Back to the Board

The backlog of cases before the National Labor Relations Board grew by as many as 600 following the ruling issued today by the U.S. Supreme Court, which nullified all decisions made by the board when it had just two members.

“All of those cases were issued without proper authority,” says Peter Conrad, a New York-based partner at Proskauer. “All of those cases will have to be decided all over again.”

But, no worries. All of the 500 to 600 cases “were considered to be largely noncontroversial. … I don’t think any of them would be characterized as being far reaching in that they made new law.”

That was because, when the board had only two members for 27 months, one was a Democrat and one was a Republican. Now, there are three Democrats and one Republican following President Obama’s recess appointments in March of former union attorney Craig Becker and labor lawyer Mark Pearce.

One bright note: The backlog may make it more difficult to get to all of the other cases that have been waiting for board review.

And since the new board is considered much less friendly to employers than the one under the Bush administration, management might consider that that’s “probably a good development,” Conrad says.

Supreme Court Rules on Texting at Work

The U.S. Supreme Court has just unanimously ruled that a California police chief was within his constitutional rights when he viewed sexually explicit text messages sent by an officer’s work pager to two different women.

According to the LA Times, Sgt. Jeff Quon sued the police department after learning that thousands of messages he separately sent to his wife and a girlfriend had been viewed by his police chief in Ontario, Calif. He previously won his case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but lost today because:

In this case, the high court said the police chief’s reading of the officer’s text messages was a search, but it was also reasonable.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy agreed the police chief’s actions amounted to a search, but it was reasonable, he said, because it had “a legitimate work-related purpose.” He wanted to see whether officers were using their text pagers for police work or for personal matters. “Because it was not excessive in scope, the search was reasonable,” Kennedy said.

While it’s true that many, if not most, employers tell employees that they should have no expectation of privacy when using company-owned communication devices, an Associated Press report on the ruling reports that Kennedy also offered some advice to employees on the topic:

Kennedy said that it is true that many employers accept or tolerate personal communications on company time and equipment. But he suggested that employees who want to avoid the potential embarrassment of having those communications revealed might “want to purchase and pay for their own” cell phones and other devices.

Ultimately, one wonders if this ruling will prompt HR departments across the country to revise, with stronger language, their employees’ handbooks on the use of company-owned telecommunications devices and the accompanying lack of an expectation of privacy.

Or maybe they should just send out a text message to everyone with a company cell phone.

Employees Sometimes Do Know Best

Before you stop reading this, thinking it’s some department-store promotional, hear me out.

The other day, I was in a Kohl’s Department Store madly searching for the right print in the right size in the little time I had. Taking my quest to the customer-service desk, thinking I’d probably be directed to another store (if I was lucky), I was directed instead to a telephone on the wall across from the desk. I picked it up and was immediately connected to a very friendly Kohl’ representative who quickly checked her “kiosk” of wares, found it and, while we were chatting, shipped it to my home, no shipping charge attached.

“This is our new service,” she told me. “If you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for in any of our stores, we can now direct you to this phone and you get it sent, no charge.” Misson over, headache abated, faith in your fellow humans temporarily restored. How simple.

“I’m impressed!” I told her. “I haven’t heard of this particular type of service before!”

“We came up with it ourselves, employees here at Kohl’s,” she said, sounding immensely proud. Some stores have installed computers in their customer-service departments, “but this just felt more personal; it made common sense,” she said. “We don’t think anyone else out there is doing this but us.”

In my old reporter mode, I immediately tried to track it down, thinking there might be an innovation case study for us in it somewhere. But the best James Barnes, Kohl’s’ manager of public relations, could give me was that the company is “very focused on implementing concepts that improve the customer experience and provide excellent customer service.” So, oh well, I guess I wasn’t going to get names — no what, why, where and when either.

I did come across this release, though, about a new book by the CEO of HCL Technologies, Vineet Nayar, pushing his notion that companies of the future need to shift their mind-sets and start relying on the good ideas of their employees when it comes to customer service, or fail. His book, Employees First, talks about solving much harder, more strategic problems around customer satisfaction by giving up the age-old notion that C-suiters and line leaders are where your solutions lie.

“Nayar argues,” the release says, “that the best way for companies to meet their customers’ needs is to stop making customers their top priority. Instead, companies should shift their focus to empowering employees to solve customer problems — in part by making management accountable to the employees who are the real creators of value.”

