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Thought Leadership

The Labor Law Insider: Union Activity, Employment Engagement, and Changes in the Manufacturing Industry, Part II



Host Tom Godar welcomes Husch Blackwell partner Anne Mayette to part two of this Labor Law Insider podcast. Anne is deeply engaged in counseling employers regarding employment and labor activity and defends employers in litigation as well. From these experiences she has deep and important insights into the workplace. Anne shares a number of these insights regarding employment engagement, particularly as they relate to the manufacturing industry in this episode. This discussion is an outgrowth of the extensive manufacturing white paper published by Husch Blackwell in January 2023 which explores challenges and opportunities for manufacturers well beyond just the area of labor and employment.

In part two of the podcast—part one was posted on March 2, 2023—Anne shares some anecdotes from employees which go a long way toward helping understand employee engagement. For instance, it becomes clear that employees value ongoing training and a career path that is clearly explained and available to them, as well as flexibility in terms of their work and work life. Employees seek an employer that is truly concerned with the safety of its employees and that engages well trained and experienced managers to assist employees in their day-to-day activities, as well as managing their long term goals. Indeed, employees are also very interested in an open dialogue with managers and the commitment of organizations to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Not surprisingly, surveys and scholarship affirm that while wages are important, two-thirds of the employees who are paid at market rate still feel underpaid and undervalued. Instead, these employees often conclude that they neither are trusted to have meaningful workplace insights nor feel connected to the larger mission of the organization. This disconnect at the workplace and lack of trust is an area of vulnerability for employers who seek to maintain a direct relationship with their employees rather than working through a third-party union. Anne discusses the use of engagement surveys, an analysis of human resources and safety policies, the introduction of DE&I training and recruitment process, and use of union vulnerability tools to assess where employers are as it relates to employee engagement.

Join Anne and Tom in this fascinating conversation which goes well beyond union avoidance to creating a workplace where employee engagement leads to successful and profitable practices by employers.

Read the Transcript

This transcript has been auto-generated using Adobe Premier Pro.

00;00;03;15 - 00;00;26;02
Tom Godar
Hello and welcome to Husch Blackwell's Labor Law Insider podcast. I'm your host, Tom Godar and together with my Husch Blackwell colleagues and thought leaders from around the country, we will discuss and explore the ever changing issues in the world of labor law. President Biden promised to be the most pro-union president ever, and he is fulfilling that promise.

00;00;26;17 - 00;00;49;05
Tom Godar
The next four years promises to be a wild ride. So buckle up and join us on the Labor Law Insider podcast. Welcome once again to the Labor Law Insider podcast. This is Tom Godar, your host. And today, once again, I'm joined by my colleague and partner Anne Mayette, one of the members of our Chicago Husch Blackwell office.

00;00;49;28 - 00;01;18;18
Tom Godar
Anne and I began a discussion in our last podcast about the changes we're seeing in the manufacturing and distribution industry, and had taken a look at some surveys and some activities of unions and discovered that there's more organizing activity and more strikes and work stoppages and other activities than we've seen in decades. I've had a 40 year watch on the bench of these activities, and I couldn't agree more in that.

00;01;18;18 - 00;01;48;04
Tom Godar
There's a lot going on. We have spent some time talking about some of the scholars ship that you had reviewed before the podcast. But today I want to talk a little bit more about some of the anecdotes that you've read about in terms of how employees, frankly, feel disengaged and some of the steps that employers can take in order to remain engaged with their workforce and discourage the employees from seeking unions as a third party to solve problems that really shouldn't exist.

00;01;48;14 - 00;01;54;19
Tom Godar
Anne share with us some of the anecdotes you've heard about and how they tie into employee engagement.

00;01;54;19 - 00;02;29;15
Anne Mayette
Yeah, absolutely. And I really found these anecdotes to be the most compelling and interesting to get the real voice of the employee. For example, there was a mechanical technician with a steel manufacturer who said that he really felt he had that employee engagement because his employer was willing to train him, send him to workshops in school to build his career path that the employer had given him as much work as he wanted with no limit of overtime.

