BLUF: What should I do to avoid a union compiaint that all should be treated the same regardless of performance?  

I try to reward people based on their performance.  Because salaries are part of a union negotiation (equal percent raise for all union employees) my reward system is somewhat limited.  I have managed to treat extra's such as schedule flexibility, conferences/trainings, and exposure to senior leaders as a limited reward system for high performers.  I have also avoided any formal complaints with union staff who used to work directly for me.  Other supervisors who work for me have not had the same success avoiding complaints from their union staff.  

Allowing a high performer to work a flexible schedule while not allowing other to work a flexible schedule has been perceived as "unfair" - which has been cause for past grievances that management has lost.  I have not been part of a grievance, so there is a bit of an unknown fear for me.  Some of the supervisors who work for me have been part of grievances (some have been upheld and other have been dismissed - all prior to my current position in my current role).

I have 53 staff (4 directs).  Of the 53, about 40 are mandated to be in the union.  Of those 40 only about 5 make use of the union - usually to file compaints, grievances, and the like.  

The most common complaint I hear is: "So and so can do blah blah blah - I should be able to do that too."  It is usually related to tardiness, but has also included training.  

As a side note: Mark told me, at a conference, "Unions are a kanard! Unions are a result of the failure of management"  I agree.  I have heard him say, "Life is not fair!  Stop looking for life to be fair."  I fully and adamantly agree.  I do not think I can use those statements as part of a defense though.  I would prefer an offense, instead of a defense.

What should I do to prevent that management failure?  What should I do to avoid a union compiaint that all should be treatly the same regardless of performance?  More importantly, what should I coach the supervisors who work for me to do so they can avoid a union compiaint?

donm's picture

Avoiding a union complaint is like avoiding a lawsuit; it cannot be done. As all of the power is in the hands of the entity initiating the action, if he wants to file a complaint, a complaint will be filed.

The question then becomes, "How can I have the complaint dismissed if it is filed without merit?"

And that's where documentation comes in. If someone is late, document it. If someone completes a task ahead of schedule, document it. Documentation can be an email, a note in your personal log (dated and annotated completely), or even an SMS text. As long as the document is concurrent with the action, then it is considered adequate.

Now that you have "proof," you can lead as you like within union guidelines. When the complaint is heard/adjudicated, you will have the ammunition to support your actions. Of course, all of this assumes you are working within the union guidelines.

williamelledgepe's picture

It is the other side that worries me.  What happens when a bottom performer says, "you let so-and-so come in late.  Why can't I come in late?"  

donm's picture

You have said the other is a "bottom performer." Why? Document the things that make someone a low (or high) performer. "Low performer" is not a behavior. Labels don't help your cause. Once you have documented the levels of performance, you are justified in your actions.

williamelledgepe's picture

I have two employees who are regularly tardy. One meets deadlines and has high quality.  The other is late and requires multiple review cycles. Feedback is given on timeliness and quality for both. Because the one individual meets deadlines and has high quality I have allowed them to come in late (20-30 minutes) even though union says they are supposed to be in at 7:30am. Because the other individual does not meet deadlines or quality expectations, I enforce tardiness - meaning negative feedbac

Is that acceptable on my part - to see the same behavior in two different people and only provide negative feedback to one?

Smacquarrie's picture

This is where you need to be very careful. It will really depend on the union and the environment that they enforce. Some will use this as evidence that you manage union employees differently and could prevent disciplinary actions from being enforced.
With that being said, documentation is your key strategy with a union. Document the good and the bad to help explain why there is a difference in how you treat each employee.

donm's picture

If I were to continue to bend the rules, I would still document the high-performer's late arrivals with an email. You need do nothing else. "Person A, you arrived at 0750 today, and our hours are 0730 to 1630." You can send the same email to the bottom performer. Whether you take further action then falls to the performers' responses to the email. I would guess the top performer would start arriving on time, and the bottom performer would continue to be tardy. If the top performer arrived on time, you would be able to take action against the bottom performer.

Note that the email is merely documenting the late arrival. There is no suggested or threatened follow-up. You can skip this email in some environments and merely follow the MT verbal feedback method. If you are in a contentious setting, you should probably do the email.

I would either enforce the rules for everyone or I would give everyone slack. Since the low performer is not getting his work done, then everyone will suffer. A bit of peer pressure might come about, "Well, A, I'd usually let you come in late as you still hit your targets, but not everyone is meeting his goals. I need to insure maximum time is afforded to the task, and that includes showing up on time. I'm sorry it is this way, but I cannot enforce this rule on some employees and not on others. Our hours are as-posted, and everyone must adhere to these guidelines."

I don't think the union is the problem. I think you are actually enforcing the rules unfairly, regardless of your reasoning.

SuzanneB's picture

As donm said,  I think you are unfairly enforcing the rules. 


If you have an employee who's great at their job but has a problem in 1 minor area. That's fine. But you give feedback.  "Joe - you do awesome work but you have been late 6 times in the last 2 months.... {{insert feedback model}}" and ask him to change that. If you give the feedback, ask for change and change does not happen, this is Joe really a great employee? My answer would be no. He's really good at some parts of his job and bad at others. And he's bad at taking and implementing feedback - which for me is as important as being good at your job in the first place. 

So in this case, cutting slack doesn't seem like a reward - it seems like ignoring areas of poor performance (because showing up is part of our performance) instead of giving feedback and asking for change.

If the area of poor performance weren't tardiness - but instead was not documenting a required step, would you cut him some slack because his work was good otherwise?

SuzanneB's picture

And I'm assuming these are unplanned tardies - not the "hey I've got to take my kids to school is it okay if I'm 20 minutes late on Monday?" kind of planned in advance lateness.