In Nayar’s own words: “Perhaps the biggest surprise for readers of my book will be that Western-style companies can achieve even greater success by making their approach to business more democratic. Companies with traditional top-down, pyramid-like hierarchies with rigid reporting structures make it very difficult for critical competitive information, garnered on the front line, to flow uphill to the C-suite, where strategic business decisions have traditionally been made.”

Kohl’s might be onto something here. Its employees certainly seem to be.

Why We Hate HR: Five Years Later

It’s been almost five years since Bill Taylor and Fast Company published the incisive — yet divisive — essay titled above on the reasons why people tend to dislike the human resources function.

The author suggests here that, five years on, HR executives remain frustrated with their roles in organizations:

So here’s a proposal. As this provocative essay approaches its fifth anniversary, perhaps it’s time to change the debate. The real problem, I’d submit, isn’t that HR executives aren’t financially savvy enough, or too focused on delivering programs rather than enhancing value, or unable to conduct themselves as the equals of the traditional power players in the organization — all points the original essay makes. The real problem is that too many organizations aren’t as demanding, as rigorous, as creative about the human element in business as they are about finance, marketing, and R&D. If companies and their CEOs aren’t serious about the people side of their organizations, how can we expect HR people in those organizations to play as a serious a role as we (and they) want them to play?

Taylor cites Cirque du Soleil, Pixar and DaVita as examples of organizations with positive, forward-thinking HR processes and a real focus on people, and then poses a number of queries to HR executives who are not happy with the role HR plays in their organization:

Why would great people want to be part of your organization in the first place? Do you know a great person when you see one? Are you great at teaching people how your organizations works and wins? Does your organization work as distinctively as it competes?

It’s nice to see that, five years later, Taylor has changed his tune when it comes to HR.

And, with those last questions, it’s even nicer to see him offer some sound advice for HR leaders looking to improve not only their performance, but also the overall perception of the HR function.

Possible Fallout from CVS Caremark-Walgreens Split

If you haven’t heard the news about CVS Caremark and Walgreens yet, you’ve either been asleep or back-packing in some remote forest. Bottom line, the honeymoon between Walgreens and CVS Caremark (post-CVS-Caremark-merger three years ago) — is very much over, if there ever was a honeymoon at all.

For those who have been sleeping or camping, here’s the gist: In a Monday, June 7, letter, Walgreens announces it won’t participate in any new and renewed prescription-drug plans awarded to the CVS Caremark pharmacy-benefit manager because of the way its forces chronic patients to use CVS stores, switches plans to differently priced networks without notification and is unpredictable in how it reimburses Walgreens.

That’s followed by CVS Caremark’s Wednesday, June 9, announcement that the PBM will simply remove Walgreens altogether from its network and start transitioning pharmacy care for all its participants who used Walgreens stores to other participating providers. Youch.

A few other statements follow (you can read the testiness of the whole situation between the lines), such as this statement from Kermit Crawford, executive vice president of pharmacy for Walgreens, assuring the public his company’s move was unavoidable and done in such a way as to hurt the least number of participants possible. (If it’s not still at the top of the news site, scroll down; it’s there.)

And then there’s this comment from the National Community Pharmacists Association, siding with Walgreens and condemning the merger altogether. If you want to check other postings out, just Google the two pharmacy chains. This drama has gone viral.

And it won’t end here, says Michael Polzin, a spokesman for Walgreens. In the next 30 days, “millions of Walgreens customers” will be getting letters telling them they have to find other neighborhood pharmacies to get their CVS Caremark PBM drugs. HR and benefits professionals will be impacted when they come running to them for advice, he adds. Polzin hopes they’ll (you’ll) tell them this wasn’t Walgreens’ fault, that it tried to make “a very necessary move as painless as possible by hanging on to all existing PBM customers,” but that CVS has changed the game. In fact, he says, the relationship between Walgreens and the Caremark PBM (pre-merger) was just fine, thank you, but has “become much more competitive with Walgreens in the last three years.”

CVS, on the other hand, says the impact won’t be that significant since only 7,000 of its (now former) Walgreens stores were among its 64,000 participating pharmacies — and that “when Walgreens is included in the CVS Caremark network, 85.9 percent of members have access to a network pharmacy within three miles of their homes” yet that number only changes to 85.7 percent “when Walgreens is excluded.”

A spokesperson from CVS told me late Friday the PBM “did not make this decision lightly, but [has a] responsibility to our clients and their plan members to balance providing consumer access with managing cost and delivering their pharmacy benefit.” Take note of CVS’ earlier announcement above (I call it the Walgreens head-chop), saying Walgreens was simply making a hard-ball move for more money.

