Frattallone’s brush with organized labor
Frattallone’s Hardware & Garden in Circle Pines, Minn., as described by Mike Frattallone, was always an attractive store, with cheerful staff and several long-tenured employees.
But the anxiety over the possibility of a unionized shop in Circle Pines led the retailer’s management — Frattallone and Central Network Retail Group, which acquired the chain in late 2021—to examine what it could have done and what it can continue to do in order to improve worker relations, thus heading off union incursions before they begin.
Lessons from the experience and best practices from experts were shared during a presentation titled “Look for the Union Label” in a recent Orgill Spring Dealer Market in New Orleans. During the presentation, John Sieggreen, CNRG president, set the stage with some labor-relations history.
Across the U.S. workforce, he said, recent figures place union participation at about 10 percent, with most of that in the public sector workforce (teachers and police, for instance). Union participation peaked at about 33 percent in the 1940s.
Despite that historic decline in participation, there are signs of union momentum—and not just the current president’s campaign pledge to be “the most pro-union president.” Unions have successfully organized over 300 Starbucks locations around the country, with significant media exposure. Union efforts at Amazon, Walmart and Trader Joe’s (and recently an unsuccessful attempt at Home Depot) have also made headlines.
A fateful phone call
The brush with organized labor in Circle Pines began when a worker placed a phone call to Workers United, the same union that represents baristas at Starbucks. Once the call was made, and the wheels set in motion – “you’re caught in the tornado from the moment it happens,” said Sieggreen.
Frattallone’s Hardware received its initial notice from the NLRB on Jan. 3, 2022. And Mike Frattallone, who took on the role of senior VP of operations after the sale to CNRG, remembers clearly his initial reaction to the letter—"I need some help,” he said.
It came partly in the form of Richard Reinhardt, who consults businesses on labor relations.
It can be a “gut-wrenching blow,” Reinhardt said, for a business to receive a call that the employees are organizing, or even taking the first steps toward organizing.
4 Keys to a positive work environment
Regardless of union activity, Reinhardt recommends the following four elements which will create a positive work environment resulting in a more successful business.
1. Effective management – A team that cares, listens and responds to concerns.
2. Sound policies and pay plan – fair and applied consistently.
3. Hire and retain employees – hire carefully, train, establish high expectations and terminate incompetents.
4. Communicate – including regular and effective meetings; periodic confidential opinion surveys.
“It was kind of like we were training for a boxing match and the opponent never showed up.” said Sieggreen.
The stores management’s efforts were a success, “but it didn’t feel like a win,” said Frattallone. “It was sad that it had to get to that point.”
Since the drama, Frattallone’s Hardware & Garden has stepped up communication of its benefits and pay policies, confusion over which was probably the impetus of the drama, he said. A matrix-based pay system now provides clarity to the employees about what they can earn at various stages of their career, training and skill levels.
“Everyone knows where they stand,” Frattallone said. “There’s fairness and equity and logic to it. And it really helped our team. Are we perfect? No. But just to clearly delineate what we offer, and what they can expect, it makes a huge difference.”
The approach has been employed beyond Circle Pines and into the wider CNRG family.
Frattallone believes the business and employee relations are both on the right path.
“We had a beautiful store, strong managers, great staff but I missed the signals that something just wasn't right,” Frattallone said. He added: “It was me that was the problem. I was listening to the staff but I just wasn't ‘hearing' them. I didn't take timely action so the staff felt like they needed to get me attention. This can happen to anyone.”