Mutual Support, Mutual Benefits
Unions have been around in the U.S. since at least the late 1800s and provide many benefits to both employees and employers. In 1983 (the first year there was measurable data), union membership made up 20.1 percent of the American workforce. By 2017, that number was cut in half at 10.7 percent of workers. Despite membership decline, unions continue to serve a purpose in the U.S. workforce, especially in the skilled trades. While unions and HR departments tend to have different perspectives, there are steps federal contractors can take to ensure every employee coexists peacefully without losing out on productivity.
Federal contractors can benefit from a unionized workforce. Unions are a great resource to attract qualified candidates at a time when skilled workers are hard to find.
Extra Hands on Deck
The skilled trades are experiencing an unprecedented skills gap; Baby boomers are retiring and younger generations aren’t filling in these open positions. This poses a huge threat to the success of federal contractors – without skilled workers, projects may not be completed in their anticipated time frame or at the level of quality expected. During this worker shortage, unions can provide extra hands on deck when needed for an upcoming contract. HR departments and managers can partner with a hiring hall to obtain new recruits or use an applicant tracking system that distributes job postings to niche job boards.
Increased Employee Satisfaction, Lower Turnover
When employees feel they have a voice in the workplace, they will be more engaged at work. Unions advocate for better benefits for their members, and union workers typically earn 15% more than non-union workers. Union memberships also provide discounts on necessities like wireless services, mortgages, insurance and more. When employees feel they are being treated well by their employers, they are more likely to recommend the company or career path to friends. Retaining employees is important in the skilled trades due to the amount of competition for workers and high costs of recruiting.
Ongoing Training and Upskilling
Membership in skilled trades unions typically requires a certain skill level to join. A Millennial or Generation Z worker with no experience typically joins as an apprentice, where a seasoned professional will provide one-on-one training and guidance for a number of years until the employee is ready to transition into a journeyman. Unions also hold regular meetings to share best practices and provide ongoing training support. When hiring union employees, contractors are supplied with qualified workers to ensure the job is done right the first time.
Decreased Disciplinary Action
Since union members must be in good standing to continue membership, professional behavior and respect is expected on the jobsite. Many unions have internal constitutions or handbooks that outline the conduct required to remain in good standing. Union members elect a leader to act as the liaison between members and these leaders are also responsible for determining violations and disciplinary action. This saves HR time and resources as union leaders are the ones to take on performance improvement plans, a responsibility that would typically fall on HR.
Easier Benefits Selection and Administration
Union members and leaders advocate for the benefits they want. When selecting providers, much of the responsibility is shifted to the union leaders, giving HR departments more time to focus on strategic initiatives.
Unions can contribute to a healthy work environment for federal contractors. Union workers provide additional staff when needed, and allow managers to worry less about recruiting, benefits administration and disciplinary action so they can spend more time on strategy.