I could — very obviously — go on and on. But I won’t. I could also spend some of your valuable time giving you my spin on the words between the lines and the writing on the walls. I’ll let you do that with all of this.

All I can safely say is this fracas is, by no means, over and I can guarantee you a whole lot of employees are going to have a whole lot of questions in a very short time, and you might want to start thinking about what you’re gonna say.

Why It’s Hard to be a Woman Boss

I’m in the process of writing a story about how women bosses are perceived in the workplace. Just about all the research I’ve uncovered reveals that female bosses tend to be less popular in the workplace than male bosses. The experts I’m interviewing have a number of theories as to why, and what HR can or should do about it. In the meantime, thought I’d share what consultant BJ Gallagher, a management consultant, author of “It’s Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been” (and a woman), has to say about the double standards that female manager-types face in the workplace:


~ A male boss is aggressive; a female boss is pushy.
~ A male boss is attentive to details; a female boss is picky.
~ A male boss doesn’t suffer fools gladly; she’s a bitch.
~ He knows how to follow through; she doesn’t know when to quit.
~ He stands firm; she’s inflexible.
~ He’s a good leader; she’s bossy.
~ He’s ambitious; she’s driven.
~ He loses his temper occasionally; she can’t control her emotions.
~ He isn’t afraid to say what he thinks; she’s mouthy.
~ He’s a stern taskmaster; she’s hard to work for.
~ He’s a man of action; she’s impulsive.
~ He controls his emotions; she’s cold.
~ He’s a good team player; she just goes along with the crowd.
~ He thinks before he acts; she can’t make up her mind.
~ He thinks before he speaks; she second-guesses herself.
~ He tells it like it is; she’s tactless.
~ He’s authoritative; she’s caustic.
~ He makes things happen; she’s lucky.
~ He’s a ladies’ man; she’s a slut.

Biggest Nursing Strike in U.S. History

There’s never a good time to get sick, but today would be an especially bad day to get sick in the Twin Cities, as more than 12,000 nurses from the Minnesota Nurses Association stage a one-day walkout at 14 hospitals throughout the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

The Star Tribune quoted one participating nurse, Laura Schuerman, who spoke on the need to protect the nurses’ retirement prospects:

An issue of primary concern for her, she said, was the hospitals seeking a one-third reduction in their contribution to the nurses’ pension fund.

“I do want to retire someday,” said Schuerman, who is 50 years old. “I work hard. I do a lot of lifting of patients. Can I do that at 65 or 70?”

So far this morning, comments on the Star Tribune‘s story seem to be divided pretty evenly between those voicing support for the unions and those against the walkout. Here’s hoping both sides can come to an agreement soon.

America: Now with More Quitters!

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on positive figures being reported in the employment sector, new government data released today adds some more good news:

The government said Tuesday that the number of people quitting rose in April to nearly 2 million. That was the most in more than a year and an increase of nearly 12% since January. That compares with 1.75 million people who were laid off in April, the fewest since January 2007, before the recession.

During the depths of the recession, workers were hesitant to quit — and not only because jobs were scarce. Even if they found a new job, some feared that accepting it would leave them vulnerable to a layoff. At many companies, layoffs follow a simple formula: last hired, first fired.

Whether those quitters did so because they thought the economy was finally coming back around, or that a better fit could be found elsewhere, is anyone’s guess. But as we all know, when people quit, those positions must be filled, and I can almost hear the recruiters cheering the news now.

The News We’ve Been Waiting For?

In a possible sign that the economy may have turned the corner back onto Prosperity Avenue, the U.S. Labor Department’s figures on job openings are the highest since December 2008. According to the Associated Press:

The biggest increases in available jobs were in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and education and health services. Government job openings fell by 36,000.

While the possibility of a double-dip recession is still a grim reality, here’s hoping the latest numbers from the government mean that we’ll soon be writing more stories about recruiting and hiring than about layoffs and outplacement.

Sports Talk

Here, in the Philadelphia area, where HRE is located, the office talk is all about the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals and the sliding Phillies, who haven’t seemed recently too much like the Fightin’ Phils of old.

But, many employers, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, will soon be hearing more chatter about the World Cup — even though Americans rank fairly low on the scale of soccer afficiandos throughout the world.

So, the U.S. productivity levels probably won’t plunge as much as for employers around the globe, since soccer is the world’s most popular sport. 

In this country, the biggest productivity punishers, according to Challenger Gray’s non-scientific poll, are March Madness; college football bowl games; the Olympics; and the playoffs and finals for the NFL, MLB and NHL.

And one more that transcends sports: Apple product announcements.