Case Study: Managing a Unionized Workforce

In the U.S. today, more than 1 in 10 workers are members of a labor union. While this number has dropped significantly since the 1980s, labor unions are still a big issue for the workforce, especially when it comes to union relations and management responsibilities. This was the case for one of our recent clients, a large convention center and its subsidiaries. Read this case study to learn about our supervisor development training, and the difference that it made in this client’s unionized environment.

Situation & Challenge

When we first met with this client early last year, they struggled with creating an effective working relationship between supervisors, managers, and union member employees. In partnership with the client’s analytics group, we conducted observations, research, and roundtable meetings to reach the problem at its source.

The challenge was that the first-level supervisors didn’t feel comfortable and confident engaging their team members. As a result, not only did productivity drop, but employee engagement and the company’s culture suffered as well. Our goal in working with this client was to help their supervisors regain their confidence, reengage their teams, and represent the culture as champions on a daily basis.

We created many deliverables for this supervisor training, including scenario cards, training tips and pointers, and culture cards. These tools helped supervisors feel confident that they could manage any scenario in an appropriate and effective manner.


SGEi and our expert learning and development team produced a series of leadership modules for the front-line supervisors, utilizing the ideas generated in our roundtable discussions, the facets of the company’s unique culture, and current effective trends in the management sphere. Our five modules included research on conflict management, effective communication, team member engagement, and skills to introduce change and inspire action.

In this union environment, it was critical for us to focus on improving the overall communication and leadership skills of the supervisors. When supervisors learn to inspire and motivate their teams to want to do their jobs, they don’t have to spend time telling them what to do and how to do it, and can spend more time helping improve the operation.

Our VP of Culture and Learning, Thomas Martin, played a role in creating and delivering the supervisor training to this client. “Managers often find themselves thrown into a new department, with a new team, and faced with outdated practices that can inhibit getting staff to follow their direction. For some, it can be almost paralyzing not knowing how to get through to the team,” he said, reflecting on the learning experience. “This training not only provided skills for effective communication and understanding team dynamics, but it also provided participants with the opportunity to share their own challenges and best practices with each other.”

After our training of the 350 supervisors, all reported feeling more confident in their leadership responsibilities and more prepared to deal with issues as they arose.


As quoted in Harvard Business Review, “Supervisors can probably have more influence on our productivity, worker absenteeism, product quality, morale of our work force, labor relations, and cost reduction than any other group in the company.” Influencing a unionized workforce in this way can be a challenge to even the most seasoned manager, but through careful training and effective communication, it is a challenge that can be conquered.

Our expert trainers rolled out the five supervisor training modules to over 350 supervisors across the convention center’s five major properties. As a result of our training, the majority of participants reported that they felt more confident in their abilities to identify, engage, and assist disengaged team members in an appropriate manner. These supervisors left equipped to act as culture champions and manage their front-line staff in a memorable, motivating, and effective way. We are honored to have worked with this client.

To learn more about our customized training programs, reach out to SGEi today for a free consultation. We are excited to discuss and meet your business needs!

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