10 Best Practices for Managing Unionized Employees

Tips Managing Union Employees | Best Way to Manage Unionized Employees | Challenges Managing Union Employees

A company that treats employees well tend to have excellent human resources policies, fair pay structures, and better working practices. To be a good employer, you want all your employees to be treated fairly and with respect. If your company neglects its employees, there is a great chance the union will come in to protect them. But the presence of the union shop stewards in the workplace brings some restrictive measures that make managing unionized employees a challenge.

What are the Challenges of Managing in a Union Environment?

The challenges of managing in a union environment are many, especially for a new manager. Your chances of managing unionized employees the way you want will be restricted.

In most unionized workplaces, the collectively bargained terms and conditions can be more restrictive.  So, you will have to manage within the rules of the agreement that was agreed by the company and unions.

The moment the Union steward starts their job, you will not be able to do certain things with your team members. It is one of the most challenging environments any manager wants.

No good manager wants to be in a position where you cannot exercise full control over your staff members. But there are ways of how to manage union employees effectively.

Here are 10 Best Practices for Managing Union Employees


1. Build a Good Relationship with the Union Steward

The staff union representative or shop steward is also an employee who is elected by fellow employees to represent and protect their interests in the workplace.

Do not get agitated because you are not allowed to do certain things like implementing changes to achieve a goal. The staff union representative is there to do their job as you must do your job.

So, to manage employees successfully in a unionized environment, it is essential to build a good working relationship with the union steward. Use the relationship you have developed with the employees and shop steward to solve problems and diffuse tense situations.

Make the steward comfortable to talk with you regarding all workplace concerns your employees may have before they turn into formal grievances.

2. Use Your Authority to Manage

The primary role of being a manager is to ensure your employees do their job and get the results you want every day. Managing in a unionized environment is very difficult, costly, and time-consuming.

But it does not take away your management responsibilities. If you do not manage employees well, your reputation as a manager will suffer.

Read More: 10 Characteristics of an Ideal Work Environment

3. Manage Poor Performance

The freedom to manage the way you want may be limited, but you are still accountable for the overall results of your team. And remember that poor performance can become an acceptable standard if not managed well.

It is unacceptable not to deal with poor performance behaviors. You have the authority to manage employees who are not performing, whether they are unionized or not.

Dealing with an employee’s performance problems requires a set of measures. First, it is fair and reasonable to let someone who is underperforming know what they are not doing as soon as possible.

No one is going to work on something they do not know it exists.  It is also essential to communicate all performance issues to employees in the presence of their union shop steward.

The ultimatum goal of letting the employees know the problem is to help them succeed and fix poor performance. So, you have to offer your full support to allow the person to improve.

4. Deal with Poor Performance Behaviors

Sometimes your support is not going to be enough in fixing employee performance and behavioral issues. In these cases, you must take extra measures, and disciplining the person is one of them.

Just do not forget to abide by legal requirements when managing bad performing employees in a unionized work environment.

5. Be Fair to Your Employees

Always make sure you do the right things. Because there is a lot of wrong things managers do that can trigger the unions to enforce the statutory measures to protect the employees’ rights to a safe and healthy work environment, or for everyone to be treated fairly and equally without any discrimination.

Also, ensure you pay people what they deserve. If you want a member of staff to stay longer at work than they should, you can ask them to stay but make sure you pay them as per the collectively bargained terms and conditions.

Also, if you want your employees to work no all days, you can ask them to do so but make sure that pay them according to the terms and conditions.

Read also: 10 Benefits of Professional Networking

6. Always Admit Your Mistakes

A manager’s job can be very hectic, and it has a lot of pressure. Even the best managers can become overwhelmed when managing employees in a unionized environment. You must deal with all sorts of grievances or attend abrupt meetings to solve staff concerns.

There will be moments when you lose focus on some of the things that are very critical to your job. When you do not focus on details, it can result in making bad decisions that can affect your team negatively.

But whenever you make a poor decision, do not try to justify yourself or start to look for scapegoats. Just admit you were wrong. It will make your unionized employees trust and respect you.

7. Build Sustainable Trust

Establishing and maintaining trust in a non-unionized workplace is difficult enough, but it is even more difficult in a unionized environment. When you have a shop steward all the time looking at the way you manage your staff, it can create friction and suspicion. That is not what you want.

So, pay attention to anything that can cause distrust. When something is harming your relationship with employees, be proactive, and fix it. Do not wait to be told because trust is not something you take for granted.

No manager wants to manage people who are sceptical about every decision you make, even when it is with the right intentions.

8. Make Yourself Available Everyday

You want your staff to feel free to bring issues to you first, rather than going to their shop steward. So, your office door should always be open to everyone with genuine concern.

And ensure that you deal with all employee complaints promptly. Because if you do not solve their issues, they will go to union representatives where all sorts of factors can emerge that will be beyond your control.

9. Involve People in Decision Making

Empowering people is another effective way of managing effectively in a unionized work environment. Sometimes decisions need to be made by the person closest to the action, not the manager.

Focus your attention on other issues than getting broiled in all small things that can be taken care of by your team members. When you keep making all the decision, it deprives your employees on the frontline control over their day to day work.

The farther you are away from the action, the worse your decisions are going to affect people. You do not want to create dependency where people must come to you for everything. If you keep getting involved in everything your employees do, they will start feeling that you do not trust them.

10. Talk and Talk About Anything

Talk with your employees and the shop steward all the time. It is not right to wait until your employee has issues and then start talking to them. It is better than you are proactively dealing with people’s problems.

When managing in a unionized environment, it is essential to have regular brief meetings with the shop steward. Having a daily 15 minutes meeting is enough to hear if there is an issue that needs your attention.

You need to take the initiative and find out if there are any concerns in its initial stages before it becomes a formal grievance.     


Managing unionized employees without having major problems is possible. But that depends on how you treat your people.

If you treat them fairly, for instance; no discrimination, paying what they deserve, talking with respect, listening to their opinions and concerned, it is a lot less likely the unions will give you problem.

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