In the News: How Mediation Can Address Labor Disputes

Labor disputes have been in the news all summer. From businesses and industries voting to unionize to existing unions going on strike to massive employment class action lawsuits being certified, there have been new examples of how workplace disputes boil over every week. 

While it’s hard on their employers’ bottom lines, the workers filing claims, unionizing, and striking are exercising their rights under federal law. Actively working to prevent workers from joining unions or filing a lawsuit against a company is illegal. Furthermore, it’s a sign of poor conflict management. Mediation can resolve most issues long before anyone takes legal action or organizes.

The current trends in many industries make understanding and applying the benefits of mediation more important than ever. With the right approach, you can ensure your workforce remains satisfied and reduce the likelihood of facing expensive and time-consuming lawsuits or union negotiations. Below, we discuss the conditions that lead to these types of broad labor-driven actions, how mediation can help resolve potentially problematic disputes and the long-term benefits of making mediation a part of your conflict-resolution toolkit. 

Why Workplace Unions Form and Strike

Last year, national pollster Gallup found that unions have hit a 71% public approval rating – the highest since 1965. Unsurprisingly, the nation has also faced wave after wave of unionizations and strikes over the past year. But why is this happening?

The primary reason that unions form or strike is that employees do not feel their voices are being heard. Usually, the members think they are being broadly mistreated and that management has failed to respond to their complaints. This mistreatment does not need to include violations of labor laws; when legal breaches occur, workers typically pursue class action lawsuits before organizing. However, both types of disputes can be equally costly if not resolved quickly.  

Many types of perceived mistreatment may spur unionization efforts, such as:

  • Pay or benefits that workers perceive to be insufficient for their needs or that are outpaced by inflation
  • Working conditions that are legally permissible but employees find deeply unpleasant
  • Schedules or job demands that workers find overwhelming or unfair
  • Contracts that are perceived to put employees at a significant disadvantage

In short, the issues most likely to cause widespread action are those of unfairness. When your workforce believes it is not treated fairly, you’re far more likely to face organized action.  

Of course, it’s not feasible or even possible to satisfy every person in a business, especially as the size of an organization grows. However, there’s a significant difference between a handful of dissatisfied workers and entire departments, companies, or industries going on strike like the Writers’ Guild did. The problem for many organizations is keeping the first from snowballing into the latter. 

Benefits of Mediation During Labor Disputes

In mediation, two parties with a disagreement agree to meet and negotiate a solution under the guidance of a neutral third-party mediator. The goal is for both parties to walk away satisfied with the outcome. It is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that prioritizes cooperation, collaboration, and compromise. 

Mediation is one of the most effective solutions for resolving disputes that can escalate into widescale organization. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Flexibility: Mediation is well-suited for handling disputes not based on violating existing laws or contracts. Since the parties are working together to find a solution, the method works even if there is no strict rule for an arbitrator or judge to use to justify a ruling. 
  • Collaboration: When disputing parties work together, they build a sense of camaraderie instead of seeing each other as opponents. That helps maintain a better workplace atmosphere and can reduce the risk of either party lashing out or acting rashly. 
  • Communication: Unhappy employees may have reasonable complaints. You may have practical limitations that prevent you from taking the actions they request. When you attend mediation, both sides have the opportunity to communicate your needs and better understand each other’s points of view. 
  • Compromise: Mediation aims to find a solution through compromise and negotiation. While you may have to make concessions, so will the other party. As a result, you can find a solution that satisfies you both. 
  • Satisfaction: This is the critical feature of successful mediation. When both parties walk away satisfied, further action is unlikely. You can often resolve issues by mediating disputes before they lead to organization or strikes.

How Mediation Resolves Disputes Before They Escalate

To understand how mediation can successfully minimize conflict that could lead to broad employee dissent, let’s look at one of the most common situations: pay disputes. 

If you discover that many workers are dissatisfied with their pay, don’t just ignore their complaints. At best, your company will experience significant turnover as workers leave for better compensation. At worst, they may organize or strike. Both of these scenarios will cost you significantly more in the long run. 

Mediation can reduce this risk, though. Meeting with an expert mediator and a collection of workers can help you better understand their complaints and needs in a neutral setting. You can explain the reasoning for current benefits structures and identify their biggest pain points. With that information, you can likely negotiate changes that benefit everyone without the financial strain of organized action. 

Explore the Benefits of Employment Mediation in San Francisco

Mediation is one of your strongest tools for achieving better outcomes during labor disputes. If you want to minimize the risk of organized employee action, mediation allows you to solve these problems proactively. Working with the right mediator can make all the difference. At the Law Offices of Denise Eaton Ma, P.C., our skilled attorneys and mediators have decades of experience in all aspects of employment law. We are available to advise you on your legal options for resolving conflict and mediate labor disputes. Schedule your consultation to discover how we can assist you with these issues today.

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