I'm Stephen Booth, a Technical Analyst with Service Birmingham in the UK. Service Birmingham is a Joint Venture company between Birmimgham City Council and Capita Group, most of the staff used to work for the council's IT department but were transferred over when the company was formed in April 2006.

My role isn't technically a management role but does involvce some project management, it's mostly about providing technical advice and consultancy to projects and overseeing short sub-projects. I do want to progress into management, hence my interest in Manager Tools.

I titled this "Usually on the other side of the table" as my other role is that I'm a union shop steward. I know that a lot of managers have a very negative view of unions, often without ever having dealt with one face to face, but the way I see it we should both be aiming for the same thing, a happy, healthy and productive workforce. Generally happy people are more productive than miserable ones (if nothing else they spend less time standing around the water cooler complaining about how much they hate their job) and a productive (successful) company offers better security of employment and more opportunities for the employees.

I enjoy the podcasts, although I don't get as much time to listen to them as I'd like, and try to get them in front of as many people (especially managers) at work as I can.


WillDuke's picture
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Welcome aboard Stephen.

I agree with you, in theory, about unions. Unions arose to protect people from bad managers. If the union's intention is the protection and development of its members. If the manager is interested in protecting and developing his/her team. Where's the disconnect?

Like all things involving humans the issues usually arise when one side or the other isn't doing what they ought.

Consequently, more communication between the two can only help.

rthibode's picture

Hi Stephen, great to have you here!.

I'm in a unionionized job at a large institution. I'm very interested in hearing your perspective on the various issues we discuss here at MT!

All the best.

MattJBeckwith's picture
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Welcome Stephen. I have found that debates amongst those for and against unions can be about as brutal as the Mac vs. PC debate (let's not start that one again).

Never having managed in a union shop I welcome the conversation and would like to hear more about the differences between union and non-union management.

Again, welcome!

sportgoofy's picture

I have started supervising a union based employee group within a municipal government. Coming from the private sector I find it very frustrating how the union protect their weakest members. It seems that the easiest tasks become difficult. I can`t believe how many benefits they have and they still act as if they are a victim and are treated poorly. I think my group all need a reality check with the private sector working force so that they realize how good they have it. It is like a `spoiled kid!``


mkalas's picture


I only recently started working in unionised areas when I got some interim manager roles in the NHS (UK health service). Most managers I met in the NHS are just administrators and desperately lack management skills. (I have seen some appaling behaviour) On the one hand I can see how unions respond to this and I agree that many decisions are simply bad, but unions have also have helped entrench bad behaviour. The average time it takes to "performance manage" a member of staff (either to achieve a change in behaviour or to terminate employment) is about 18 months. This demotivates ALL staff. I can't see how it would beneficial for any organisation to protect non-performing staff. What are the unions trying to achieve?

I agree with Sportgoofy, a healthy stint in the private sector would wake up both managers and staff. (Unfortunately no chance of that)

AshishB81's picture

Hi all -- long time listener!  I've had a few roles in front line union shop supervisory positions and I feel like I finally figured it out in my last role.  There is really a 5 fold approach to working successfully with a union that I have found.

Rule 1 - (Especially if the union is well entrenched and not going anywhere) RECOGNIZE that the Union is there -- they exist and are probably not going away.  More specifically, not thinking about what things would be like if the Union did not exist will protect any manager's sanity -- otherwise, you will keep thinking about how much easier things could be (which ignores the fact that a lot of the same issues exist in non-union environments and do not have the structure that a union provides).

Rule 2 - Communicate, communicate, communicate!  Specifically, if you over communicate with the union, you will find out that they have a genuine interest in the organization and in the well being of the organization.  This will help peel back the layers that make up the internal structure of the union and allow you to work with them, instead of feeling like you are working against them.  Also, you will learn that most of them really take a great deal of pride in their job, and it's that pride that if leveraged effectively can really move the dial with the entire group.  This process will often times reveal what concerns they have with management and why they do not like to be managed by just anyone.

Rule 3 - Patience.  The union knows that they can outlast just about everyone that's there -- specifically they know that managers probably come and go and anyone that starts pushing too hard (without clearly establishing Rule 1 and Rule 2 and thereby establishing credibility) is more of a flash in the pan.  I found that it was always really frustrating to feel like I couldn't change things, but I realized that I just needed to have a good plan and to have my ducks in a row in order to really drive change.

Rule 4 - Accountability.  I notice that too often, depending on the culture, the union uses grievances as a method to 'punish' their managers.  My goal was to make the grievance process punishment for the union.  More specifically, I made the union steward schedule meetings with me to discuss grievances -- I would not discuss them at the union's discretion.  This is a terrible move if you do not have Rule 1, 2 and 3 from above though, as it can be yet another failure on the manager's part.  Also, I worked with the steward to have him and the rest of the union begin to self-discipline themselves.  Surprisingly, they used their own incentives (and lack thereof) to drive behaviors that were in alignment with our rules within the shop.

Rule 5 - Respect.  This should probably be Rule 1 or Rule 0.  I found that not acknowledging the knowledge or the people that work the union jobs in an appropriate manner takes a really long time to recover from. At the end of the day, these are all people, who have pride in what they do and the men and women they have become.  Any kind of embarrasment, intentioned or unintentioned has big ramifications (usually negative)

I'd be curious to see what the union's take is on this list -- it would be nice to see if I was accurate for multiple situations, or if it really only worked in the one!