The following is a true story told to me by a workshop participant. It is shared with permission but modified to protect the identities of the persons involved. The person who told it to me is “Caleb” in the story.
Alvin Zemlock sat behind his desk, and Caleb faced him. The Room was tense. Alvin was the founder and CEO of Zemlock construction. Caleb represented a union and saw Alvin as an enemy, and for good reason. Not only was Alvin’s company not unionized, Alvin had publicly spoken out against the union some years ago. So Caleb would have loved to see Zemlock unionize.
Caleb had been distributing union flyers in the Zemlock Construction employee parking area with pleasure. But moments later was ushered into the Zemlock Construction head office, face-to-face with Zemlock himself. What was the CEO’s plan, Caleb wondered. Did he intend to intimidate him? Was Alvin willing to do something illegal?
Suddenly the CEO drew nearer and said, “Caleb, I’d like to unionize.”
“I’d like to unionize.”
Caleb was flummoxed. He could hear tension in Alvin’s voice.
“There’s a reason we don’t have a union. My employees don’t feel they need one. But I need one. I want you to start one.’”
Caleb had never had a request from an employer to start a union in his company before. He wasn’t sure how to respond.
“How do we start?” Alvin asked. “I need more skilled labour to expand, and the only way to do it is with access to unionized employees.”
Caleb looked at him, recovering. Now he knew how to proceed.
“We can definitely do that”
For the first time since he walked into the Zemlock offices, Caleb smiled. Zemlock Construction had a few hundred carpenters on staff. It would double the union in the area. But Caleb had a bigger vision for the union:
“We can get all the non-unionized construction companies in a room and explain the plan.”
Caleb was talking quickly now.
“You can explain your idea about having access to skilled labourers. It will be excellent exposure for you, and the union environment would see you as friend to the union. What do you think?”
The older man sat for a while. He looked away and then quietly said, “Good.”
The meeting was over. Business cards were exchanged and Caleb was shown the door.
But apparently the card exchange was mere etiquette: Alvin never contacted or responded to Caleb’s calls. And Zemlock never unionized. Caleb wondered why? Had this been a tactic to get rid of him? Alvin had seemed genuinely interested in joining a union. Caleb’s interests had been to see as many companies’ carpenters joining the union as possible. But what was in it for Alvin? Maybe Alvin was looking for a competitive advantage over his competitors. Caleb wondered if in his zeal to expand the union he had missed Alvin’s true interests and thus squandered an opportunity for mutual benefit.
What do you believe Caleb missed? How could he have focused differently?
Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance
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