Q & A Table of Contents
In Union There Is Strength, But Knowledge Is Power
From: Kim, Orlando, Florida
Question: The shop steward is an elderly waitress who intends to do as little work as possible. When managers would ask other wait staff to perform tasks, they would tell the manager that it was against the contract to perform the task. The managers would believe what they were told and find other way to get tasks accomplished, usually by doing them for the staff. It is apparent that a small group of non-productive employee have been acting as informal leaders for the staff for a few years.
Response: Everyone involved in management should read the contract immediately. Any delay in reading the contract is irresponsible. It may well be that the informal leaders of the wait staff are correct in their interpretation of the contract -- but the failure of management to be familiar with what the contract says means that they (management) deserve what they get.
- What information does manager need to supervise this group of employees?
- How should manager handle the informal leaders?
- How should manager handle the productive members of the staff?
Once management understands the contract, if the informal leadership of the wait staff is not interpreting the contract correctly, management can make sure they fulfill the contract's terms. Among other things, it is more than likely that the official shop steward has an obligation to communicate for the union; the informal leadership probably has to go through her with any discussions about wages, hours, and conditions.
If the leaders of the non-productive members of the staff are correct in their interpretation of the contract, management needs to develop a plan for improving the contract when it comes up for renewal. Productive workers should be rewarded and the contract terms should not reward non-productive staff. An agreement between labor and management should not yield an unbalanced situation; employees deserve proper treatment and rewards and management deserves a properly productive staff.
To summarize: 1. The manager needs to be informed about the contract. 2. Once s/he understands the contract, the manager will know whether the informal leaders can speak for the group or whether communication must pass through the shop steward. 3. Productive workers should be invited to communicate ideas to management, given whatever rewards are appropriate under the contract, and encouraged to take a leadership position.