The Term "Union Avoidance" Is A Misnomer.

Here are 5 things you can do to shift your company from being “union free” to being “issue free.”

Recently, while introductions were being made at a meeting regarding unions and the many union-friendly changes at the NLRB, one of the human resources professionals said that her job was to ensure that she kept her company…”issue free.”

Prout To Be Union FreeSome chuckled at the obvious inference to “union free.”
When the introductions came around the table to me, after giving my name and picking up on the HR individual’s reference, I stated that I run a consulting firm that “focuses on issue avoidance.”

While that drew a laugh, it also got me thinking.
Those of us in the field of preventive labor relations (akaunion avoidance“)—from attorneys to consultants—are somewhat like firefighters (though not nearly as cool).

When it comes to helping organizations, we often spend so much of our time putting out fires that, all-too-often,  those organizations never get to learn about preventing those fires before they erupt.

Smokey the Bear

When we get called upon, more often than not, the employee relations climate has already become a raging inferno…a fire that, generally, has been self-started, I might add.

Workplace issues have been allowed to fester for so long that, as a consequence, a union has gotten employees’ ears and there is an “ambush election” afoot.

At that point, though, it is almost always too late to correct the issues that led to the internal turmoil.

With the notable exception of companies that are specifically targeted (like McDonalds, Wal-Mart and some others) in union-generated “corporate campaigns,” we often find that an ounce of prevention could have doused the spark that cause the inferno in the first place.

So, here are five things you can do to keep your workplace “issue free.”

1. Engage your workforce.

Employee Engagement

Adopt (or develop) multiple engagement tools to ensure sound two-way communications (from employees to management and vice versa) is frequent and continual.

2. Ensure you have good, compassionate leaders.

Good manager

While it should go without saying, many union campaigns are driven by poor management styles—even in this era of “enlightened” management.

If you know you have a bad leader leading your employees, but have failed to do anything about him (her), you are playing with a ticking time bomb.

As a mentor once said: When in doubt, get ’em out.

3. Pay attention to the early warning signs.

Where there’s smoke, there’s generally fire.

When a workforce is disengaged, or is being approached by a union, there are often tell-tale signs that management usually does not realize until after the fact.

Knowing what those early warning signs are ahead of time helps stave off potentially larger issues.

4. Avoid hiring “toxic” employees.

It should go without saying, one toxic employee can infect your entire workplace, affecting productivity, morale, as well as cost your firm thousands with frivolous suits or other expenses.

5. Ensure competitive and fairly applied wages and benefits.

While many practitioners know that wages and benefits are typically not “the issue” that causes employees to unionize, they can become “the issue” if, for example:

  1. Wages are (or perceived to be) extraordinarily low compared to competition, the market, or the firm’s performance/profit;
  2. Wage practices are deemed to be subjective and/or riddle with favoritism; or,
  3. Benefit cost increases are not well explained or so exorbitantly high that employees believe the company has no shared responsibility

In today’s climate, it is not enough to be “ready” for a fire to erupt, it is equally imperative to focus on and eliminate the combustibles that create those workplace infernos.

In other words, while people can still focus on “union avoidance” to avoid unions, a subtle shift in focus to “issue avoidance” might be more in order.


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