Do I Need a Union Vulnerability Assessment?

Do you need a Union Vulnerability Assessment (UVA)? Are your employee engagement surveys indicating your employees are not satisfied in general or about something in particular? Do you have reason to believe there is union activity? If so, your organization could potentially be a target for unionization, either by the national labor unions or by independent worker unions like those formed at Starbucks and Amazon in New York. From October 1 to March 31, the first six months of the federal fiscal year 2022, representation petitions filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) increased 57 percent, and unfair labor practice (ULP) charges increased 14 percent.   

These are just the formal petitions made to the NLRB. Not all union organizing activities go through the NLRB, so the full picture of union activity is not drawn with these statistics. Some workers form their own unions and don't feel the need to go through the petition process. Given the pro-union environment, supported by a pro-union federal administration, the answer to the question "Do I need a union vulnerability assessment?" is a clear and resounding "Yes, and the sooner, the better." 

Union Vulnerability Assessment Means More than Staying Union-Free 

Union Vulnerability Assessment (UVA) has a dual purpose. One is to help your leaders identify and address current or potential problems to protect employee engagement and the positive employee relations your leaders have worked so diligently to develop. The second purpose is to proactively identify and address current and potential problems that unions can leverage for union organizing.   

The dual purpose exists because staying union-free requires implementing and nurturing all of the best practices for developing positive employee relations and then some. 

  • Developing and implementing an effective communication system that gives employees a voice and managers and supervisors opportunities to get and give feedback 
  • Establishing a fair workforce policy addressing issues like job security and training 
  • Giving opportunities for promoting employee benefits 
  • Ensuring pay and benefits are equitable and competitive locally and within the industry. 
  • Ensuring employee workloads are reasonable and don't promote burnout
  • Developing HR resources that give employees the support they need to be as productive as possible 
  • Developing leadership hard and soft skills and leaders who are labor wise 

If you are familiar with the best practices for developing positive employee relations, the next step is getting familiar with how they intersect with best practices for staying union-free. Begin with a Union Vulnerability Assessment. There are many benefits your organization will gain by doing a Union Vulnerability Assessment because it identifies where to direct your leadership attention and organizational resources to develop an inclusive, satisfied workforce that achieves higher performance.   

  • Dissatisfied workers are more likely to join unions, elevating problems that could be more easily managed without union interference. A study on the effects of unionization on job satisfaction found that "unionization is negatively related to job satisfaction" due to a selection effect. The selection effect says the "dissatisfaction of union members is real, but it's due to the working conditions and the types of workers that tend to be unionized. Your management is responsible for addressing worker expectations." A Union Vulnerability Assessment can identify the working conditions that drive employees to unions
  • Your organization can identify the specific recognition and rewards that let employees know they are valued. Gallup research found that recognition reinforces the team's sense of purpose and meaning. Seventy-four (74) percent of employees receiving praise strongly agree they feel their work efforts are valuable and useful. 

A Union Vulnerability Assessment makes it easier to identify the communication gaps that exist, like with remote workers, deskless workers, or field workers.  In addition, a UVA:

  • Informs management of the organization's culture they project through leadership behaviors as opposed to what they think they have developed. 
  • Uncovers internal weaknesses previously undetected and informs management of organizational strengths they can build on even further to improve employee engagement 
  • Pinpoints inconsistencies in the leadership application of Human Resources policies and procedures, like hiring, onboarding, pay, promotion, inclusion, and retention (engagement) practices. 
union vulnerability assessment

Union Vulnerability Coming from All Directions 

The union vulnerability assessment considers everything the organization does that involves human capital. Knowing where to focus attention on leadership training is an essential step in staying union-free. The sophistication of labor unions today and the availability of technology by workers to form independent worker unions has elevated the need for ongoing leadership labor relations training and ongoing development of leadership employee engagement skills.  

The word ongoing is purposefully used because the business environment is marked by continuous change today, with internal and external factors impacting the chances of unionization. Internal factors are things your leaders have direct control over, like HR policies and procedures, employee listening and feedback systems, pay rates and benefits, and organizational culture.   

