Unionization of Sales Personnel

There are several reasons why unions have made little progress in orga­nizing sales personnel. First, it is difficult to develop strong group identi­fication in most sales departments because each person works alone and sees other members of the sales force infrequently. Little opportunity exists for mutual exchange of grievances. Second, in contrast to most employee groups, salespersons think of themselves as independent operators rather than as cogs in an industrial machine. Third, sales personnel have some control over their workday and workweek. If they work excessive hours, it is often to add to their compensation, and there are no time clocks. Fourth, the prospect of higher wages has never-served as a strong orga­nizing incentive for sales personnel, as sales personnel have been made to feel that low earnings are the result of personal ineffectiveness, not of the employer’s niggardliness.

Only about one in ten salespersons belongs to a union. When union­ization has occurred, it usually traces to a failure of sales management. Grievances stem from such failures as too many reports, competition of house accounts, inadequate expense allowances, poor territories, too many people on the sales force (which results in inadequate territories), and too many non-selling duties.

Unionization has made headway in industries where sales personnel are paid straight salaries, where they work together on the same premises (retail selling), and where the selling job is combined with that of deliv­ery, as in the distribution of beer and soft drinks. Unions have made little progress in organizing sales personnel who sell directly to industrial users or those who make calls on intermediaries. Sales personnel in these clas­sifications, paid in whole or part according to productivity, frown upon union affiliation.

Many sales executives oppose unionization. Their opposition is based chiefly upon the effect that unionization has on the motivation and con­trol of sales personnel and upon the limitations that union contracts place on management. Managerial action is circumscribed by the collective­bargaining agreement, and uses of incentive compensation are restricted. Commonly, unions object to sales contests and other devices for motivating the sales force; sometimes they insist that all additions to the sales force be recruited through the union, they discourage the use of quotas and other standards of performance, and a strict system of seniority is demanded.

Sales executives maintain that the organizational structure of unions does not harmonize with the demands of the selling job. Selling and sales management require more flexibility than does running a plant or an office. They argue that all salespeople are called upon at times for extra effort, this being the price paid for freedom from day-to-day supervision.

Source: Richard R. Still, Edward W. Cundliff, Normal A. P Govoni, Sandeep Puri (2017), Sales and Distribution Management: Decisions, Strategies, and Cases, Pearson; Sixth edition.

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