Taking a Knee is a Workplace Issue

NFL Players are Hurting Their Employer's Business

I’m going to throw my hat in the ring on the NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem thing. Personally, I don’t like it and, as a result, have changed my NFL viewing habits because of it. With that out of the way, and since this is an HR blog, I’m going to address how this relates to HR.

To me this is purely a workplace issue, not a free speech issue. The players are at their workplace when they are protesting. These protests are hurting their employer’s reputation and earnings as evidenced by the significant drop in attendance and drop in TV ratings week after week.

The players’ free speech isn’t constitutionally protected here. The constitution prevents the government from making a law that stops freedom of speech and the government is not preventing them from protesting. Their protests are causing the NFL direct financial harm by fans boycotting their games either by not attending and/or not watching.

I’ve never worked for an employer that would allow me to protest while I was at work and if I did, I’m 100% certain, I would be disciplined and/or no longer work there.

I’ve read some articles claiming their protests are a protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. This one from the New York Times and this one from a pro-union blog. Their arguments are compelling but I really don’t see it as the players are not protesting their working conditions nor are they engaging in political advocacy as it relates directly to their job.

From my understanding they are protesting in support of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Here is what he said when this all started:

 “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

“This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”

“It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from.”

“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”

His statement has nothing to do with working conditions or political advocacy that relates directly to the job of being an NFL player. I don’t see how these athletes are being oppressed. They’re living the American Dream. They get to play the greatest game on earth, get paid millions of dollars, are celebrities, and are worshiped as heroes by millions of fans.

Kaepernick’s protests are an attempt to bring attention to other people who are being oppressed. In fact he even said “This stand wasn’t for me” in this statement. Whatever you think of his statement and the reasons behind his protest, this has nothing to do with working conditions and political advocacy as it relates directly to their work in the NFL.

I think his reasons are admirable but he brought it to his workplace and decided to protest during our National Anthem and flag unfurling. This has caught on throughout the NFL and many of us don’t connect the two and find it offensive and disrespectful to our country and those who have fought to ensure and protect our freedoms, despite what they say to the contrary.

Now many fans are exercising their power by boycotting games causing the NFL to lose a lot of goodwill, reputation, and most importantly, revenue.

When an employee’s conduct directly hurts an employer’s business, as is clearly happening here, that employer has every right to take corrective action on the employee. The protesting NFL players are protesting while at the workplace and are causing a serious negative financial impact on their employer.

The NFL is, in my opinion, obligated to take the appropriate corrective action to protect their business.

How We Staffed a New Uranium Mine

Last year I started a series of posts describing how I went about developing and executing the strategy to staff the new uranium mine my company recently built.  I decided that I don’t like the series and decided to just write up a new single post instead.

Here it is…

I was given the task to hire 50 employees in south central Wyoming to staff and operate our in-situ uranium mine, the newest – and one of only six – in the US. Because of the permitting process and the uncertainty of timing, I was given only two months to fill 50 jobs. In addition to the short time frame, the local job market was very tight and the skill-sets needed to staff the mine were very specialized and rare.

So I developed a three part strategy.

First, I identified and developed relationships with the key people in the communities – these included city and county politicians, the heads of the workforce centers and business councils, media/journalists, education leaders, chamber leaders, etc. I made a lot of phone calls, knocked on a lot of doors, and visited the communities telling people the Ur-Energy story. I gave formal presentations in front of council meetings and met with people in their offices and in a coffee shops. I continued to keep them in the loop sharing new news by emailing, calling or visiting with them when I was in town. This helped the folks in the communities put a face to the company and engendered their strong support.

Next, I had to determine the local skill-set inventory, which I was able to accomplish, in large part, through my relationships with the key community members. I discovered that the current major employers in the area had jobs with skill-sets that could transfer to our operation. I also was able to determine the best way to advertise the job through some trial and error along with local input and advice. Radio was by far the most effective means and generated nearly 90% of our candidate flow.

