Winning while losing: The labor challenge after a divided union vote

Note published on January 10 in El Economista, Capital Humano [Human Capital] Section by Blanya Correal Sarmiento.
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How does a voting process for the certification for handling the collective bargaining agreement by a union or for the legitimation of a collective bargaining agreement in which the result of the vote is divided in almost equal parts affect the work environment?

today unionized workers participate with their opinion through the exercise of their vote. The question is: how prepared are they to do this with the necessary criterion to ensure that the result is favorable for themselves?

It seems like a contradictory question, because the exercise of a personal, free, secret and direct vote supposes in itself the expression of the will of the person, but, nevertheless, we are witnessing more and more the dynamics of the “protest vote”, in which the argument that “a new broom should sweep better” prevails, even putting the worker’s own interests at risk, as they end up choosing unknown options which, due to the sole fact of being new, appear to be the magic formula for solving problems.

And this goes further, because in many cases the voting tendencies of workers for the holding or for the legitimation of a collective bargaining agreement end up being completely divided. The interesting part, beyond the result and the change of union, is what happens in the work environment when opinions are so significantly divided.  To analyze this matter, it is worth taking three perspectives into consideration:

  1. The road to union victory

The first case is when the union manages to win by a small difference and now needs to demonstrate to the counterpart the reason for its victory. In this sense, we have identified two main trends.

On the one hand, that of the radical unions that seek to win the support of the workers through intense pressure  on the company by means of operation stoppages and other actions that block or negatively affect operations. These actions seek to generate changes in the working conditions without thinking of the consequences brought upon themselves by promoting a climate of conflict, which can turn against them later because, in the measure that the worker perceives that “the blow” is the mechanism for claiming his rights, he will also use this type of pressure against the union to demand that it represents him more effectively. In other words, you will be measured with the stick that you measure.

The other trend that is being found in Mexico is that of unions that are becoming organized in a mature fashion, being conscious of the responsibility that they have in their hands in the representation of their members. Today, we begin to find collective organizations who are concerned with preparing themselves by means of training processes focused on a leadership style that is able to balance the needs of the worker with the possibilities and trends of the business. In this sense, we have seen very interesting reactions in collective bargaining negotiations after the impact of the increase to the minimum wage, reaching agreements that benefited both parties.

  1. The worker’s hindsight

The second element to take into consideration is the perspective of the worker. Winners and losers will have to continue working together, as they always have, not allowing the differences in their collective preferences to represent obstacles in their day-to-day relationships.

In this sense, the preparation and development of a mature criterion by the workers acquires a fundamental importance because, surely, the defeated party will become the most important monitor and opposer of the new union leadership, generating more pressure on the union, who will have to strengthen its capacity for obtaining agreements that are beneficial to the workers, turning into a vicious circle in which the greatest pressure can generate more actions that make use of force, which will be a clear indication of why the new representatives are not good for the company or for the workers.

  1. The relationship with the company

The prior point leaves us with the third perspective, which is precisely that of the company who faces this divided reality. A union organization that represents the workers can be a key ally for the business, even (and particularly) when it maintains its independent role in the search for better conditions for the workers that it represents because, additionally, it is also a valid interlocutor with whom solid agreements can be reached, in which the union organization itself becomes the channel of communication and listening for people. But in a scenario with a close result in the votes, the possibility of this role to be exercised is very remote.

Without a doubt, the effect of these tendencies in voting have a complex effect in handling labor relationships and therefore, clear actions by unions and companies are required in training workers for the exercise of a more democratic union life in which the exercise of their participation is made with the utmost responsibility and awareness as it is not only the viability of the company and their job positions that is at stake, but also the competitiveness of Mexico as a country.