What Do Nonunions Do?
What Should We Do About Them?
Daphne Gottlieb Taras, University of Calgary and Bruce E. Kaufman, Georgia
Task Force Working Paper #WP14
Prepared for the May 25-26, 1999, conference
Symposium on Changing Employment Relations and New Institutions of
September 1, 1999
Eight Case Studies from Kaufman, Lewin and Fossum Study
Unit: Individual Plant
Line of Business: Manufactures Soaps and Detergents
* Self-managed work teams. The plant runs on two twelve hour
shifts, and each shift has two production teams, one in the process
(manufacturing) area and the other in the packaging area. Duties of supervisors
covering five functional areas have been delegated to the production teams:
safety, production, training, administrative, and counseling. Various team
members ("technicians") assume responsibility for managing each of
these functions as a "second hat." This requires extensive, on-going,
cross-functional training, roughly estimated to be five-ten times the amount
provided in a traditional plant. The most important of these areas is
production coordinator and this job is elevated to a full-time position. The
production coordinator is a team member selected by his/her peers on an annual
basis. Teams are responsible for all aspects of day-to-day operation, including
ordering supplies, planning production runs, monitoring quality, machine
repair, and counseling peers on performance or behavior problems. They also
interview new job candidates. When additional technical or management expertise
is needed, teams call on "resources" from a cadre of nine people in a
"leadership group," such as the plant manager (who splits his time
between this plant and another in a different state), the human resource
director, controller, etc. The least integrated and self-managed of the groups
is the twenty-person administrative support group, composed of clerical and
* Packaging and Process Work Groups. The next level of EI in
terms of organizational structure is the Packaging Work Group and Process Work
Group. Each group meets once a week and has twelve technicians and leaders. The
group's mission is to review operating results; address problems or needs in
production, quality, training, etc.; perform medium-long range planning for
their area; appoint special task forces to work on some issue or problem (e.g.,
shift rotation, late delivery of supplies), and so on. Technicians rotate on
and off each group as part of the way they fulfill the "leadership"
block in the pay-for-knowledge compensation system. All technicians thus have
an incentive and expectation to develop leadership/management skills.
* Plant Review Board. Problems or disputes related to job
performance, interpersonal relations, work assignment, etc. are first dealt
with at the team level by the employee and one of the several counselors. If
not resolved at this level, the HR director is called in as a
"resource," and as a final step the grievant can ask that the dispute
be presented to a body known as the Plant Review Board, a peer review group
composed of both technicians and leaders. The Board can only make a
recommendation, the plant manager has final say-so. No employee can be
discharged without the Plant Review Board first examining the case.
* Special Project Teams/Committees. Ad hoc committees and teams
of technicians and leaders are formed on an "as needed" basis to
address a particular problem or issue. They develop recommendations that are
forwarded on to the leadership group who then make the decision. The company
would prefer to have greater joint decision-making at this step, but has built
a "wall" in the process to avoid a potential unfair labor practice
charge of "dealing with" employees.
* Compensation. The plant has a pay-for-knowledge system and an
all-salaried workforce. A form of gain-sharing was recently introduced for all
employees. Pay rates are pegged at the 95th percentile in the local labor
market in order to attract and retain the cream of the local labor supply.
* Information. Extensive information on all aspects of
production, quality, cost, on-time-deliver, etc. are provided to the
technicians. "Nothing is hidden." Formal employee surveys are done,
but relatively infrequently and largely in response to a perceived "need
Unit: Individual Plant
Line of Business: Automobile Assembly
* Work Zone Teams. The plant is organized into "work
zones" and each work zone typically has a "team" of 10-20
employees, but these teams are not self-managed (an "area manager"
oversees each team in a supervisory capacity). The teams meet at the start of
each shift to review production issues, determine job rotation, etc. They are
also responsible for quality inspection, repairs, etc. in their work zone. They
do not interview job candidates or get involved in peer counseling.
* IMPACT Groups. These evolved out of Quality Circles, which
proved to be ineffective. An employee may request to the Area Manager that an
IMPACT group be formed to solve a problem or address an issue (e.g., a redesign
of a work process to reduce heavy lifting). The Manager forms a team of people
with the relevant skills/knowledge (e.g., a safety engineer, an HR person) who
develop a proposed solution. The Area Manager has the discretion to approve or
disapprove the proposed solution, but usually approval is given (sometimes
subject to modification).
