Labor unions have represented the rank and file in the United States for well over a century, emerging quickly as an authoritative voice to protect the shared interests of workers. Although the workplace has evolved through the intervening years and union membership has declined nationally, union representation continues to be prevalent in some industries, including the transit industry.
Regardless of union involvement, agencies can appreciate the dynamic present today in the field of labor relations and leverage that to create a win-win scenario for stakeholders by employing the following four tips.
1. Smart staffing from the onset minimizes problems later.
Workplace problems often start because the wrong people are doing the wrong job. On closer inspection, the problem isn’t usually the worker, rather it is the agency’s hiring process.
Overhaul your hiring process by writing better job descriptions in an effort to attract better-fit candidates for the job. You may also benefit from assessing certain soft skills, including how well an individual works with others, and fitting the personality to the job through asking direct interview questions. Allowing candidates to ask their own questions can also help you determine if this person is right for the job.
2. Always be prepared to listen…and learn.
The workplace dynamic is in a constant state of flux. This means problems can occur at any time, including some you may have no knowledge about until the complaint is aired.
Wrong perceptions can quickly turn a minor issue into a major problem, but the chances of that happening diminish significantly if you maintain an open door policy. This means that anyone who wants to speak with you, including management, temporary or permanent employees (or union representatives) should have access to you at all times.
Get in the habit of carefully listening, giving the speaker your undivided attention. Further, acknowledge the message, show that you’re listening, provide feedback when appropriate, and don’t judge. What may seem like a trivial matter could turn out to be a lesson learned.
3. Maintain health and safety as essential tenets.
Transit workers have many concerns that go well beyond their compensation. A safe working environment is essential and that includes ensuring equipment is in working order. Specifically, follow established procedures to ensure that problem equipment is identified and repaired before being returned to service.
Bus and rail workers are also concerned about their personal safety, especially when they report being harassed by riders. Make a point to be part of the solution by advancing strategies, including actively backing the prosecution of lawbreakers. Siding with your workers underscores that you have their best interests in mind.
4. Endeavor to increase operational efficiency.
A smooth running operation is a profitable one. Notably, it keeps the focus on what is important to all stakeholders — rank and file, temporary employees, union representatives, management, and the public. This means minimizing disruptions and downtime, and immediately addressing problems.
When an operation is run well, with an understanding of the needs of all stakeholders, even unions can recognize the agency as an important ally.
Collaboration is Essential
No organization can succeed without the cooperation and collaboration of all parties concerned. Agencies are one part of that dynamic, playing as pivotal a role in ensuring the organization’s success as each of the other stakeholders.