00;02;29;25 - 00;03;13;29
Anne Mayette
And then, you know, a big one and I think I mentioned this before, and it was one of the reasons that there were a lot of demands was a focus on employee safety. So those were the issues that he had identified that really had helped with engagement. Another kind of testimonial came from a mechanic call technician with a producer of specialty gases, and that employee thought it was really important that there was room for growth and there was a specific training path and that, you know, managers had experience in the jobs that they supervise so that they could, you know, get the training and that the managers really understood what the employee was doing on

00;03;13;29 - 00;03;41;27
Anne Mayette
a day to day basis. And then the last testimonials that I found really interesting was a medical calibration technician with a medical device manufacturer. He said, you know, he thought it was important that he was paid what he's worth, that he could work overtime when he wants, but also had a good work life balance and a relaxed atmosphere where they could speak with the managers and have that open dialog.

00;03;41;27 - 00;03;51;24
Anne Mayette
So I think these testimonials are really telling in order to see what it looks like from the employee's perspective on engagement.

00;03;51;24 - 00;04;35;12
Tom Godar
Well, and let's be honest, these are not always easy to accept as an employer. I've spoken in groups of 20 and 2000 and said, please raise your hand if you think you're overpaid. And quite honestly, I do not see a forest of hands at that. And and likewise, one of the ways in which employers have to discipline their workplace in order to have products or services that are cost competitive is to limit overtime or at least have a rational way in which employees work so that some of these things create tensions and a minimum, the employer and the employees have to have a chance to have a dialog about them.

00;04;35;21 - 00;04;38;26
Tom Godar
And so the employee feels that she or he is being hurt, I'm guessing.

00;04;39;21 - 00;05;09;02
Anne Mayette
Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head with that, Tom. It's just the ability to have that dialog and the understanding. I think a little bit of, you know, information and background for the employees with that open dialog will give them a better perspective. I think you really see a lot of times in the workplace that there is a little bit of a disconnect between employees and employers on what goes into making the business run.

00;05;09;14 - 00;05;30;01
Anne Mayette
What's required, how they can move the business forward and the employees part in that. So having that open dialog so the employees understand, you know, why the the managers or the employer is making the decisions that they're making is goes a really long way in really engaging the employees and making it a better workplace.

00;05;30;01 - 00;06;07;05
Tom Godar
Well, and we're talking primarily manufacturing, but certainly this is true in all sorts of industries, whether it's fast food or hospitality, whether it's health care, There's a certain training loop shorter or longer, depending upon the job. And in terms of how long it might be to be an efficient employee. But when you have engaged employees, if they continue to work rather than having to go through that training loop time and time again, when you have a W-2 at the end of the year and you have 200 employees and you have 450 W-2, it's not a good day to see all of the work that went into hiring and training all of those folks.

00;06;07;15 - 00;06;28;27
Tom Godar
If you can reduce that, it's got to be a very cost effective step for our employers. So what is it that employees are looking at when they say they want to be engaged? How likely are the engaged employees to leave and in this case, to select a union to speak for them because no one else is listening?

00;06;28;27 - 00;06;57;12
Anne Mayette
So really what we're kind of looking at, what does engagement look like for employees? I think a lot of times people think the first thing that comes to mind is, is pay. And I think that's not necessarily the case. You know, it's a factor, but 64% of employees that are paid market rate still feel underpaid and undervalued. So, you know, increasing pay is not necessarily going to drive engagement.

00;06;57;25 - 00;07;27;08
Anne Mayette
Instead of employees and especially employees in the manufacturing sector, they're really looking for the employers to value their opinions because they feel like they have no voice in the workplace. Like we talked about, you know, more of an open outlet for communication and for their voices to be heard, to have that dialog. They want some decisional rights, they want some buy in on what's happening in the workplace, because they're really they're they're feeling irrelevant and they want to change this.

00;07;27;08 - 00;07;38;01
Anne Mayette
It's kind of the the mantra of if you trust me, I will feel relevant mentality. And really just to that more engagement with the leadership.

00;07;38;01 - 00;08;17;21
Tom Godar
You know, we just finished a wonderful podcast with our colleague Rufino Gaytán, and Rufino and I were talking about New Year's resolutions to maintain a union free status, and we talked about reviewing handbooks, listening to employees, training supervisors, those kinds of things. But when you and I talked some of the issues that you brought up as continuing employee engagement or outside of sort of that bedrock centerpiece, tell us a few other things that you've learned in your research regarding employee engagement that maybe not every employer would or our department would think of right away.