The external factors influence your workforce also and can quickly elevate union vulnerability. For example, employees at companies across the nation embraced social justice as a rallying cry for workers to unite to address bias in organizations. Your business may pay a competitive wage and offer substantial benefits that exceed industry benchmarks and still be vulnerable to unionization because there are activist employees who look at external factors like social justice as being in the realm of your managers. They bring external factors into the workplace.  

The Art of Labor Relations CTA

External factors also consider things like: 

  • Whether the state in which you operate is a Right-to-Work State 
  • The current industry unionization rate 
  • Local union density 
  • Local union activity 
  • Current and anticipated government laws, regulations, and task forces, i.e., the pro-union federal government, including the NLRB 
  • Current and anticipated labor union areas of focus, i.e., targeted industry, diversity and inclusion, minimum wage rates, employee voice, etc.  

A Union Vulnerability Assessment gives your managers and supervisors the knowledge of internal factors that are. In turn, they identify the ones they can most influence and use that information to strengthen employee engagement. Though it may seem like your organization has no control over external factors, the opposite is true for some of them.  

For example, the NLRB issues memos that inform businesses of the policies the board currently follows and are likely to be changed. A good example is the classification of supervisors and gig workers. Do your current classifications rigorously meet legal standards? Have you completed a supervisory status analysis, for example? Are your gig workers really independent workers who don't meet the rules for classification as an employee?   

union vulnerability

People Vulnerabilities 

The reality is that internal and external factors are closely integrated today. A major question is: Are their groups of employees who increase the risk of union organizing? Factors influencing employees' propensity to support or not support unions are things like the following. 

  • A personal perspective on labor unions 
  • Past experiences with union organizing or union membership 
  • Type of position held, i.e., low-pay and low job security frontline positions 
  • Personality characteristics, i.e., the ability to ignore the pressure to unionize 
  • Employee satisfaction with the workplace 

Some employees are toxic and won't respond to even the best of managers in terms of employee engagement. They will remain unhappy and always looking for a way to hurt the employer. Some employees are highly satisfied with their positions and workplace. Both types of employees were made obvious by the Amazon union votes in Bessemer, Alabama. There were Amazon employees praising the company's policies and culture and employees claiming the work was brutal and too demanding. The risk of the votes going for unionization depended on the people who were willing to listen to both sides, keeping an open mind either way. These are the employees your leaders want to engage and influence to stay union-free. Relationship mapping can help you understand employee interactions and influences.  

Union Vulnerability Assessment Yields Actionable Results 

It can be difficult sorting through the internal and external risks of union vulnerability when so much remains in a state of flux in the business environment. The Union Vulnerability Assessment is a type of "sorting tool" in that it helps you identify the risks in terms of severity. The higher risks are the ones you want to focus on first.   

However, your managers and supervisors need good leadership and employee relations skills before tackling vulnerabilities. Your company could easily experience the opposite effect of what it hoped to accomplish when the wrong things are said, or leadership behaviors trample on employee rights defined in the National Labor Relations Act. Strengthening employee engagement and developing positive employee relations must be done the right way.  

Do you know how engaged your employees are and what they are thinking? You can find out in numerous ways, and the following are just a few of them. 

Employee engagement or employee opinion surveys 

The employee information is folded into the union vulnerability assessment, creating a path to specific actions needed to stay union-free. One of the benefits of surveys is that they give employees a voice, but it's also equally important to follow through. Effective leadership training helps your leaders understand the language and behaviors needed to minimize risks of unionization discovered through an assessment of union vulnerability.  

Assessing Union Vulnerability is an Ongoing Process 

So, what does a Union Vulnerability Assessment do? It delivers critical data for analysis. However, it's also important to understand that vulnerability to unions doesn't stay the same. It changes as the internal and external factors change. While the Union Vulnerability Assessment is a one-and-done process that can help you identify your vulnerabilities, your work to remain a union-free employer is an ongoing process that requires regular attentiveness.

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