Unions and Manufacturing: A Team Effort

Factory workers talking with managers

When you think about the word “union,” I would wager a bet that manufacturing immediately comes to mind. The words manufacturing and labor go hand in hand. In fact, the 2019 union membership rate for U.S. manufacturing was 8.6 percent.1 The promise of labor unions centers on collaboration: the coming together of people to improve conditions in the workplace. From higher wages and improved benefits, to consistent scheduling, job security, and a safe working environment, labor unions have won important victories for workers. 

The Role of Unions – It’s All About Collective Bargaining

Unions utilize collective bargaining to tailor an agreement governing the employment relationship with their industry or enterprise. Collective bargaining allows parties to solve problems that may be specific to their industry or workplace, and it creates a written legal contract between an employer and organized labor. 

Manufacturers must prepare for union negotiations and may need to train managers and labor relations specialists for this task. Manufacturers typically bargain with unions on hours and schedules, wages and compensation, vacation time, benefits administration, and safety practices. They also consider how operational decisions, such as the introduction of new technologies or the use of subcontractors, will affect employees.

Challenges of Union Compliance

Working with union contracts adds a layer of complexity to managing the workforce, beyond even what state and federal employment laws dictate. With a unionized workforce, manufacturers not only need to comply with over 180 federal and state employment laws, but also with each union’s collective bargaining agreement.

With a unionized workforce, contract considerations regarding seniority, skills, and schedules may have to be considered. For example, whether unionized employees are promoted may be dependent on factors such as their seniority, rather than an employee’s performance or the employer’s decision.

Access to Workforce Data is Critically Important

In this complex environment, having access to accurate and timely employee information is critically important. Without it, there is no way to tell if an organization is compliant with collective bargaining agreements. 

Not having access to workforce data could become a liability for an organization. Lack of data can lead to frustration from employees who can’t be sure they’re being treated fairly. Lack of data also affects managers who are responsible for tasks, like controlling overtime and managing schedules. For managers without access to data, these tasks become nearly impossible. As wage and hour regulations and collective bargaining agreements grow more complex, the risk of violations, grievances, and lawsuits against companies continue to rise. Formal complaints made by employees or unions that management has violated part of the contract, can lead to costly, time-consuming consequences for manufacturing organizations. 

Workforce Management Software Can Enable Union Compliance and Collaboration

Efficient compliance management and improved operational performance are possible for manufacturers that implement the right workforce management tools. With an effective workforce solution in place, manufacturers can minimize compliance risk through automation, centralization, and consistency of their labor policies. 

With automation, you can eliminate potential errors in pay-rate calculations, including overtime, prevent costly mistakes and over payments. Scheduling is enhanced with automatic alerts that notify managers when employees lack the certifications needed for specific jobs and tasks. Compliance with union contracts is made easier by a solution that automatically enforces union work, scheduling rules and accurately tracks policy, performance and safety infractions. 

Collaborating For Better Change Management

Initiating and implementing new workforce technologies with a unionized organization can be challenging. Fear of job loss added to unions protective stance regarding employee rights, can result in unions looking closely at employer-initiated changes that affect workers and respond with resistance. 

Manufacturers seeking to implement new workforce technologies should ensure that union representatives are aware of the proposed changes, briefed on the reasons for the changes and encouraged to communicate changes directly to the workforce. Taking these steps will pay dividends during the change management process. 



By leveraging technology, manufacturing organizations can improve collaboration and compliance with labor unions. Engaging and collaborating with employees throughout this process can make it easier to manage compliance. When collaboration includes opportunities to increase employee engagement, a climate of trust will grow and positive outcomes will increase during labor negotiations. 


To learn more on how workforce technology can enable union compliance and collaboration check out this whitepaper. 

1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics