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Power Plant Acquisitons: Workforce Management from the Buyer's Perspective

Fortnightly Magazine - December 1998

expected to be a successor employer, it should consider labor negotiation as beginning with its first bid documents and media communications, plus any preliminary discussions with seller's management and local regulatory or legislative representatives. While the buyer may not have the opportunity to renegotiate the CBA until several years after closing, the opportunity to set expectations is never better than during the bid and closing process (em when anxious eyes and ears are focused on the buyer.


Controlling the Agenda

The buyer will want to control the communications process with several different audience categories: (1) union leadership, (2) regulators or government officials, and (3) mid-level managers and supervisory employees of the seller.

Until the prospective buyer has received the bid and more firmly understands the likely terms and conditions of the sale, the buyer should resist any formal contacts with union leadership. This forbearance enhances buyer flexibility after the bid approval. It minimizes the risk of misstep or misstatement.

Nevertheless, a buyer may conclude that its leverage is greatest during the period before closing, when union uncertainty remains. Here the buyer should orchestrate the negotiation process to preempt communications coming from the seller's local management or labor relations group. When at all possible, a buyer does not want the seller to speak to the union or employees on the buyer's behalf.

Control over communications can also avoid embarrassment or conflict with local or state legislators and regulators. Here, the buyer should respond to any concerns of government officials about the transition process. The buyer should not necessarily rely on the seller's relationship with such officials. Providing regulators and legislators with even a broad perspective of the buyer's intentions allows those officials to respond confidently to union and employee concerns.

Another broad audience category is first-line supervisors and mid-level management, which may be retained by the buyer. To the extent these individuals are not informed first and best, they can appear to have meaningless and ineffective roles in the restructured environment. Their lack of credibility and institutional respect among the workforce can threaten general support (even generate sabotage) of buyer goals and decisions. Most importantly, it is the management group to which most employees will look to for confirmation and clarification of acquisition communications.

The goals and objectives for your communications plan should not be a mystery:

• Establish the buyer as the source of credible information;

• Establish middle and first-line management as "insiders" regarding the acquisition;

• Recognize employee dignity; build employee loyalty and trust;

• Emphasize the importance of the union and the employees to facilitate the acquisition (em not merely to salvage jobs.

The communication methods (em whether they be bulletins, presentations, management talks (em should be seen as the regular and expected sources of restructuring information. Resist diffusion of media outlets. Instead, prepare both the union and its employees as articulate and willing spokespersons (em to customers, media, and regulators, and all on your behalf

Attorney Christopher Miller is a partner in the Atlanta office of Troutman Sanders and is a member of the law firm's labor and employment practice group.