Non-Represented Employees Want Union Benefits

By Lorraine Patterson Mar 6, 2009
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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of question-and-answer columns from members of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Labor Relations Special Expertise Panel. Have a question for the panel? Send it to steve.bates@shrm.org.

Q. The union recently negotiated a couple of benefits for its membership that are attractive. I’ve received multiple requests from non-represented employees to receive these same benefits. What are my options?

A. You may grant the same benefits to the non-represented employees, but to preserve your relationship with the union, the benefits should not be exactly the same, if possible. It is important to union leadership that its members perceive that the collective bargaining agreement and membership in the organization as extremely valuable for maintaining or obtaining adequate wages and benefits.

When non-represented employees are granted the same benefits easily, the union might seek additional gains during the next contract negotiations in an effort to demonstrate the value of the union to its members. This cycle becomes expensive and damages the relationship between the union and management.

For example, the union negotiated one excused late arrival per year for transit drivers, thus delaying any progressive discipline until the second late arrival. Non-represented staff in the same work location are subject to the same attendance standards and would appreciate the ability to have one mistake erased from their file. In this case, the company may grant the non-represented employees the ability to request removal through a process.

The final result might be the same, but it is not guaranteed. The union values the guaranteed benefit for their members. Management values the flexibility to approve or deny a request based on the facts. Non-represented employees appreciate their right to request removal of the late arrival.

Lorraine Patterson is a licensed attorney with experience in employment and labor law. She is a senior manager for King County, Wash., where she oversees human resources and other internal operations.

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