* Safety Committees. These are joint employee-management
committees that meet periodically, investigate reports of unsafe conditions,
sponsor training sessions, and consider new safety practices and policies. The
safety committees are the most formal type of employee representation in the
plant. They necessarily deal with subjects related to terms and conditions of
employment, such as job rotation, work hours, and line speed.
* Peer Review Panel. This is the most "empowered"
committee in which employees participate. Employees who have reached the last
step of the dispute resolution process, or who have been terminated for certain
offenses, can request a hearing before a peer review panel. The panel is
composed of five people, two from management and three from the employees.
Employees are drawn from a pool who have received additional training in
dispute resolution. Their decision is binding and results in reversal of a
disciplinary decision in about 20 percent of the cases (a number that is
relatively low, it is said, because the process is so carefully managed before
cases get to this point).
* Focus Groups. Management regularly convenes focus groups of
employees to solicit opinions and suggestions on certain topics (e.g., change
in vacation scheduling). Thirty to forty employees are selected from across the
plant on a one-time basis and meet for an hour or so.
* Breakfast and Lunch Meetings. The plant's vice president of
human resources, as well as other executives, schedule regular breakfast and
lunch meetings with employees for purposes of informal discussion and
"taking the pulse."
* Success Sharing Compensation. Part of the compensation system
is a "success sharing" bonus which makes pay-outs to employees based
on plant-level performance on several business plan objectives (e.g., defect
* Information Sharing. Periodic employee surveys are done. Video
monitors are stationed in each work zone and are used for communicating with
employees about new policies, upcoming events, etc. Weekly bulletins and
monthly newsletters are also distributed.
Line of Business: Airline transportation.
* Continuous Improvement Teams. Approximately 3,500 employees
from across the company are organized into three hundred continuous improvement
teams (CIT). The teams are initiated by the management or employees of an
individual work unit (e.g., a group of mechanics at a repair facility), usually
include 6-10 people, and focus on work process improvements. Team members
volunteer and rotate on and off on an informal basis.
* Personnel Meetings. Once every 1-2 years employees in each work
unit participate in a "personnel meeting." The divisional vice
president, or similar person, leads the meeting, accompanied by a
representative of the personnel department. It is essentially a "town
hall" event in which the executive first provides an overview of recent
business developments, performance issues in the division/work unit, etc., and
then solicits questions and discussion from the audience on any and all issues.
Suggestions/complaints are recorded for later management review and action.
* InFlight Forum. One of the divisions of the company is
"Inflight Service." It has 18,000 employees, most of whom are flight
attendants. The Senior Vice President in charge of the division organized an
employee representational group called the "Inflight Forum" composed
of one representative from each of the company's 26 bases. Each representative
is elected. The Forum, which meets 3-4 times a year at the company's
headquarters, promotes improved communication and exchange of ideas between
employees and senior management. Each base has its own "mini-forum"
with elected employee representatives who meet with base management. Issues are
solicited from all the bases and the two that are both system-wide in nature
and of highest priority are put on the agenda of the Forum. Any subject can be
discussed, but guidelines established by management stipulate that certain
things are "off the table"--mainly subjects that are of a
company-wide nature, such as number of vacation days. Besides promoting
dialogue, the Forum can form teams to investigate a particular topic, benchmark
competitors' practices, and then develop a proposal to be presented to senior
management. Management may accept or reject the proposal, or suggest the need
for modifications or further deliberation by the Forum.
