Labor unions do not flourish where you have smart leadership and smart talent management. This is something I have always believed and seen to be true. An interesting example of this is Delta under the leadership of its CEO, Richard Anderson, as Shawn Tully reports (“Delta Takes Off” Fortune, March 17, 2014, pp. 114–120):
“Delta argued that its pay levels were higher than unions were commanding at other airlines, and that its work rules gave flight attendants and machinists the flexibility to work longer hours, and hence pocket more pay. Its generous profit-sharing plan, which now hands employees 10% of the profits up to $2 billion and 20% over $2 billion, also attested to Anderson’s goodwill. In 2010 over 50,000 flight attendants, machinists, meteorologists, and members of other trades voted on whether to join unions. All nine elections went in favor of management.” (p. 118)
Smart leadership and smart talent management mean you build smart relationships with your employees. When employees are respected, they respond in kind. When companies demonstrate that they are making their talent a top priority, then that talent feels no need for a union to represent them. If employees believe individual representation to their employer is effective, then they will see no need for another entity to represent them. That is because consistently, a commitment to the highest quality leadership grows out of a commitment to the highest quality relationship, as Anderson so well summarizes:
“‘I was determined to keep most of Delta non-union. We needed to maintain the direct relationship with employees.’” (p. 118)
Relationship is so very important. It builds or destroys your leadership. It enhances or degrades your talent management.
Solid relationships throughout a company’s talent base will allow that company to excel. Moreover, that performance will be due to factors fundamentally different from any labor union’s contract. That performance will be sustainable because of its foundation.