Finally, I designed an efficient in house hiring system that enabled us to process the nearly 300 candidates and 50 new hires. I started by running radio ads designed to reach currently employed candidates. I backed that up with newspaper ads and Workforce Services opened up their offices for s series of job fairs throughout the month and a half. I trained our supervisors how to conduct effective interviews and made them practice by role-playing. I also set up a candidate tracking system, local drug screening process, background screening, and established an on-boarding procedure.

The end result was completing the hiring campaign ahead of schedule and right on budget. Hiring 50 candidates who had the skills or transferable skills to do the specialized jobs needed at the mine. In addition, the turnover rate was 24% compared to the 90-100% expected by management from their previous start up experience.

Developing the Strategy for Staffing a New Mine – Establish Contact With Employment Agencies

The second thing I did, while continuing developing relationships in the communities, was to focus in on connecting with the employment agencies in the communities from which we were going to hire.

I simply contacted the Rawlins and Riverton Wyoming Department of Workforce Service offices and set up face to face meetings with the respective directors.  I also met with the regional director so that she understood our employment needs and could help.  I met up with these good folks many times throughout the process either by dropping in on them when I was in town or when I was attending the same community meetings they were also attending.  I also kept them in the loop by sending them copies of our news releases so they could more easily monitor our progress as we went through the permitting process.

This effort established trust and credibility in me with the folks at the employment agencies which was very valuable when we officially launched our hiring efforts. As an extra bonus, I can call these people friends!

Developing the Strategy for Staffing a New Mine – Connect with the Communities

In the fall of 2012, I was ‘officially’ tasked with developing a strategy for recruiting and staffing our newly licensed uranium mine located in south central Wyoming.  When I say ‘officially’ I mean it was time to launch the strategy I had been developing and working on for several years.

I actually started developing the recruiting and hiring strategy a few years prior to my having to launch it.  We had been working on the permitting and licensing of the mine for several years but did not know exactly when we were going to receive the final set of permits that would allow us to start the construction and operation activities.  So with the luxury of time, I set out.

The first thing I did was make connections with people in the communities where our employee base would be located.  In this case, Rawlins, Bairoil, Wamsutter, Riverton, and Lander.  I focused most of my attention on Rawlins, Bairoil and Wamsutter because those communities are 45 to 15 minutes away from the mine site while Riverton and Lander are a little over an hour away.

I started the process of connecting with the economic development organizations in Rawlins by learning when they held their meetings and attended them.  I made sure I looked the part by arriving in Rawlins in the white company Ford F-150 with Wyoming plates (bad form showing up in Wyoming as a “greenie” with green Colorado plates!)  and wearing a company shirt and my Wranglers and roper boots.   The Rawlins community is a small Wyoming town with the majority of the population employed in the extractive industries and are predominately hard working blue collar.  It’s important to be deferential and try to fit in and not come off as a big shot big city type coming in to save them.

When attending these meetings, I simply introduced myself to everybody I could and explained who I was and what my company’s future hiring plans were.  This, of course, generated a very positive reaction leading the people I met to introduce me to other local influential officials.  I soon built up a solid network of influential people in Rawlins, Bairoil, and Wamsutter and kept in touch with them by sending them press releases of our progress, emailing them with company updates, and making presentations at city council and annual local “roundtable” meetings.

In addition to attending these meetings, I made a lot of phone calls and knocked on a lot of office doors.  This effort introduced me to a lot of people who would later help with my recruiting efforts and with gathering public support for the company.  I also made a lot of new friends.

I was able to build a level trust with the influencers in the communities.  This was important because they have lived through many “boom and bust” periods where companies swept in with big promises and swept out when things got tough, leaving the communities holding the bag for the infrastructure costs they incurred to accommodate the influx of employees.

Initially connecting with the communities established the critical foundation for the next steps in the strategy for staffing the mine.  Steps I will cover in a series of future posts.