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An investment firms view of unions

For a very interesting project with my colleagues @ Joe Perry and @ Richard Saundry, I have read more about collective employment relations in the last few months than I have done in a long time. I have really enjoyed reading this up to date article by Trillium Asset Management and would encourage any of you working with unions to take a read:

It uses evidence from many sources to show that “supporting organising efforts aligns to a long term investment horizon and sustainable investment values”. It gives the following as examples of how both companies and shareholders can benefit from unions:

  • Companies with union presence and collective agreements see greater worker productivity when good management-labour relationships are developed and employees can contribute to operational improvements. Unions have the ability to “aggregate worker sentiment in a more efficient manner than soliciting individual opinions or failing to engage”.

  • Union presence improves worker health and safety and therefore provides a wide ranging “de-risking” function for investors and employers.

  • Union presence increases worker satisfaction and decreases turnover. By providing a dedicated channel for workers to communicate with leadership teams about working conditions and what would increase job satisfaction, shareholders and companies benefit from avoiding costs associated with “constantly replacing, hiring and training employees”.

  • Supporting unions is one way to support racial and gender equality as “unions decrease the racial wealth and gender gap and empower workers to bargain for workplace protections and conditions that ensure equity”.

Trillium may be less well-known than some asset management firms, but it is using its hefty influence to challenge those companies that face a risk to their reputation from anti-union activity. It believes that companies should be held accountable for gaps between what they say on human rights (and freedom of association is a human rights under several international conventions) and what they actually do. As evidence, Trillium co-led a group of investors in reaching an agreement with Apple to commission a third-party assessment of its labour practices. There is more information on this on their website.

I think I have enjoyed it because it is rare to find such positive stories about unions and the benefits of collective voice and even rarer to find them from an investment firm. We have become used to reading negative stories about conflict, strikes and stereotypes. But, most people working in ER know that there are a lot of positives about working with unions and see the benefits of ensuring there is a collective voice for people at work.

Trillium points out however, that the benefits are only felt when “high-quality management-labour relationships are forged” and this is our experience too. Those organisations that are often in conflict with their unions (and therefore their employees) are very unlikely to see these benefits.

At Make Work Better, we help organisations to get the most from the relationship with its union and gain the benefits of collective employee voice. We build the capability of HR teams through our development programme. We also build the capability of leaders, managers and representatives and help to rebuild relationships after conflict. We only work with organisations who want to build constructive relationships with their unions because, like Trillium, we believe there are huge positive benefits for the organisation and its people in doing so.



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