A BIT MORE: Non-union companies value their employees

Feb 22, 2012


With all due respect, I felt I must respond to Mr. Len Painter’s comments in “Unions still have a place in Michigan” (Grand Haven Tribune, Feb. 15). Specifically the last few paragraphs, where he states that: “workers need to be protected from greedy corporation executives who take huge bonuses for themselves, while many employees have their jobs eliminated or are forced to work years without pay raises. Workers who are members of a union have a better chance of winning wage and benefit increases if they bargain as a group rather than individually. Unions can be beneficial for young workers who are more likely to be paid lower wages.”

I have been an HR professional for many years, for various companies and industries; from manufacturing to distribution to service providers. I have worked with companies who have a union, so I know what happens in negotiations. The majority of companies I have worked for have been non-union businesses that weren’t required to provide a single thing by a union contract. So I have been in the offices and discussions with the business decision-makers about what happens to and for employees. 

I am not the highest-level decision-maker; and while it is my responsibility to recommend final decisions regarding employees compensation, benefits, working conditions, job descriptions, etc., I rarely have the only say and play only a small role in the final business decisions, and must agree to carry out the ultimate business decisions that are made.

So, I have heard the total, complete and unvarnished opinions and truths of business executives. I can say with total earnestness: Not once (including the 10-plus years I’ve been in West Michigan) have I ever heard a company executive look for ways to short employees, or look at employees as fodder to be used for their own gain, at the expense of the employee.

Mr. Painter, of the companies I have worked for, the senior managers I work with — executive officers to operations leaders to sales senior staff — all view the company’s employees as individual human beings with families, and who make the company’s success even possible. 

We see our employees’ individual faces and know them by name, and every day work hard to find ways to not have to end anyone’s employment due to loss of business or discipline or any other reason.

We do not hire employees to get rid of them. We hire them because they have skills and service and value we need. We know that it is the employees that are the reasons we have jobs ourselves.

Every year, we sit “behind closed doors” and look for ways to manage and afford the rising expense of providing good health and other benefits to our employees so they will not be financially devastated by illness or other serious life conditions. The companies I have worked with pay approximately 75 percent of the total insurance bill, and employees pay 25 percent. 

Mr. Painter, that is not required by law or by a union contract. That is (1) what makes a company competitive to attract and keep our employees; and (2) what companies do because they view their employees as whole human beings, not just “workers.”

Just today, I sealed envelopes for bonuses that were earned by employees because they achieved established goals in their jobs. These were not unethical, unreachable or unreasonable goals; they were goals that required the engagement and commitment of the employees in order to achieve (like reducing errors they can control, finding new opportunities to engage customers — no sweat-shop/piece-rate tasks here). 

And furthermore, these were not upper or senior executives; these were lower- to mid-level staff members. 

And, Mr. Painter, executives at the companies I have worked for over these past 10-plus years often don’t get a bonus because the company didn’t make its operating budget (that means making enough to cover the things that have to be paid just to stay in business; like equipment repair, payroll and health insurance). I can name many times when executives didn’t make their bonus because the company overall did not achieve its corporate goals, but non-executive employees — including “lower-paid younger workers” — did receive production or performance bonus pay because they did what they were supposed to do and the business leaders have universally expressed: “It is not fair to penalize employees for things over which they have no control. If there’s any way we can pay out bonuses to employees, we need to.” 

None of the things my non-unionized companies have done has ever been because a union representative sat at a conference table with us and threatened a strike if we didn’t. They have always been because that’s what good companies do, and the many great business leaders do because they are good human beings who are “workers” and covered by the exact same benefits, policies and wage scales that the people that they work with are. 

It is an injustice to paint all “corporate executives” (the many fine business leaders, owners and managers you know in your daily walk of life) with such an inaccurate and negative broad generalization. Try some other generalization to see what I mean: “workers need to be protected from greedy (men, Caucasians, Dutch, curly-haired people)” — you get my drift. 

And, Mr. Painter, not a single employee is forced to work years without pay raises. As a matter of fact, every day my department leaders and I discuss how to assure that we don’t lose our good employees. If you could see my office now, you would see my desk is covered with charts and paperwork of work processes and activities that might improve the incentive pay for employees and consideration for better service awards and recognition for perfect attendance. If a company does have to forego raises, I assure you that is not done lightly or without grave concern the company will lose the most valued employees. We are keenly aware that, even in down times, employees can and do leave — and we cannot take them for granted because they have the ability to leave us.

Jobs are created to help a company achieve its enterprise goals. I’ve never met a business person who created a job for the purpose of eliminating that job. That is a drastic step that is done only when absolutely necessary to sustain the viability of a company, which provides employment opportunities for the ones who remain. 

I’m sure there are large corporations that see employees as numbers, and lost jobs as statistics, and people as liabilities. And my counsel is for any “worker”: don’t work for that company if they don’t treat you like valued assets. Or, if you have to, plan to not stay there. Work hard, learn new skills, keep looking — try my company. Because any company that would treat you the way Mr. Painter describes doesn’t deserve your earnest work and loyal service. 

But the backbone of our country is built on companies that don’t need anyone between “workers” and “executives” to negotiate equitable, competitive and acceptable employment environment. There are a lot of those great places to work right here in Michigan. A union offers no value to employees in those companies.

— Janet DeYoung, Grand Haven


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