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Employee retention examined at foundry H.R. conference.

In a time when good H.R. can make the difference between success and struggle, foundry officials gathered to hear program-improving ideas.

Improving employee retention (or reducing turnover) is one of the greatest challenges facing the foundry industry today in this era of record-low unemployment and boom production. Without a seasoned and capable workforce, many foundries won't succeed in today's competitive casting markets. Yet at the same time, many foundries simply do not provide working conditions as pleasant as in other industries, and in general, foundries don't always offer the highest paying jobs. Approaches that foundries can utilize to develop and maintain a stable and capable workforce were the main topics of discussion at the AFS Labor Relations & Human Resource Conference held January 21-23 in Marco Island, Florida.

The conference was designed to help 135 foundry human resource professionals and other management officials develop plans to improve and retain their employee base. According to Dale Feinauer, Univ. of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the first step in achieving a stable employee base is to manage change so that employees view it as having a positive impact'. Foundries must organize themselves to be "change-friendly" rather than "change-resistant." Those foundries that can become change-friendly will have the best opportunity to succeed in the days ahead, he said. Employees are attracted to and stay with companies that organize themselves in ways that not only accept change, but also continually promote it.

Role of the Change Agent

Every foundry needs a change agent if it desires to take the change-friendly path. Usually, this individual is a senior human resources professional, or (if the company is large enough) a company trainer. Feinauer and Lori Phillippi, Badger Mining Corp., Berlin, Wisconsin, discussed this role from both a theoretical and first-hand experience in breakout sessions. For an organization to embrace change, it must follow these steps:

1. destroy the status quo;

2. envision the new/changed organization;

3. implement programs and procedures that permit the changed organization to blossom;

4. nurture the new programs and procedures;

5. be prepared to destroy the new status quo and start again, as change will happen quickly.

The change agent must be the primary communicator of the new vision, be capable of winning employees to that vision, and have enough support within the organization to remove roadblocks to change. They concluded that the ideal change agent is close to the top, committed to change, deals well with stress and inspires others. The change agent must be able to "sell the vision."

Employee Teams and the NLRB

Many organizations, particularly those without unions, use employee teams to recommend, design and implement programs and procedures that improve employee retention and reduce turnover. More than 50% of the human resource professionals attending the conference indicated that such teams were either planned or were in place at their companies.

Richard Simon, supervising attorney of Region 254 of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Indianapolis, cautioned attendees on the use of teams. He reviewed the latest NLRB rulings on committees and work teams. In breakout sessions, he also told attendees how to operate teams so they do not conflict with NLRB regulation and how to deal with an unfair labor practice charge from the NLRB. He said the NLRB recently reorganized itself to look at unfair labor practices on the basis of impact, rather than on a "first in/first out" basis. He said that all unfair labor practice charges are initially processed and researched by the NLRB staff. After research, they are prioritized (in order) as follows:

* representation, decertification and NLRB initiated injunctions;

* unlawful discharges, work teams and contractual language challenges;

* duty to provide fair representation cases.

Emerging Trends in Compensation

One of the keys to employee retention is the use of a fair and equitable compensation system. Brian Enright, Buck Consultants, Chicago, discussed where compensation programs are heading and the emerging trends in today's compensation programs. These trends include focusing on the total employment value, which includes: pay, benefits, time off, work environment, training, team- or group-based incentive plans, providing employee equity and implementing pay for performance plans that lower fixed payroll costs through the use of incentive plans.

In breakout sessions following Enright's presentation, he told interested groups the "how to's" of implementing salary bonus plans and wage group "team-based" incentive systems.

Washington Update

Diana Waterman, Waterman & Assoc., Washington, D.C., gave a lengthy update on the direction our lawmakers in nation's capitol are headed and focused on proposed legislation that impacts the human resources area. Specific topics discussed included revisions to the Family Medical Leave Act, the Team Work Act, the Working Families Flexibility Act and OSHA reform. In one of the breakout sessions, her presentation was discussed and it was confirmed that AFS has not taken a position on the Working Families Flexibility Act. If passed into law, this act would provide employees with the choice of compensatory time off rather than taking overtime pay.

In addition, most of the human resource officials at the conference feel that the industry should oppose the Working Families Flexibility Act. The primary reason is that employees could bank compensatory time and use it against companies during labor stoppages, or they could all take time off at peak times such as Independence Day.

FMLA, ADA and Workers' Compensation

Prior to the 1990s, most issues involving an employee's request for leave, an employee's return to work following an illness or injury and an employee's request to transfer to an easier job were handled under the employer's general employment policies and procedures or on a case-by-case basis. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), however, have elevated these and similar issues to a different and much more difficult status. Now, an employee with a serious health condition or disability may be entitled to a leave of absence and/ or other accommodation under the ADA and/or the FMLA. In the case of an employee injured on the job, the employee may be entitled to a leave of absence, special accommodation and/ or benefits not only under the state Workers' Compensation Act but also under the ADA and/or FMLA. In some instances, an injured or seriously ill employee may be protected under all three laws. In other situations, the employee's condition and/or situation involving an employee with an injury or serious medical condition, decisions cannot be made without thorough consideration of the state Workers' Compensation Act and these new pieces of federal legislation.

Attorney Stephen E. Brown, Maynard, Cooper & Gate, Birmingham, Alabama, outlined the basic elements and requirements of the ADA, the FMLA and state Workers' Compensation laws. He focused on the similarities and/or differences between these laws. A general summary of each follows:

ADA - The ADA is a federally enacted civil rights statute protecting disabled persons from discrimination. In an employment context, the ADA prohibits disability-based employment discrimination and, in many instances, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to "qualified" employees with qualifying disabilities.

FMLA - In its simplest terms, the federally enacted FMLA requires employers to provide an employee with unpaid leave up to 12 weeks every 12 months for a serious health condition of either the employee or an immediate family member (including child care following birth and adoption). In addition to unpaid leave, the FMLA also provides benefit protection and job protection.

Workers' Compensation - Workers' compensation laws are made by each state. Together, these laws are intended to provide certain benefits to employees with occupational injuries and/or diseases. Among these are medical, compensation and vocational benefits necessary to restore an injured employee to his/her former employment or other gainful employment.

The primary thrust of Brown's discussion was to make the attendees aware of the pitfalls of only focusing on one of these laws, as each interacts with the others.

He cautioned that penalties for noncompliance are severe. Each employee illness or disability therefore must be evaluated closely, as no two situations will be the same. The joint application of these laws will seldom be the same.

Ergonomics

No workplace will retain or attract workers if it is unsafe. Furthermore, employees regard a company that proactively works to improve its safety program as one that is worth working for. That was the message of Cynthia Roth, Ergonomics Technologies Corp., Oyster Bay, New York. She provided a step-by-step program on how to deal with ergonomic problems as well as her ideas on how to keep employees safe, healthy and more productive.

Successful Training Ingredients

Six ingredients are essential to begin and successfully complete a company training program, said Jack Matens, Wheland Foundry, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Without any one of these ingredients, a training program is likely to fail. They are:

* commitment and support from top management;

* buy-in from participants;

* analysis and assessments;

* curriculum design;

* top notch trainers;

* evaluation follow-up and change.

Matens, who is an experienced trainer, overviewed the mechanics of successfully starting and completing each criterion. He stressed that every company can and should provide training if they wish to retain and motivate their current employees.
COPYRIGHT 1998 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Human Resources; 1998 AFS Labor Relations & Human Resource Conference
Author:Wenk, Steven A.
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Mar 1, 1998
Words:1506
Previous Article:Wescast: leadership with HEART.
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