* DISCLAIMER: There is nothing ‘easy’ about remaining union-free. Therefore, the term ‘simple’ in the title of this article should not be misconstrued to mean ‘easy.’
To many employers, the labor relations world has been frustratingly crazy for the past six years—and, with every new ruling from the pro-union National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)—it gets even crazier almost by the day.
This has only increased since the April release of the NLRB’s “ambush election rules”—reducing the typical timeframe during union organizing campaigns (from petition filing to election) from a median time of 38 days to as little as 14 days.
With union elections also up 14 percent since last year, unions are now winning 69 percent of the elections to enter a workplace. This, too, will likely only increase as time goes on.
This has many company executives and HR leaders looking for some tips on how to remain union-free.
Although nothing is 100%, if you are among those looking for some strategies on how to remain union-free, the following are six simple step-by-step (overall) strategies that, if followed in order, will greatly improve your odds.
1. Assess your vulnerabilties.
Check the pulse of your relationship with your workforce. There are many tools available—from employee satisfaction surveys to on-site union vulnerability audits—that can help you gauge whether your workforce is susceptible to union organizing rhetoric.
Identifying areas of weakness in your employee relations, whether it is supervisory issues, communications issues, or even wage or benefit issues, enables you to come up with an action plan to…
2. Fix your flaws.
If you find you have issues, the chances are, they are a bigger deal to your employees than you think they are.
Make a priority list and begin working through them.
If supervisors need training, train them. If you have communications issues, start communicating (see below). If you have wage or benefit issues, either fix them or, if you can’t, start developing an action plan to…
3. Engage your employees.
Poor communication is one of the leading causal factors for unions getting employees’ ears.
Companies often say that they have an “open-door policy.”
Yet, all-too-often, during union organizing campaigns, employees will say that no one actually uses the open-door policy due to a variety of reasons: a) fear of retaliation for going over supervisors’ heads, b) going to “the boss” or HR only makes things worse, or c) nothing ever gets done, or d) only *some* employees use the open-door policy.
As opposed to relying on the (often mistaken) belief that your open door policy will keep you union-free, some excellent tools are:
• Skip-level meetings (with top management)
• Monthly round-table meetings (also with top management)
• Short weekly departmental meetings
• Daily (or weekly) tailgate meetings [Video]
* Note: If weekly departmental meetings or tailgate meetings are run by supervisors and managers, providing training on communication techniques, as well as how to elicit feedback, is crucial. Additionally, providing supervisors and managers a list of topics (“talking points”) to cover during meetings is helpful to ensure consistent messaging and delivery.
In addition to the tools described above, while there are certain legal restrictions, start-and-stop focus groups are also very helpful in identifying workforce desires on individual workplace issues.
While face-to-face communication is the most important form, companies should also utilize multiple vehicles in their communications strategy.
For example, while many companies utilize company newsletters and bulletin boards—while partially effective—in today’s day and age, unions (and Millennials) are on social media and use texting more than reading paper. Companies would be wise to engage in the same arenas as their employees do.
4. Develop a dossier.
If you are in an industry that is likely a target of a specific union (or multiple unions), or believe your company may be targeted, developing a profile of everything there is to know about the union, beforehand, is crucial.
This is especially the case with ambush elections. If you have as much information on hand before you are targeted, you will be much more prepared.
While much of the information needed (union finances, salaries, constitutions and criminal indictments) is public information and free through the internet (here), there are a lot of other resources to get additional information through, as well.
5. Train your management team
Training managers and supervisors on their responsibilities under the National Labor Relations Act, as well as early warning signs, union tactics, and how to communicate lawfully is essential.
Often, untrained supervisors will observe strange workplace behaviors, strange people in parking lots, or even see union flyers lying around and not think anything about it because they do not know what their company’s position on unions is.
Ensuring that supervisors and managers are trained helps provide at least some modicum of defense against getting caught totally unaware.
For some larger companies, advanced training for a select team of managers and HR personnel to serve as a ‘Rapid Response Team’ is also a good course of action.
6. Inoculate your employees
With legal guidance and trained presenters—and only after going through the steps above (don’t ‘skip’ ahead)—and only if you feel your employee relations are sound, you should hold meetings with employees to: a) give a gneral ‘labor union update, which includes union-card signing tactics, b) state the company’s preference for remaining union-free (tell them why), as well as d) open the floor for questions.
These types of meeting can be conducted by senior management, human resources or, in some cases, bringing in a labor relations professional to co-present with HR.
NOTE: Some companies are sometimes reluctant to bring up the ‘U-word‘ with their employees.
However, like talking to one’s children about sex and drugs, it is all around them. If you not confident enough in your employee relations to bring up the ‘U-word,’ go back to Steps 1-5 and start again.
As union organizer often rely on deceit and half-truth, by meeting with employees to talk about union organizing tactics, you are doing nothing more than providing them with information so that they are less likely to be tricked into they may not, ultimately, want—unionization.
While there are more strategies that companies can use to help them in their efforts to remain union-free, the above is a simple step-by-step approach to improve your odds at keeping the wolf away from your door.
For additional information or tips, answers to questions, or additional resources, email here.