* Personnel Board Council. Approximately two years ago a
company-wide body called the "Personnel Board Council" was
established. In the last contract negotiations the company's pilots, who are
unionized, successfully negotiated to get one non-voting seat on the company's
Board of Directors. The company decided also to provide the non-represented
employees with non-voting board seats. Toward that end, a representational
group was formed, called the Personnel Board Council (PBC), which is comprised
of one person from each of seven divisions. One division covers management
employees up to the senior executive level. The purpose of the PBC, as stated
in a written charter, is to provide a two-way communication channel between the
Board of Directors and the employees. The employees in each division establish
the procedure for choosing their representative. None is elected; rather, the
representatives are chosen through a process of nomination and personal
interview conducted by employee peers. The PBC members serve for two-year
terms. They solicit opinions, ideas, and complaints from fellow division
employees, and also travel as a group to various company facilities to conduct
focus groups and personal interviews with employees. They then decide among
themselves which is the most important company-wide issue and are given fifteen
minutes at the next Board of Director's meeting to discuss it and present
recommendations and proposals. Management does not participate in choosing the
topics to be presented to the Board or in developing the proposals, other than
to provide information or resources if requested. A summary of the topics
presented and the discussion thereof at the Board meeting is distributed to
employees through several methods, such as newsletters and electronic intranet
* Profit-sharing. The company recently established a
profit-sharing program for all employees. No other form of gain-sharing or
incentive pay is provided.
* Information Sharing. Periodic employee surveys are conducted.
The results of the most recent one were made available to all employees. A
once-a-month "phone-in" is held in which employees anywhere in the
world can call in and ask a question of a designated senior executive.
Line of Business: Paper Manufacture
* Production teams. Production employees are organized into teams
built around distinct work processes (e.g., operation of a paper machine). The
teams are responsible for day-to-day management of operations and
administrative tasks (e.g., safety). Team members rotate jobs, so extensive
cross-functional training is done. Each employee has a matrix of required and
elective "skill blocks" to complete as part of the skill based pay
system. Successful completion of each skill block is determined by a panel of
* Dispute Resolution. The first step in dispute resolution is
counseling with peer team members. If the problem is not satisfactorily
resolved, the grievant can ask that a peer review panel be established. The
panel's charge is to develop 2-3 possible courses of action, state as a
recommendation which one the panel favors, and turn these over to the plant
manager who makes the decision. A discharged employee can also request
arbitration if the person's team members disagree with the decision.
* Department and Mill Core Teams. Every department has a
"core team" composed of employee representatives and department
management representatives that meets periodically to discuss department level
issues. These are generally related to production, quality, on-time delivery,
and other such matters, but employment issues such as relief time and safety
come up. There is also a "mill core team," composed of 10 employees
and six "leaders" (management) that meets regularly to discuss
mill-wide issues. Both department and mill core teams have written charters.
These charters explicitly state that the teams are not to consider personnel
issues, such as wages, vacations, hours, etc. The person interviewed felt this
requirement "chilled" the effectiveness of the EI process. The mill
core team meetings tend to be bland and the mill manager usually does not
attend since employees tend to instinctively defer to his authority. The
employee representatives on the mill core team select the employees to serve on
the department core team, making it a "feeder" system for the former.
Service on these teams is required for successful completion of certain skill
* Listening Groups and Project Teams. Once a year the mill's
human resource director forms a "listening group" of employees and
solicits their opinion on a set of issues. The mill also puts employees on
special project teams to investigate specific issues and make recommendations.
Each year, for example, several employees and the human resource director serve
on a compensation committee that surveys pay rates at other mills. The HR
director then develops recommendations for senior mill management.
* Employee Surveys. Employee surveys are done every two years.
Unit: State-level unit of the Service Division of an 110,000 employee
Line of Business: Service and repair of photocopiers.
* Organization. The employees in this unit of the company are
primarily service technicians who repair and service the company's brand of
photocopiers. Up to the late 1980s, a manager would be assigned to coordinate
and monitor approximately twelve technicians. It was the manager's job to act
as a clearinghouse for customer calls, assign calls to individual technicians,
take customer complaints, and monitor the work and performance of each
technician. Technicians provided the manager with daily and weekly reports of
their activities, the types of repairs done at each cite, and the cost of parts
used. A significant redesign of the traditional organizational structure and
underlying work processes was done in the late 1980s as part of a company-wide
TQM program. Technicians were formed into work groups (teams) of six to seven
members and the group was made responsible for many of the tasks formerly done
by the manager (but only after very extensive training). Thus, the work group
is empowered to decide how the calls will be handled, who will be assigned to
each, and how the work is to be done. Managers now have a span of control of
thirty-to-one (approximately five work groups).
