On September 3, as CNBC reported, “United Auto Workers members overwhelmingly voted to give union leaders authorization to strike during contract negotiations this year with General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler, if needed.” Close to 96% of union members at each of the manufacturer’s organizations supported the action. And although a mass walkout has not been set in stone, work stoppages seem imminent. Analysts who are observing the preparations unfold believe this could be one of the most contentious negotiations in the last 10 years. Tepid sales, allegations of corruption, and the volatility of trade agreements in the midst of the U.S.-China trade wars have provided the catalyst to the vote. Work stoppages, especially those resulting from union decisions, present difficult scenarios for companies and employees. But despite the sensitive nature of the situation, staffing agencies can deliver vital assistance in these trying times.
Work Stoppages Are More Common Than Many People Realize
According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study in February 2019. American businesses dealt with “20 major work stoppages involving 485,000 workers” throughout 2018.
- The number of major work stoppages at the beginning of 2018 was the highest since 2007.
- The number of workers involved surpassed the largest affected talent populations since 1986.
- Educational, health care, and social assistance services experienced the longest idle times for workers at 90%.
- The largest work stoppage by days ideal occurred between the Arizona State Legislature of the Arizona Education Association, involving 81,000 teachers and staff for a total of 486,000 days.
- Steelworkers, utility professionals, and hospitality workers also engaged in significant work stoppages during the same reporting period. The National Grid and National Steelworkers Locals clocked in with the longest stoppages in terms of days idle.
And now, union members at the nation’s preeminent auto manufacturers are poised to strike. Some work stoppages are unavoidable and even unpredictable. Adverse weather conditions such as hurricanes can bring operations to a halt. Natural or manmade disasters, conflict, and unforeseen emergencies can also lead to work stoppages. But employee walkouts rank among the most common, lengthy, and disruptive.
Preparing for Work Stoppages
As Craig Berman wrote in Chron, “It’s hard to stay in business when the revenue flow dries up, and a work stoppage can effectively keep your company in a holding pattern unless you plan in advance. By working to limit your costs during the stoppage and developing a plan to staff and operate to the best of your ability while it’s ongoing, your company can leave itself in the best possible position to deal with an unpleasant situation.” Business leaders may not always be able to anticipate a walkout, but companies can take precautions when the signs of a work stoppage arise.
Determine Operational Needs
“If you plan to stay open during a work stoppage that’s caused by employees who walk out, develop a staffing plan that replaces critical skills and ensures your business has enough workers to operate,” Berman advised. “If you need specialized technicians, you may want to contract with a sourcing agency who can provide such workers on short notice.”
If a business wants to remain functional during a walkout, entry points must stay accessible for suppliers, vendors, delivery personnel, and resources who choose to continue working. Berman recommended that company leaders devise a security plan and coordinate with “local authorities and union leaders, if applicable, to ensure that the workers’ rights to protest are balanced against your own rights as a business owner.”
Picket lines present emotionally and logistically challenging obstacles to overcome. Many parties will refuse to cross the demonstration for reasons that run a broad gamut—sympathy, solidarity, the avoidance of friction, and more. Yet companies that decide to operate during a work stoppage must explore different avenues for staffing when substantial groups of union members exercise their option to strike. Quickly finding skilled replacements for workers can be a cumbersome undertaking for companies and even MSPs, when the effects of the work stoppage trickle down into the program.
How Staffing Suppliers Can Bridge the Gaps
Here are some ways that staffing suppliers can ease the interruptions and hesitation that work stoppages create.
- With as much advance lead time as possible, work with clients or MSPs to get comprehensive details about the expected duration of the stoppage, the positions and regions affected, the skill sets in need of temporary replacement, and the essential onboarding processes that must be completed (e.g., safety training, access requirements, etc.).
- Target alumni employees. Where possible, obtain lists of former workers who would be willing to return on a contract basis to fill in the gaps. Be forthcoming in communications so they comprehend the situation onsite. Only alumni who understand the nature of the work stoppage and express a willingness to participate will succeed here.
- Develop a brief but thorough training program to educate hiring managers, stakeholders, and temporary talent about performance, expectations, and the environment during a stoppage.
- Develop rapid onboarding protocols for the most critical elements: required screenings, drug checks, special training areas like safety or compliance, and standard operating procedures (e.g., time keeping, attendance, reporting structure, etc.).
- Create standardized requisitions and approvals flows for expediting fills.
- Use a VMS or other HR technology available to launch a central platform for time tracking and payments. If possible, assign a tool or instance of the technology that’s devoted to the staffing demands of the work stoppage.
- Maintain dedicated phone lines and emails for worker support and client requests that will likely come in after hours and on weekends.
- Assign dedicated recruiters and account managers to oversee the work stoppage program.
- Strive for the creation and maintenance of virtual talent benches and candidate pools, attempting to keep the program staffed at least 110% with weekly sourcing. Expect and prepare for higher-than-usual turnover or attrition.
- Provide safe escort to workers across the picket lines.
Naturally, there will be suppliers and workers who express reluctance to help clients during a work stoppage. However, there are many more who have the resources, expertise, and ambition to help. The key is transparency, communication, collaboration, and preparation.
Photo by Molly Adams