Keeping Unions Out: Part Two

by Patti on October 4, 2013

in Advice for CNA's, Educational Articles, News

Some thoughts and ideas about nursing homes and Unions and how to avoid them.

To avoid unionization, management must act like a union when employee grievances ariseThe number of unionized workers in the private sector continues to diminish; it is estimated that no more than a small fraction of the nongovernmental workforce is currently unionized. To maintain a productive nonunion workforce, however, the management of nursing homes and assisted living facilities needs to assume the role that unions played at an earlier time in corporate America.

Nursing homes are typically managed in a very autocratic manner. Staff are given little to no leeway in the day to day tasks they are assigned to do. CNA’s are paid poorly and the work is very hard on them. Many aides seek union representation based upon these things: Better pay and benefits; less forced overtime, a voice in policy and procedure planning. These are the nut and bolt reasons aides want to join unions.

But another set of reasons is very clear as well. For whatever reason, the nursing home environment is very degrading to so many. Staff disagreements, disrespect, poor treatment from charge nurses and others; family who make demands that are often superficial and often leave other residents with less time for care. The workplace culture of the typical nursing home is a sad sight. Aides are left feeling they have no recourse for their concerns and issues. They feel helpless and devalued.

Unfortunately, not many nursing homes and assisted living facilities have managers trained to “supplant” unions, and that lack of training can be a significant detriment to a company’s overall well-being.

This is very true…the lack of sound and basic management experience we see in so many who lead is evident…the administrators try hard to be fair, to be honest, to do the right things…but MANY of them have no real MANAGEMENT experience. Sure, they are college educated with business degrees. Yes, they are licensed to do their job. But to actually manage staff— I don’t think so.

Some ideas to make a nursing home UNION FREE:

Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs

Human resources (HR) executives must be expert in administering alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs, of which there are many types. ADR programs are generally welcomed by both management and employees, because they are cost-effective and swiftly arrive at fair resolutions. One obstacle that I frequently encounter, unfortunately, is management’s fear of giving up its traditional power. Yet by involving employees in the process, management will not be perceived as arbitrary or capricious. I always try to explain to administrators and managers that by being proactive rather than reactive, they create a general feeling among employees of inclusion, and that goes a long way toward increasing productivity and morale.While there are many ADR programs that I recommend as part of an overall proactive program, the three most common types are:* Arbitration. This is an adjudication process during which a third party hears both sides of a dispute, weighs the evidence, and renders a decision. Both sides may agree prior to the commencement of arbitration that the arbitrator’s decision will be binding, or they may agree that there could be an appeal to another body to reach a mutually acceptable decision.* Mediation. In this case, the third party does not render a decision but facilitates open and ongoing communication designed to lead to a mutually acceptable settlement. In most cases, the mediator is an outside professional without the authority to render a decision.

* Peer review. This is a representative adjudication process that relies upon a selected panel of managers and employees. A majority of the panel is required to render a binding decision. Peer review should not threaten management’s perquisites, because in most cases employees will side with management.

These programs give all employees a voice in every aspect of their work. Usually the issues that would be addressed by these programs would be disciplinary actions, evaluations and pay raises (or lack of). Most times, the employee filing a concern is found to be correct with their issue. Management has to agree to accept the terms of the agreements made and so do the employees.

Focus Groups

When management successfully supplants the role of a union, it also undertakes one of unions’ traditional roles: listening closely to what employees think and feel about their jobs, their futures, and their company and its policies.One of the best means of doing this is through focus groups, which provide management with significant opportunities to gather reliable and representative information about its workforce and their attitudes. Focus groups also permit management to communicate real issues through ongoing employee involvement.

Not just with employee attitudes, these groups can render extremely valuable information about procedures, risks, quality of nursing care, safety and budgetary issues. CNA’s, housekeepers and dietary workers have a lot of really good insight into the ways and hows and means of their jobs. They also have ideas for improvement and innovation. Listen to them!

Team Building

Focus groups lead to team building. While focus groups are exploratory, teams are the instruments that implement strategic plans designed to accomplish specific goals.Historically, unions have created a sense of employees playing on the same team, a sense of employee solidarity. In today’s complex work environment, management can create that same spirit of solidarity to accomplish commonly shared productivity goals and to solve important problems.Teams can serve such purposes as enhancing communication and resolving conflicts, but teams are most effective as a means of increasing productivity and enhancing employee morale. When it comes to meeting certain productivity criteria, for example, the entire team is mutually responsible for reaching those goals. One need only look at various sports teams to see how valuable mutual cooperation is to winning. In successful corporations, no one is an individual sprinter, although individual initiative is extremely important to the overall success of a team and the achievement of its goals.

I have two thoughts about team building. I think there are two different types of teams to be spoken for…the actual teams that work together each shift…in each unit and department. And then there are other teams- groups brought together to address problems and issues. BOTH groups need to learn to work together to accomplish anything.

1) Unit based teams can and should be given some autonomy as to how they work together. Group norms, expectations and problems can be dealt with by the members of the team, without management involvement. Scheduling, assignments and activities can be planned by the staff who regularly work these units. In order to achieve a well run team it’s leader MUST be well versed in leadership skills…and most charge nurses have no real management experience. So this is risky.

2) Teams pulled together to address broader company wide issues need to be educated on how real teams work. Ideas about building consensus, debate, and all those other skills are not naturally learned.

An essential spur for a team’s success is having an effective coach. A coach is a counselor, not a disciplinarian. The coach encourages employees to do better, to accomplish more; the coach works to rehabilitate negative employee attitudes, emphasizing what’s positive; the coach is not a punitive taskmaster.

Team leaders, focus group leaders ALL must get out of the BOSS mode and get into the “We’re working together to make it better” mode. Management has to drop it’s hat and allow others to help them MANAGE.

Of all the advice offered up through this article I have linked to here, this is one of the best:

Employee Advocate Representative

As unions have shop stewards who represent the interests of the union members by reporting back to union officials, so nonunionized companies can have what is known as an Employee Advocate Representative (EAR). The EAR position is usually a trial assignment aimed at improving morale by involving employees in a broad spectrum of management activities and decisions. When employees want to make their concerns known to management, the EAR listens and then voices those concerns to management. The EAR is both the ears and voice for employees. This position may or may not be salaried and is held for a limited time. Once a term expires, another employee is either chosen or volunteers to be the EAR. To enhance a sense of employee inclusion, the EAR position should be filled by as many employees as possible. Such rotation ensures the greatest amount of employee inclusion and further guarantees that no employee is perceived as a being a tool of management. In small companies, the EAR can work in that position for an hour or two each week.

An in “house mediator”…someone who is trusted to speak up for those who don’t want to speak for themselves. Someone who is respected and fair; someone who has the ability to see ALL sides of issues YET someone who works on the units. The person who accepts this role must be emotionally strong as well. Management must allow this person the time to perform the very important tasks needed. This might mean a shift a week of being assigned to NON NURSING duties.

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