00;08;18;09 - 00;08;56;22
Anne Mayette
So I think some of the things that employers can can look out, look at, to think outside of the box on engagement is, you know, broader messaging to all employees. Like we talked about conducting those employee engagement surveys, setting up a mechanism a way to either formalize, you know, two way communication with employees and leadership, potentially setting up, you know, town halls or something to that effect where employees feel like they can be in front of leadership and having that dialog, training your leaders in developing positive employee relations.

00;08;56;22 - 00;09;19;25
Anne Mayette
And in the same aspect is that, you know, analyzing your policies for vulnerabilities. You know, one of the big things that a lot of employees were talking about was safety. So looking at those safety policies again to see if there's anything that can be improved upon, I think a big one and this is a big one that we've seen a lot recently is diversity, equity and inclusion, training and recruitment.

00;09;20;04 - 00;09;49;09
Anne Mayette
This has been recognized as something that's pretty important and important to employees. So investing in and conducting that DE&I training and recruitment and just in general, like some of the testimonials, employees are really looking to further themselves, further their careers. So investing in employee training where employees can really feel like they the employer is investing in them, in their own advancement, in their career.

00;09;49;14 - 00;10;24;00
Anne Mayette
I think that is a very, very big thing that employers could be looking at some of the other things because, you know, employees value their work life balance, you know, value how they are, you know, active in the community is connecting with the local community as the employer, finding ways to connect to your employees, connect the business with things that are going on in the local community, and really making it a really more well-rounded experience for the employee.

00;10;25;04 - 00;10;41;04
Tom Godar
Well, I know that here her work well in her various offices, people creatively get engaged and volunteering together, taking on community issues together and that sort of thing. Is that what we're talking about here that's connecting with local communities or are you just talking about an advertising campaign locally?

00;10;41;28 - 00;11;07;28
Anne Mayette
No, you're exactly right. It's volunteering opportunities, ways to improve the community that the employees live and work in. You know, getting the employer together to volunteer, you know, the employees that are food pantry or, you know, a shelter of some sort engaging with the community in that way because the employees really feel like the employer is investing in their lives, in their community.

00;11;08;19 - 00;11;27;21
Tom Godar
Well, that sounds great. You know, the one of the things that that we've talked about for our clients is, you know, this engagement. But another way that we've worked with our clients and friends is with a union vulnerability assessment that you just referred to. What what kind of tool is that?

00;11;28;15 - 00;12;07;06
Anne Mayette
So I think that is kind of a little bit of what we're talking about here today is, you know, assessing what the employees are looking for and where the employer is not, you know, meeting those expectations or needs of the employees to see, you know, where the vulnerability lies that would maybe make the employee less engaged and make the, you know, worksite more apt to be one that petitions for a union goes through those labor actions?

00;12;07;15 - 00;12;37;11
Tom Godar
Well, these are important tips and information. I mean, 32 strikes and 41 locations, 16 labor protests plus 70% positive union opinion. This is a time to be engaged and understand your workforce, your employees, and how the I suppose the workforce in 2023 might look a good bit different than the workforce that existed in 2013. And thanks a lot for these insights.

00;12;37;11 - 00;12;49;04
Tom Godar
We really appreciate it and we really appreciate your work with the rest of our team. On the legal insights for manufacturing. Any sort of final thoughts for our audience as well.

00;12;49;04 - 00;13;21;26
Anne Mayette
Tom, I just want to say thank you for having me. I think this has been a really you know, timely and interesting discussion that we've had here today. And I think really the final thought is what we talked about here today isn't just about preventing, you know, unionization at an employer's worksite. It's about overall employee engagement and which will lead to a better workplace for everyone, employer, employee.

00;13;22;06 - 00;13;42;04
Anne Mayette
So in the end, you know, this isn't just necessarily we don't want a union at our facility. It's how do we drive employee engagement in order to make a better workplace. In the end, I think a lot of employers will see driving that employee engagement is going to make a better company overall.

00;13;42;04 - 00;13;55;00
Tom Godar
Well said. Thanks so much for joining us and thank you for joining the labor law. Insider. If you found this helpful, share it with a friend and we'll talk to you soon. Take care.


Thomas P. Godar

Of Counsel

Anne M. Mayette