," and so do not show up in any of the government's numbers, but who suffer nonetheless.

It is hard to know the answer but I do know the question, "What went wrong with the world's largest economy where millions today cannot find a job and many millions more waste their talents and education?"

Monday, January 05, 2009

Happy New Year . . . But Not So Fast

The most significant, game-changing piece of labor legislation will get quick attention from the new Congress and President and for many the result will determine must how "happy" your New Year will be. American organized labor is looking for their own "bailout" and this may be it if you're not ready.

President-elect Obama and leaders of both Houses of Congress have made the Employee Free Choice Act (“EFCA”) a legislative priority in 2009. Obama co-sponsored the legislation, also known as "card check," in the Senate, and he promised to make passage of it a top priority during his administration.

EFCA would eliminate secret ballot elections in union organizing attempts and require businesses to recognize unions based solely on authorization cards signed by employees. Under EFCA if a union is able to convince, cajole, pressure or threaten a majority of your non-supervisory employees at any of your U.S. facilities to sign union authorization cards, your company will be required to recognize that union as the sole bargaining representative of your employees. You will be required to bargain in good faith to an agreement with the union, and if an agreement cannot be reached with that union on wages, hours, and working conditions within one hundred and twenty (120) days, the government will impose an agreement on you -- that is the government will decide what your employees will earn, the benefits they will receive, and under what, if any, circumstances you can administer policies, discipline and discharge.

On a personal note, I can say without reservation that EFCA is the most damaging piece of labor legislation I have seen in my 32 years of labor relations practice. In each of the 120+ counter-organizational campaigns I have handled, the employees decided in the privacy of a voting booth after hearing both sides of the issue against union representation, even though most of those same employees signed union cards. Signed union authorization cards are frequently the result of peer or union pressure and do not accurately reflect employee sentiment. Under EFCA unless an employer has advance notice that cards are being circulated among the work force, it will have no opportunity to communicate its views regarding why a union is not in the employees' best interest. Eliminating the election process and the time it provides for both sides to be heard will result in thousands of unwary employers being organized soon after the passage of EFCA. Indeed, the Service Employees International Union estimates that the ease of unionizing under EFCA will allow it to organize one million workers a year, as opposed to the 100,000 workers it currently organizes annually.

While there remains the possibility that EFCA will not be passed, most critical observers believe EFCA will become law in some form – a law that will make it far easier for unions to win the right to represent your employees. The result? An environment of “us” versus “them,” one that often ignores market forces in the setting of wages, hours and working conditions. Indeed, you need only turn on the television and watch the Big Three automakers begging for government money, yet not addressing their most significant disadvantage: a high-priced union workforce that cannot compete with the nonunion U.S.-based foreign-owned plants of Toyota, Nissan, and Honda. And, it is not just the wage and benefit disparities that exist between union and non-union workplaces that make union shops uncompetitive, but also the paradigm instilled by organized labor into the employees they represent – that management is the enemy – hardly a foundation that supports engaged, competitive employees necessary to compete in today’s global marketplace.

Beginning January, 2009, I along with several of my colleagues will be offering a program on EFCA to a limited number of employers, focusing on what you should be doing to avoid its passage, what employers and managers should be doing to prevent union organization in an era of emboldened unions, how to deal with EFCA as it becomes a topic of discussion in every workplace, and how and when to involve your employees in the effort not only to keep your company non-union but to insure your employees’ democratic right to vote on issues that will affect your business and their lives.

The one-day program, “Preparing for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)” will include the following components:

· Executive update on legislative developments

· Evaluation of specific personnel policies and practices that exist in your organization that result in a successful union organization attempt

· Train your managers and supervisors on how to maintain your non-union status regardless of the law, including essential elements of my “Doing The Right Thing” and “Credible Connections” programs that have served employers effectively over many years in their efforts to remain non-union. Included in the training is education on important National Labor Relations Board rules, warning signs of union organization, as well as training on the specifics of EFCA and why the legislation is not in the best interest of employers, managers, or employees.

And, for employers desiring more intensive evaluation and preparation, I will also offer these services as time permits:

· Development of specific responses to union organizing strategies

· Training your trainers (making your HR department capable of taking union-free management training to first-line supervisors)

· Training employees and new hires on the dangers of EFCA, authorization cards, and how to deal with coercion, misrepresentation, and harassment by union organizers and pro-union employees

· Preparation of a campaign in the event card-signing strikes your workplace

· Development of a rapid response team in the event of an organizational attempt by a union

In 2008 I handled five union organizing campaigns, and had to turn away several others because of a lack of time. I anticipate 2009 will likewise be filled with union organizational attempts, especially against those employers who are not ready for EFCA. I urge you to prepare for EFCA before, not after, its passage. If you have questions, would like more information, or would like to book a date or dates for training, please contact me at 214-432-5701 or via e-mail at

I wish you the very best in 2009 and look forward to staying in touch.