Unions certainly have their place in our society. We have unions to thank for such as the five-day workweek, overtime pay, safe working conditions, and many other rights we take for granted as workers today. Unions were needed because employers abused their workers by creating unsafe working conditions and unreasonable expectations of workers. However, this sets up a conflict between unions and management over the fair treatment of workers.
Photo by Tiger Lily from Pexels
Fair treatment of workers and marketing
You might ask why the question of unions is an issue for a blog focused on marketing. The answer is twofold. First, consumers vote with their dollars and they will not support the efforts of businesses who they see as unfairly treating their employees. In the case of Amazon, groups of consumers boycotted the organization and activists attempted to spread these boycotts more widely. Thus, fairness within an organization, whether it involves corporate social responsibility in general, or fairness in dealing with workers, impacts businesses’ efforts to market to consumers.
The second aspect regarding the impact of fair treatment of workers from a marketing perspective of the business comes from the fact that Amazon is a digital retailer that made promises to deliver products quickly to consumers. In fact, this promise and the firm’s ability to meet the promise over time accounts for the astounding growth of the firm. Meeting this promise requires maintaining certain standards of productivity. Test the tension between workers and management do two different goals of the two bodies.
The recent situation involving Amazon workers who voted last week on whether to join a union because they felt the conditions under which they were expected to work were unreasonable highlights the inherent conflict between workers and management. Management hopes to achieve the highest level of productivity from their workers, while workers want working conditions they feel are fair.
Differing notions of fair treatment
This tension between workers and management is a consistent problem in corporate America and in other countries, as well. Unions, help more fairly distribute the power between management and individual employees through collective bargaining agreements. For instance, workers were penalized for taking too many bathroom breaks or bathroom breaks that took longer than employers expected. Workers also felt that even at $ 15 an hour, they were not sufficiently compensated for the stress imposed by meeting Amazon’s productivity standards.
Employee perspectives of fair treatment
I don’t really want to dive into the specifics of the Amazon case. Instead, let’s look at the employee’s perspective unfair treatment in the workplace. The basic underlying contract between workers and management is that workers exchange their time, talent, and effort, while management provides a salary, benefits, and a safe workplace. That sounds simple enough, so why the tension between workers and management?
There is an obvious tension in any contract between two parties, where each party wants to best the other. The complex situation involving workers and management further exacerbates these efforts. For instance, you have managers at every level some of whom are effective and managed according to corporate philosophy and others who are less effective or, worst case, downright unethical for selfish reasons, because they lack the training to effectively handle employees, or due to their own biases. We’ll talk about each of these later in the post.
Employer perspectives of fair treatment
Corporations answer too many masters and often these stakeholders are in conflict with each other. Stockholders and other investors want profits from the business. In publicly traded corporations, a business that consistently fails to achieve what investors believe are sufficient profits, they may replace the management with others more willing to achieve profits. Customers also have expectations for the business.
Customers, on the other hand, want a business to keep the promises made, producing high-quality products, and sell for low prices. Often, it’s impossible for a firm to satisfy both customers and stockholders, at least in the short run as strategies for each are diametrically opposed.
Workers want the highest wages possible, the best working conditions available, and sufficient benefits. Economists suggest the laws of supply and demand work with labor as well as other aspects of the economy. Thus, employees may withhold their labor from businesses that don’t provide sufficient incentives for work. And while supply and demand does impact the labor market, it’s not an efficient market. That’s because workers don’t have the flexibility to move where jobs are located because they face other limitations such as working spouses, family, and concerns for children. The result is they must work even when they don’t feel they receive fair treatment in the workplace.
The role of unions and the government
There was a time when fair treatment of workers was abysmal. For instance, coal mine workers were forced to work under dangerous conditions for low wages. In addition, the housing they lived in and the shops where they bought groceries often belonged to the mining company and they were charged exorbitant fees for this housing that consumed much of their wages. Unions offered away to balance the power of the mining company and improved working conditions for miners.
Over time, the government took over some of the responsibility for ensuring fair treatment of workers. Legislation covered aspects of fair treatment such as minimum wage laws, 8-hour workdays, and guaranteed overtime payments period. OSHA set standards for safe working conditions, while other agencies, like the NLRB, were created to manage disputes. Combining these governmental protections with states that passed so-called ‘right to work’ laws reduced the appeal of unions and union membership declined.
Ensuring fair treatment of workers
While the government and unions both protect the fair treatment of workers, they also impose restrictions on control and flexibility within an organization. Neither of which is a good business practice. A better solution is to Institute internal policies and practices that ensure the fair treatment of workers to avoid the situation Amazon finds itself in.
Constantly update required training
Most modern organizations require training on an ongoing basis. Employees take periodic training classes and pass exams related to the training to ensure the business operates in a safe and effective manner. Managers received training appropriate for their positions including covering things such as sexual harassment, non-discrimination in hiring, and effective management techniques to deal with employees and conflicts arising between employees. Frontline employees receive training on how to do their jobs properly, how to handle potential safety issues, and reporting requirements in the case of injury or other breaches of safety protocols.
Not only does an organization want its workers alert on the job so that they perform the job proficiently but sleepy workers make mistakes that can result in injury or even death. While there’s little you can do to control employees’ actions in their off time, allow sufficient time between chefs to allow workers adequate rest to help ensure alertness. Manage usage of overtime to improve alertness. Also, monitor employees and reach out if an employee consistently shows up for work in any condition that reduces their alertness.
Don’t rush your work
In many workplaces, time is of the essence. Employees are given deadlines they must meet, so there is often a sense of urgency when it comes to completing certain tasks. It’s important, however, to allow a reasonable amount of time for workers to perform their duties safely. It is natural to want to get the job finished on schedule — or even ahead of time — but with a ‘get it done quick’ attitude, accidents happen.
Provide sufficient safety gear
A person who works in a factory has a greater chance of being involved in an accident at work. Thus, you must provide appropriate safety gear and protective garments when working. Never take safety for granted by asking workers to perform tasks without protection.
Once per year, as well as after workplace accidents, review your organization’s safety policies and procedures. Do they still apply to the risks your employees face? If you have changed the way you perform a task, started using new equipment or tools, or moved to a new location, your health and safety committee should update these documents.
By instituting policies and procedures to ensure the fair treatment of your workers you improve employee relations, increase productivity to meet customer demands, and reduce the chances workers will seek to unionize or report violations to federal agencies.