The Workplace Report

Keeping Unions At Bay By Engaging Employees With Positive Employee Relations On Social Media

Unions are engaging employees through the internet and, if companies are not willing to become part of the conversation on line, they will lose the debate.

Recently, at a conference on positive employee relations, I had the privilege of sitting on a panel to discuss how unions are using social media to unionize workplaces.

My focus during the presentation was to begin the conversation about how employers need to get their heads out of the sand and begin using the technology at their fingertips (literally) to enhance their positive employee relations and, quite possibly, keep unions at bay.

How-Unions-Use-Social-MediaAs social media and technology has grown over the past several years, unions have been far more aggressive in utilizing text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole host of other social media platforms to penetrate the workplace—very often behind unsuspecting employers’ backs.

Now, with the National Labor Relations Board’s ‘ambush election rules‘ in place since April, reducing the time from petition filing to the NLRB election to as little as three weeks; the ability to break up and unionize workplaces into ‘micro units,’ as well as the NLRB’s recently giving unions the ability to gather employees’ signatures electronically, employers are facing the perfect storm.

As Bloomberg’s BNA notes:

Quick mass organizing through social media has become synonymous with the term “flash mob,” so could “flash union organizing” by labor unions be the next logical step?

[The answer is: It already is.]

How, then, can employers use social media to help level the playing field?

You can’t lose an election you don’t have.

Here are some basic ways that employers can approach social media.

First and foremost, do not focus on social media as a union avoidance tool. Rather, focus on using social media as an engagement tool for positive employee relations.

There are three very important reasons you should not wait:

  1. The practical—If your company practices positive employee relations and your employees are engaged, the likelihood that a union organizer can get a toehold into your organization is greatly diminished. Simply put: If the employees are happy, they won’t be attracted to a union.
  2. The obvious—Waiting to establish your social media until a union is targeting you is likely to be seen as a transparent ploy to “fight fire with fire” in the eyes of your employees and will likely result in failure. Moreover, with today’s “ambush elections,” it is very possible that, by the time your social media presence gets set up, the election will be over and you will have lost.
  3. The legal—If you wait until you are a targeted by a union to set up your social media (like Facebook and Twitter), it could be viewed as a form of polling if you try to figure out who of your employees “like” (or follow) your social media accounts. Whereas if you build your social media presence for the main purpose of driving your positive employee relations messages, you have much lower legal risk.
Keep Content Fresh, Frequent & Friendly (Positive)

A company’s social media accounts can be important tools to drive some really positive messages that otherwise are overlooked.

For example, if a shift or a store has an outstanding month, posting a congratulatory note to the audience would be a good way to share positive news.

If the company received an award for something employees contributed to, that would also a good item for posting.

Also, human resources could use social media to remind employees about open enrollment or how important 401(k) is for employees’ to invest in.

Using social media to remind employees about taking an employee opinion survey (along with posting the link, if done electronically) can also be a valuable use of social media.

One of the most important things about using social media is keeping content fresh and posting frequently (at least once a day). This helps engage employees and keep them engaged–which is the whole purpose of being ‘social’ with social media.

When the Wolf knocks at the door…

If a company has built a solid social media presence for positive employee relations—although it is hoped it would never be needed to react to —the social media tools can be used if a union comes knocking.

This is especially important in the age of the internet and the NLRB’s “ambush elections.”

If a company is targeted and has its social media tools already built, it can post articles about unions, as well as links to company (or other) websites that have information about unions.

In doing so, a company has some opportunity level the online playing field to a degree and ensure that more employees have access to more factual company-supported information in front of them on line…and may share that information with their co-workers.

However, union campaigns are not the primary reason for companies to build a social media presence.

If companies are using social media properly to help drive engagement about positive employee relations, unions will have less ability to get their noses in company doors.

Unions are engaging employees through the internet and, if companies are not willing to become part of the conversation on line, they will lose the debate.

For more information, you can email here.

Here is the presentation (edited down for online distribution).

Online Organizing and Social Media WPR

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