Workers’ compensation programs often run into problems when their workforce comprises members of a labor union. Interested stakeholders should embrace this challenge as an opportunity to coordinate efforts and build a better workplace. Doing this requires engagement at all levels and a willingness to develop trust within the workplace. When this is accomplished, employees will return to work faster, and the costs of a workers’ compensation claim will fall.
Identify Labor Union Roadblocks
There are several common themes in coordinating workers’ compensation cost reduction efforts in a labor union environment. The key is first to identify the issues present and be willing to work with union representatives constructively.
- Trust: It all starts with a level of trust. Avoid negative stereotypes of labor unions. While union stewards and leaders see issues from a different angle, it is important to remember that everyone is concerned about employees’ best interests. This includes getting the employee back to work following a work injury.
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- Senior Management: All levels of an organization need to be involved in workers’ compensation matters. When it comes to these issues, the “nuts and bolts” are often left to lower-level supervisors. Now is the time for upper/senior leadership to embrace the challenges and be involved in the process.
- Incentives to Return to Work: Management and labor need to review policies and determine if something leads to a perverse disincentive for an employee to return to work. This can include collateral source benefits such as salary and wage continuation and supplemental income programs, guaranteed job produces programs, and disability benefit programs
These are some of the many challenges stakeholders face in their workers’ compensation programs that involve labor unions. Now is the time to embrace these issues to reduce program costs.
Make the Connection
Once there is a willingness to embrace the challenges presented by labor unions, the next step is to make the connection. Taking these steps allows both sides to understand common threads that bring them together and make progress.
- Interest-Based Negotiations: Interest-based negotiations requires parties to prepare by understanding their position(s), exchange information in good faith, bargain by looking for opportunities to meet each sides interest, and execute on the agreement;
- Identify Wins: Negotiating is not a zero-sum game – where someone wins, and the other side loses. Parties should identify areas and look to create a “win/win” situation – with no losers; and
- Safety: Safety should always be at the forefront of a negotiation. Management can gain a lot in negotiations with labor unions by emphasizing it daily. A culture of safety should be the norm.
Management can also focus on essential issues to labor union membership. This is a focused approach on reduced union dues when employees are off work. Management can gain support from union leadership on return-to-work issues when they understand how a member being off work impacts the union’s bottom line.
Focused Approach to Return-to-Work
Labor unions do not benefit when their members are off work. When an employer is dedicated to return-to-work efforts, they can gain the labor union’s aid to reduce the length of wage loss claims. Several keys should be examined when it comes to getting these employees back to work:
- Utilizing the injured employees’ skills: The employer needs to understand the transferable job skills following a work injury. There should be a point of contact that can work with supervisors and union representatives on finding a position within the company that makes the employee’s ability.
- Understanding medical restrictions: Restrictions on activity are a significant barrier to returning an employee to work following a work injury. A representative of the employer should serve as a liaison between all parties to understand this matter.
- Discovery of the needs of each party: This requires dialogue and communication between all parties. IT is part of creating a win for everyone.
Employers often see labor unions as a barrier to reducing workers’ compensation program costs. This outdated mindset only increases costs and creates low morale. When employers engage labor unions on work injuries, they can improve the workplace atmosphere, get injured employees back to work quickly, and build understanding. Now is the time to engage labor unions on workers’ compensation matters.
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is the founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center, which offers the Certified Master of Workers’ Compensation national designation.
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