Understanding and implementing labor strategies should be important to everyone who has a job. That is, perhaps with the exception of management. They tend to look out for the needs of the company.
Yet, both sides need each other to keep the business in business. They need each other to get the work done in an efficient, qualitative and cost effective manner. When this employee-employer relationship disappears, your job disappears.
In the painting trade, which is similar to all labor-intensive trade, the worker expects a fair wage for a reasonable day’s work. Employers expect and work hard to get as much work out of their employees as possible. I agree, as long as the employees’ health and safety are given the attention they deserve.
As a painter, what do you really want in the workplace? If asked, I would say (1) to feel appreciated, (2) to be respected, and (3) to be treated as a professional.
How are these objectives achieved? From the standpoint of the employer-employee relationship?
1. Professional treatment. As the painter/employee, you know your job and what is required in order to keep it. And, on a consistent basis, you make every effort to perform your tasks in a responsible, productive manner.
2. Respect. As the painter/employee, you need certain provisions to be in place. Some of the more important ones include the respect and consideration of the employer, the tools to do the work, and enough time to do the work properly. (About tools: To start, painters need good quality brushes, roller covers, and reliable spray equipment.)
3. Appreciation. As a painter/employee, you have the right to have a safe, non-threatening environment in which to work. Both you and your employer have the responsibility to make sure it exists.
TIP A: When the employer drags his heels, be patient. And, try to find out why. Is it due to the cost and an unavailable budget? Consult your supervisor first; then your management or employer. It may be due to the cost of making it so.
TIP B: Don’t dismiss the need to pursue any possible resolution to the problem (s). Be patient.
TIP C: In an extreme case –eg. high toxicity, hazardous chemicals – OHSA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) can guide you in the best direction.
4. Productivity issues. Organize an employee meeting as a group with your supervisor. Clearly (and truthfully) explain anything which keeps you from doing your job efficiently. CAUTION: Don’t blame or accuse anyone personally. Be tactful.
5. Wage/Salary issues. Fair wage/ salary is also on a painter’s mind. Don’t think about how much the company is making, or the salary raises for management. Instead, make known the value of your service to the company. Emphasize how you strive to do your best every day.
TIP A: If you must self-pay 100 percent of your health insurance, politely indicate that an increase in wage would be greatly appreciated.
Now, using a more tactical response…
First, make sure you are doing all that you can to comply with company policy, productivity and employee regulations. If that fails to help you achieve any goals, follow one or all of the following objectives. NOTE: Some are more proactive than others.
1.Prepare yourself for presenting your concerns and issues.
TIP A: Write down a list of employee rights that your employer has denied you, and possibly others in the workforce. Make sure they are entitlements guaranteed under the law. Examples: lunch time (30 minutes or more), break availability, extended break time if necessary, compensation for work-related supplies, uniform requirements, workmen’s compensation, employer insurance payments, etc.
TIP B: Read then reread the company’s operations manual, if they issued one. Carefully make a note of any discrepancies or contradictions in their policies and procedures. Especially any that specifically relate to your department, or any other department with which you deal regularly.
TIP C: Compile definitive proof of misconduct on the part of the employer. File in a secure place.
TIP D: Find out the concerns and issues of other staff painters that you know in the region. What grievances do you share, and to what extent?
NOTE: In this process, your employer will probably look for ways to discredit you, starting with your attendance record.
CAUTION: It’s probable that you will lose your job sooner than later, be demoted, or be moved into another position at a different, less desirable location.
2. Ultimate response in labor relations. The painter/employee and employer relationship is based on group strength and unity. A number of painters standing together over a legitimate health and safety, or wage, issue can get better results with the employer, especially when you possess concrete and well supported evidence.
TIP A: It’s very possible that, through negotiation and mediation, a fair settlement can be achieved. Resulting in a win-win-win solution for everyone.
CAUTION: The painters may win the case; but they may have difficulty finding new jobs.
3. File a formal grievance. Depending on your issue, start with the following: Federal Wage Board/U. S. Department of Labor, OHSA, and EEOC. There are other agencies and organizations that may like to know about your problem.
CAUTION A: Especially when employee safety and health are concerned, fines could be levied until the employer sees fit to comply with the law. Some employers will initiate positive changes promptly. They do not want Federal sanctions on their books. Others will drag their heels, pay the fines at will, and refuse to comply.
CAUTION B: In the painter’s case, he may win or lose. This depends on whether or not the employer wants to do the right thing and improve working conditions.
CAUTION C: The employer may do nothing about the situation. But the employer will find probable cause to terminate you. Example: Employers, in any defendant’s hot seat, tend to shift the responsibility and costs to you. They will brand you as an difficult employee.
4. Promptly, locate another job. And resign from your present one.
CAUTION A: You may lose out. Especially if you like your current job, have a solid work record and possess growth opportunities.
CAUTION B: Consider that your job may not be secure at that point. The employer may have already been planning to hire someone to replace you.
5. Consider the option to start your own business. Especially if you have a good-to-excellent reputation in the field, possess some great connections and can float a low cash flow for two-to-five years before realizing a net profit. It can be a new beginning where you have control.
CAUTION A: Just remember that you become the employer now, just in case you hire anyone. Think of what you went through.
CAUTION B: Do you want, and are you able, to function well on the other side of the employer-employee scale?
BOTTOM LINE: As the labor-employee side of work, you must live up to your responsibility as designated by the employer. If not done, this will produce grounds for discipline or dismissal.
Your best asset is your service record. It can be a powerful, high-leverage weapon, when you are negotiating.
Validate your position. Hold your ground. Rally for support. And press on. Labor relations is about strength and commitment.
Points to Ponder:
- What do you have at stake in pursuing any grievance? Examples: current job; chances for promotion; wage/salary increases; benefit upgrades; growth opportunities in your field with other employers, or as an independent; family finances.
- Can you afford the potential short-term and long-term losses, and fallouts?
Thank you for reading “Painting with Bob.”
Copyright 2016. Robert D. Hajtovik. All rights reserved.