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Written by Kathleen Taylor-Gadsby

For those of us who attended the “Focus on Labor” pre-conference session, moderated by James Fripp, Sr Director Diversity and Inclusion at YUM Brands Inc, the Global Best Practices conference began with sobering data and a clear challenge that our industry must sit up and take notice.

Within the context of unemployment at 5.8%, growing union activity, minimum wage increases in half of the states, joint employer legislation and a pending presidential election, the panel offered concrete and actionable information to aid our companies in proactively addressing the challenges that face us.

While panelist Joe Kefauver, Managing Partner at Parquet Public Affairs assured the group that, just as in 2014, it is unlikely any key labor-related legislation will pass at the federal level in 2015. He based this comment on the coming 2016 elections and the political make-up of the House and Senate. However, Joe did not suggest that we sit on our hands this year. As we’ve seen with minimum wage increases, state ballots are changing the way we do business, in spite of the paralysis in Washington.

With this set-up, there was clear consensus among the panelists that there is opportunity for our industry to prepare more fully for the challenges that confront us.

  • Unions are looking at the 8M “precarious workers” (their term) as prime pickings to boost their waning membership and income.
  • Data presented by Terry Dunn, President of the Positive Management Leadership group indicates that 79% of workers age 30 and lower believe they would be better served by unions.
  • Many of our employees favor an increase in minimum wage as indicated by a survey that Snagajob conducted and presented by Peter Harrison, President and CEO. The survey results indicated that 46% of employees favored a minimum wage increase to $9.
  • The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has, through statutory rule-making, allowed for a “quickie election” that can take place as quickly as 14 days, but practically closer to 21.
  • Increasing the impact of their messaging, unions are leveraging President Obama’s focus on improving the state of the middle class by framing their message as one of social justice.
  • The NLRB recently ruled that McDonalds is a joint employer of its franchisees’ employees with potential long-reaching impact to the franchisee/franchisor relationship.

As these and other labor-related issues confront our industry, it is critical that companies take action now. Not surprisingly, one of the key antidotes to labor organizing is great leadership. Mr. Dunn recommended seven steps for leaders to take, stating that these were validated as statistically significant by two separate studies.

  • Selection for cultural fit and early contact with new hires to build a relationship
  • Focused and credible communication
  • Leadership availability
  • Consistent and credible action
  • Employee advocacy
  • Equitable and fair treatment
  • Recognition

With excellent leadership practices in place, companies must have a plan. Mike VanDervort, Executive Director of C.U.E provided these recommendations. Plans must be both strategic and tactical and include:

  • Regular monitoring of labor activity to ensure you are not taken by surprise if a one-day strike or “flash mob” takes over your restaurant in the middle of lunch service. Check for potential activity on social media as organizers are very active there.
  • Set-up a functional response team with a plan for how to respond to a variety of situations.
  • Train your managers on what to look for, what role each manager has, who their points of contact are and what they should and should not do. Consider providing this same information to your franchisees.

The pertinent and specific information shared in this highly informative session may feel overwhelming. However, there is good news here.

Ultimately, you and your company can control the extent to which you are impacted by the current labor climate. By creating a work environment that is positive and engaging and in taking proactive measures to prepare for any incursion, you set your company up to continue as a great place to work in your community.

2dcceebFor more on the Labor pre conference session, check out: 7 Tips for Positive Employee Relations

Kathleen Taylor-Gadsby, CPCC, PHR is a leadership coach focused on leaders in transition, I work with college students and recent graduates, high potential leaders aspiring for promotion or in job transition, and leaders planning for retirement.