* Information. Part of what allowed the large increase in span of
control is new technology. Each technician has a laptop computer and, instead
of giving the manager a written report, downloads the data to corporate
headquarters which can, in turn, be immediately accessed by all work group
members, the manager, and work groups in other states. Technicians also have
electronic access to extensive data on all aspects of the company's business
performance. Intra-team coordination has also been facilitated by giving each
technician a portable telephone so they are in continual communication with
each and can do field-level group brainstorming sessions.
* Compensation. Individual performance evaluation now has a large
component related to performance of the work group. A gain-sharing program was
also installed which makes a part of individual pay depend on the team's
performance vis a vis their annual expense budget and surveys of customer
* Councils, committees , etc. The work groups are the only formal
EI structure in this state unit.
Line of Business: Manufactures missiles.
* Self-Managed Work Teams. This plant converted to self-managed
work teams over a twelve-month period in the late 1980s as part of a
comprehensive transformation to a high- performance, total quality management
(TQM)-based work system. Teams range in size up to 20 people, but 8-12 is the
preferred size. The teams are given monthly and annual production targets and
expense budgets and are responsible for deciding how these are met. Thus, the
teams determine the production schedule, the assignment of tasks, extent of job
rotation, and perform their own quality inspections. The teams also schedule
vacations and can elect to take a temporary "lay-off" if production
* Plant-wide Committees. Three plant-wide joint
employee-management committees are in operation. The first is the
"workplace action team" which deals with issues such as work
schedules and security (a large concern at this facility), the second is the
"environment and safety team" which deals with occupational safety
and health issues, and the third is the "gain-sharing team" which is
responsible for managing the gain-sharing program. Each committee has a
"diagonal slice" of employees, including senior plant management,
persons from the engineering and administrative staves, and shopfloor
employees. The gain-sharing team is the one that elicits the most employee
interest and is viewed as being the most prestigious. The gain-sharing program
provides employees a bonus payment based on their ability to reduce production
costs below a target figure. The committee thus monitors expenses (including
management expenses on furniture and travel); periodically adds, deletes, or
modifies performance targets; and issues regular reports to the plant employees
on the status of that period's gain-sharing pool.
* People Council. This plant is one of five in its division.
Three councils have been established that cover all five plants: a Production
Council, a Growth Council and a People Council (PC). The PC deals with all
personnel-related processes and problems, including but not limited to
traditional human resource issues. Twelve people serve on the PC, drawn from
the five plants and from the ranks of management, the professional staff
(engineering), and production employees. The PC meets once a week (via
teleconferencing) and is very informally structured and run. Its members have
no tenure and are selected by management on a consultative basis with key
stakeholders. The People Council charters a variety of project teams that are
charged with investigating specific issues (e.g., a new performance management
system). These teams are also joint employee-management groups. They
periodically update the PC with a progress report and in turn receive
"mid-course" feedback. Eventually they present a report or set of
recommendations to the PC which through a process of informal
consensus-building decides to either accept, modify, or send back the proposal
for further work. An accepted proposal is then submitted by the PC to the
division's all-management "executive council," which makes the final
* Town-Hall Meeting. Every year all employees attend a town-hall
meeting off-site where plant management and teams report on various aspects of
plant performance, including profit and loss, then followed by an open question
and answer period.
* Peer Review. A half dozen channels exist for resolution of
workplace problems, but one option is to bring the matter before a plant-level
peer review panel.
* Employee Survey. A survey of employees is done regularly.
Line of Business: Powered Janitorial Maintenance Equipment
* Self-Managed Work Teams. The plant runs on two 8-hour shifts
with six self-managed work teams (SMWTs), varying in size from 2 to 12 people.
Each of the teams is responsible for final assembly of a particular product
line. Five supervisors (reduced from twelve in the traditional system) perform
roles of coaching, mentoring, problem-solving, communicating goals and feedback
from higher management, and assisting in disciplinary/performance problems.
Teams work with industrial and product engineers to design work areas and
assembly procedures as new product prototypes are developed. Each SMWT is
responsible for its production planning consistent with output goals of the
firm. Teams interview employees or job applicants who are interested in
becoming team members and discuss with them team expectations and performance
criteria. The teams provide the HR manager with feedback and recommendations
but do not have final authority to select among applicants. Teams do have
authority to allocate overtime hours among members and were at one time given
authority to also allocate vacation days. They did an ineffective job with the
latter and this task was transferred back to management.
