Want Another Reason to Focus On Your Employees?

Many of you know, I grew up in the hills of Northwest Georgia where about 85% of the nation’s carpet is manufactured. To put it mildly, it is a non-union area. Thirty miles North lies Chattanooga, which was once a highly unionized town before it lost its foundries and thousands of high paying skilled blue-collar jobs. Of course, Chattanooga is now a success story, having recreated itself as a delightful tourist destination, among other nice qualities.

More recently, Chattanooga and its environs has done a virtuoso job of turning the former ammunition plant area near lake Chickamauga into the new VW plant site, as well as luring automotive suppliers and huge Amazon distribution centers to the Chattanooga – Cleveland area. Non union operations, if I recall correctly.

I’m a management labor lawyer, so my philosophy is probably obvious. I prefer settings where management and employees deal directly with one another.  I hold management accountable to treat their employees in a way that makes employees feel that they do not need a “third-party” between them and management. That’s one of many reasons that I so hammer on the importance of a “safety culture” and an engaged workforce. Where I find a manufacturer or contractor with a really superior safety culture and equally engaged management and employees, I  find efficient production processes, good returns, and few employment law and labor problems.

All businesses occasionally make mistakes, screw up communications and made mistakes that disgruntled employees or a third-party can use to drive a wedge between employees and management, but I believe that most employers inadvertently bring a union on themselves … at least in the South. I know that’s a harsh observation, but I’d be willing to defend it. Read my posts on my dad’s approach to business, employee engagement, and other topics.  I don’t focus on “union bashing.”  I focus on developing employer processes that promote safety, employee engagement, good communications, and fair treatment.  And yes, many of my unionized clients also focus on those values, especially in construction.  As busy as we all remain, these “values” won’t occur without specific detailed efforts.

So I was intrigued when I read the following article from my home town area….


Bill Haslam wary of VW union impact on other industries

NASHVILLE, Jun 26, 2013 (Chattanooga Times Free Press – McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) — Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that the possibility of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant becoming unionized is coming up as a topic of concern among other industries the state is trying to recruit to Tennessee.

The Republican governor, who opposes the United Auto Workers’ unionization efforts, said he has “heard that from some of the other people considering Tennessee that that would be a negative in their mind if that happened in Chattanooga.”

“So,” Haslam continued, “we’ve communicated that to Volkswagen. Ultimately, like I said, we want to see them [Volkswagen] grow here.” 

Meanwhile, an international labor expert said that German labor leaders backing the organizing effort in Chattanooga could influence whether a potential new model is produced in Tennessee or Mexico.

Lowell Turner, a Cornell University international and comparative labor professor, said he interpreted a statement last week by a top leader in VW’s global works council to mean that “We’d like to see representation [in Chattanooga] and for it to happen before we look at expansion there.”

“If we can expand somewhere else with a more friendly environment, why expand in a place that’s hostile to unions and worker representation,” Turner said he thought was the message. (CONTINUE READING)  (Thanks to Walter Orechwa for posting the article).

About mavity2012

I am a Senior Partner operating out of the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, one of the Nation’s oldest and largest management employment and labor firms. My practice is national and keeps me on the road or in one of our 28 offices about 50 percent of the time. I created and co-chair the Firm's Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group. I have almost 29 years of experience as a labor lawyer, but rely even more heavily on the experience I gained in working in my family's various businesses, and through dealing with practical client issues. Employers tell me that they seldom meet an attorney who delivers on his promise to provide practical guidance and to be a business partner. As a result, some executives probably use different terms than “practical” to describe my fellow travelers in the profession. I don't enjoy the luxury of being impractical because I spend much of my time on shop floors and construction sites dealing with safety, union and related issues which are driven by real world processes and the need to protect and get the most out of one's most important business assets ... its employees. That's one of the reasons that I view safety compliance as a way to also manage problem employees, reduce litigation and develop the type of work environment that makes unions unnecessary. Starting out dealing with union-management challenges and a stint in the NLRB have better equipped me to see the interrelationship of legal and workplace factors. I am proud also of my experience at Fisher & Phillips, where providing “practical advice” is second only to legal excellence among the Firm’s values. Our website lists me as having provided counsel for over 225 occasions of union activity, guided unionized companies, and as having managed approximately 450 OSHA fatality cases in construction and general industry, ranging from dust explosions to building collapses, in virtually every state. I have coordinated complex inspections involving multi-employer sites, corporate-wide compliance, and issues involving criminal referral. As a full labor lawyer, I oversee audits of corporate labor, HR, and safety compliance. I have responded to virtually every type of day-to-day workplace inquiry, and have handled cases before the EEOC, OFCCP, NLRB, and numerous other state and federal agencies. At F & P, all of us seek to spot issues and then rely upon attorneys in the Firm who concentrate on those areas. No tunnel vision. I teach or speak around 50 times per year to business associations, bar and professional groups, and to individual businesses. I serve on safety committees at three states’ AGC Chapters, teach at the AGC ASMTC
This entry was posted in attitude/culture, employee engagement, manufacturing, safety programs, union organizing, unions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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