Have you done any planning? Do you know what to do first? Who should you call? The local newspaper picked up the story and wants a comment. Employees are flooding HR asking questions and worried about losing their jobs. Patients are growing concerned, and the Board members are getting calls at home. That magical trip to Europe is starting to look really good…
To avoid the chaos and stress, simply take a little time before you begin negotiations and do these five things:
1) Get a Body Count – If the union did go on strike, how many employees would you need to replace? Your numbers don’t have to be precise, just “in the ballpark.” Make a conservative estimate of how many might cross the picket line, e.g., 1,200 could walk off the job, but 200 would probably cross the picket line. Then….
2) Make Some Calls – Now that you know how many employees might go on strike, find out how much it will cost to “replace” them. Contact some “strike replacement” companies and get an estimate. Find out how much notice they need to get replacement workers, e.g., can they get 800 nurses in three weeks? Here’s a short list of strike replacement companies:
a) Madi – madicorp.com
b) Huffmaster – huffmaster.com
c) US Nursing Corporation – usnursing.com
d) Nurse Bridge – nursebridge.com
e) Rapid Staff – rapidstaff.com
f) Healthsource Global Staffing – healthsourceglobal.com
3) Pick a Boss – When the strike starts, you’ll need a “Strike Coordinator.” The Coordinator is responsible for the overall strike planning and coordination. You will ultimately form a committee (“Command Center”) to run the strike, but the Strike Coordinator will have the overall responsibility to see that all efforts are synchronized. It should NOT be the lead negotiator or member of the negotiation team; they’ll be busy trying to get the deal done. The Strike Coordinator is often a senior member of the leadership team, usually in Operations. Once selected, keep your Strike Coordinator updated on negotiations.
3) Draft Your Command Center Team – You’ll need to draft colleagues to be part of the “Command Center.” This is the group that will run the strike. The team members will vary depending on the strike. For example, if it’s a nursing strike, have representatives from: HR, Legal, Patient Care/Nursing, Communications, and Security. You can certainly have others, but this would be the minimum crew. The Strike Coordinator should keep the Committee members informed throughout the negotiations and convene the team when necessary.
4) Plan Your Trip – Negotiations are a journey. You start, you wander, you arrive. However, you know if you don’t “arrive” on the contract expiration date, the union can go on strike. Working back from that date, pick some milestones. When should you start planning for the strike? When did the “strike staffing” company need notice? When should you start curtailing vacation requests to ensure you have enough supervisors and other staff to handle the strike? When should the “Command Center” convene? When is the first date the union could possibly strike? Map it all out on a calendar.
5) Basic Communications and Talking Points – There are a few basic template talking points and communications that everyone uses in a strike, e.g., letter to the employees, media statements, “do’s and don’ts” for a strike, message to the patients and families, etc.. Have them ready to roll before you need them. You do not want to be drafting these for the first time after you get the strike notice.
All these tasks could be done in a few hours. Do them before you start negotiations. You shouldn’t be doing detailed planning at this point. Simply get some rough numbers together, appoint some folks to a committee, make your “map,” and draft some communications. If you never have to hire replacements, invoke the committee, or send out a letter, great! However, if you see the storm brewing, you’ll be much more relaxed knowing that you’ve got these preliminary matters done.
Scott Allan, JD, is the founder of The Allan Labor Group and curator of Healthcarelaborlaw.com. He’s spent over 25 years representing healthcare employers in their labor relations activities. He has worked in the public and private sector, represented rural nursing homes, small town clinics, state healthcare facilities, standalone hospitals, multibillion-dollar healthcare systems, and everything in between. He also spent seven years on the “inside” working for unions.