Managing a Union Workforce – Reducing the burden and the risks associated


Managing Unions, especially multiple unions, can be time consuming and complicated, but it does not have to be. Supervising employees in a unionized environment has its own unique set of rules and challenges. It is challenging to make changes to collective agreements, labour laws, human rights codes and disciplinary procedures while maintaining a trusting and motivated workforce.

When supervisors learn to inspire and motivate their teams to want to do their jobs well, they don’t have to spend time telling them what to do and how to do it, – rather they can use that time to help improve the operation.

It’s important for supervisors to focus on improving the overall communication and leadership skills – Honesty, Clear Communications, Openness, Respect, and Fairness.
There are few simple rules for managing a unionized workplace:

  • Tell the Truth – Trust is one of the most important factors in union-management relations.
  • Maintain Productive behaviour – Expect proper performance – getting the work done right is the primary consideration.
  • Follow “work now, grieve later” rule – Management has a right to expect orders to be followed, not debated.
  • Be fair and trust your judgment when in doubt.
  • Overlook and try to avoid provocations, personal attacks, anger.
  • Keeping great communication with the union is invaluable.  

The Collective Agreement establishes relationships between the union and the company. Collective Agreements often deal with the following:

  • Wage rates
  • Health benefits
  • Layoff rules
  • The right to challenge employer disciplinary actions
  • Vacation entitlement
  • Holidays
  • Bereavement leave
  • Jury duty leave

In unionized environments ‘labor management’ is a critical aspect of organizational policies and procedures. Both the union and the employer have grievance administrators who “track” the grievance through the system at each level and keep records. Workplace grievances and staff complaints need time, care and good record keeping. Grievance management requires an integrated end-to-end solution with automated workflow, documentation, and reporting.

Ways to deal with a workplace grievance are:

  • grievance procedure checking
  • grievance investigation
  • grievance hearing
  • decision making and informing employees
  • other actions (if required)

For organization with unionized workforce it is important for management to fully understand the legal and practical landscape for union employees. It will set the whole organization on a course for success. 

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