Unions Helping Shape Business Strategy

Context: Unions are perpetually a topic of controversy and concern in North America, including recently in the Globe and Mail. Unions, which are groups of workers organizing themselves usually to the aim of having good conditions of employment, are at times the only effective protection employees have from their employers. Sometimes employers appear to do everything in their power to prevent a union from forming. Employers’ fears may be rooted in assumptions about how the presence of a union will inflate wages or breed complacency which in turn makes a business less flexible and less able to compete. It is curious to think that when individuals from all over an organization at all different levels come together and talk, this collection of people with expertise and experience is seen by upper management as a threat to the basic purpose of the business.

Idea: Unions acting to help shape the direction of organizations and advise on business strategy beyond treatment of employees. Proposals could move from within the union to representatives and be put forward to directors or management for consideration. The primary function of unions, to protect workers and give them a voice that would otherwise be silenced, is not in question here. Needing to pick battles to prevent workers from being taken advantage of is a constant struggle, no doubt. The idea is that, in certain circumstances, unions members could together be developing concepts to help the organization they work with. This seems to already be happening in some instances with various social issues, though stories of these cases do not seem to get much media traction and so are not appreciated by the public. While risky and maybe not worth it, this tact could build public and political support for the activities of organized labour.

Problems:

  • Already overburdened with important work
  • This work is arguably not core to the functioning of a union
  • Business strategy is not normally the area of expertise of unions
  • Awkwardness when business strategy proposed by a union does not match that of shareholders and/or directors and/or management. However, seeing the contrast of how workers want an organization to behave and what management/directors/shareholders want would be fascinating

Note: This happens to a degree already with organizations like Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) and the Co-operators Group Insurance. MEC has actually been so good at their business that competitors have accused them of being anti-competitive, …because they are too good at competing in the business market… (see 9th through 11th paragraphs)

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