* Team Leader Council. Each SMWT elects a leader who serves on
the Team Leader Council. The position rotates among team members. The mission
of the Council is to discuss issues that are general across work groups. The
Council has fallen into disuse, primarily because of the team-specific nature
of many production problems and the temporary nature of the groups
incumbents (due to the rotation in SMWT leaders).
* Plant Advisory Board. The Plant Advisory Board (PAB) is an
elected group among assembly workers. It meets periodically with top management
and receives information about future production plans and wage survey data.
The PAB also provides top management with information about employee concerns
in these and other areas.
* CEO Meeting. The companys chief executive officer (CEO)
holds semiannual meetings with all employees to update them on sales, business
developments, and other pertinent information.
* Compensation. A pay-for-knowledge compensation system was
installed when the company adopted self-managed work teams. The company has
also had a profit-sharing plan for many years.
Line of Business: Express mail and package delivery service
* Survey-Feedback-Action Process. A long-standing human resource
practice of this company is its Survey-Feedback-Action (SFA) process. The SFA
is a 29-item structured computerized survey that is administered on-line
annually to a 10 percent sample of the companys U.S. and Canadian
workforce. The human resource department analyzes the responses and distributes
a summary report to all managers and supervisors who, in turn, share the report
with their employees (the feedback portion of the process), The HR department
also uses the response to develop suggested action items for managers and
supervisors. Upon mutual agreement that these action items are appropriate, the
line managers are required to inform employees of the actions they plan to take
and to monitor their effectiveness. To reinforce use of the SFA, superiors
regularly rate the performance of managerial/supervisory personnel in providing
SFA feedback to employees.
* Supervisor-Management Board. A standing committee, the
Supervisor-Management Board (SMB), was established to facilitate communication
and exchange of information between senior management and supervisors and
lower/middle managers in the various units/departments/facilities. The
supervisory members of the SMB are appointed by senior management. The Board
considers a wide range of issues but gives particular emphasis to company-level
matters. The Board also serves as an appeals channel for
supervisors and managersfor example, on issues such as promotion,
relocation to other company facilities, and proposed areas of action based on
* Employee Committees. The company often uses employee committees
to deal with specific business and workplace issues. These are generally ad hoc
committees of a project nature with the members
recommended/appointed by management or solicited on a voluntary basis. Many of
the issues examined are business related, such as tracking of packages and
design of a new Web page, but some employment issues are also considered.
Examples include revisions to the companys compensation plan, training
and career development programs, job assignments, and an employee recognition
and reward program. General managers of units/departments/facilities may
establish their own ad hoc committees to deal with business and/or workplace
issues, but must receive permission from the Vice President for Human
Resources before doing so. One such local ad hoc committee was
formed to deal with the issue of relocating company facilities/depots from
higher cost to lower cost locations; another was formed to deal with workplace
safety issues for employees working the night shift in high-crime areas.
* Employee Suggestion Program. A formal suggestion program is in
place to encourage employees to submit ideas on how the company can reduce
costs, improve quality, and so on. Employee suggestions are made at local
facilities and the most promising are forwarded to company headquarters for
assessment and action. Over 3,000 suggestions are received annually. Monetary
rewards of up to $25,000 re made, along with a variety of non-monetary rewards
* Guaranteed Fair Treatment Program. Grievances that can not be
settled informally between the employee and first-line supervisor can be
appealed through three levels of review: management review, office review, and
executive review. This procedure is known and the Guaranteed Fair Treatment
(GFT) program and is available to all employees up to the level of middle
manager. About five written grievances per 100 employees are filed annually. A
maximum of seven days is allowed for settlement at the first two steps and 21
days at the final step.
* Profit-Sharing. The companys compensation program calls
for 75 percent of an employees pay to be in the form of a base wage or
salary, and 25 percent to be in the form of pay at risk. The latter
component takes the form of profit-sharing. In addition, certain employees
receive bonus payments based on achievement of individual, team, or department
* Information-Sharing. In addition to information provided to
employees through the SFA process, the company uses a printed newsletter and
email communications to inform employees about business developments. Also in
place is a designated telephone hot-line which any employee in the
company worldwide can use to pose a question or raise an issue with a senior