Skip to page content
Office of the Secretary
Bookmark and Share

U.S. Department of Labor Futurework
  Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century
---division bar --

What Do Nonunions Do?
What Should We Do About Them?

Daphne Gottlieb Taras, University of Calgary and Bruce E. Kaufman, Georgia State University
Task Force Working Paper #WP14
Prepared for the May 25-26, 1999, conference
“Symposium on Changing Employment Relations and New Institutions of Representation”

September 1, 1999

Appendix 1

Eight Case Studies from Kaufman, Lewin and Fossum Study

Company A
Unit: Individual Plant
Line of Business: Manufactures Soaps and Detergents
Employment: 270

Structure of EI

* 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 administrative staff.

* 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 to know."

Company B
Unit: Individual Plant
Line of Business: Automobile Assembly
Employment: 2,400

Structure of EI

* 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 rates).

* 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.

Company C
Unit: Company.
Line of Business: Airline transportation.
Employment: 68,000.

Structure of EI

* 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 system.

* 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.

Company D
Unit: Mill
Line of Business: Paper Manufacture
Employment: 700

Structure of EI

* 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 employee peers.

* 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 blocks.

* 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.

Company E
Unit: State-level unit of the Service Division of an 110,000 employee company.
Line of Business: Service and repair of photocopiers.
Employees: 450.

Structure of EI

* 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 satisfaction.

* Councils, committees , etc. The work groups are the only formal EI structure in this state unit.

Company F
Unit: Plant
Line of Business: Manufactures missiles.
Employment: 1,000

EI Structure

* 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 is slow.

* 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 decision.

* 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.

Company G
Unit: Plant
Line of Business: Powered Janitorial Maintenance Equipment
Employment: 100

Structure of EI

* 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 company’s 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.

Company H
Unit: Company
Line of Business: Express mail and package delivery service
Employment: 121,000

Structure of EI

* 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 company’s 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 managers—for example, on issues such as promotion, relocation to other company facilities, and proposed areas of action based on SFA reports.

* 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 company’s 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 and recognitions.

* 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 company’s compensation program calls for 75 percent of an employee’s 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 goals.

* 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 executive.

Previous Section Next Section