Am I Prepared for Union Organizing?

Is your company prepared for union organizing activity? It’s a critical question today because unions have found new support in the current federal administration and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Your company is more vulnerable to unionizing than may be apparent at a glance, which is why it’s time to take a deeper look into your organization’s status. You want to look for things like engagement gaps, union vulnerabilities, and opportunities for training improvement. The goal is to proactively strengthen your ability to resist unions by taking a proactive approach to employee engagement and leadership training in labor relations

PRO Act Springs Back to Life

The odds of your company having to deal with a union corporate campaign and/or union organizing campaign continue to go up. It’s been pointed out many times in the Projections blogs that the pro-union PRO Act - languishing in the House of Representatives because it won’t make it through the Senate - would come back to life in new ways. The Democratic House of Representatives is determined to make the PRO Act provisions the law, even if they can’t get the PRO Act passed. 

The prediction is coming true. On September 8, 2021, the House Education and Labor Committee revealed its proposed language it hopes to make legal through the budget reconciliation process. Budget reconciliation means it takes a mere simple majority in the Senate to pass legislation. The markup language will be added to the “Build Back Better Plan.” The proposed language is the same language found in the PRO Act.

The PRO Act language is buried in a committee recommendation called Title II-Committee on Education and Labor. On page 120 and in Subtitle B-Labor Matters, starting at Sec. 21001-Penalties, the PRO Act language breathes new life, with the promise of: 

  • Making it easier for employees to file unfair labor charges against employers 
  • Unions to gain more power over employers 
  • Making it more difficult for employers to manage their workforce 

The Impact on Your Positive Employee Relations Strategy

It’s all intended to help grow union membership once again, impacting your positive employee relations strategy in significant ways.  

Quickly, some, but not all, of the provisions revived in the committee language, include the following: 

  • Makes it easier for employees to file unfair labor charges 
  • Imposes severe employer penalties for violations 
  • Imposes penalties that can be assessed against a director or officer as a personal liability 
  • Makes it unlawful to replace an employee who strikes 
  • Makes it unlawful to require employees to attend “captive audience” meetings 
  • Makes it unlawful to misrepresent to a worker the person is excluded from the definition of “employee” (i.e., misclassifying a supervisor or independent supervisor). 

On September 8, 2021, President Biden spent considerable time praising labor unions for helping to grow wages and the middle class. Attending were members of different labor unions. He has declared numerous times that he intends on being the most pro-union president in history. Labor unions couldn’t ask for more effective free national marketing. 

prepared for union organizing

Prepared for Union Organizing Now, Prevent Unionization Later 

It’s a major effort to identify and close vulnerabilities to unions because it involves your leaders, employees, training programs, policies and procedures, and the current status of things like employee engagement and organizational culture. In other words, preventing unionization requires a comprehensive approach. It’s not the sole responsibility of Human Resources. It’s an organization-wide leadership effort.  

Completing a Labor Relations Readiness SystemTM (LRRS) Assessment can take some of the stress out of evaluating your company’s current state. With a comprehensive audit of strengths, weaknesses, gaps, and opportunities to be better prepared, you can reassure all stakeholders that your company is ready to connect with employees at all levels and maintain a direct connection, even in the face of a union targeting them. 

It really is positive employee relations that make the difference in being able to keep the trust of employees in the face of union pressures versus employees who distrust management and see unions as the answer to meeting their needs. Understanding there are six steps in a comprehensive vulnerability assessment, let’s examine each step in more detail to get a better understanding of how you determine if you are prepared for possible organizing activities. 

It's crucial to identify your vulnerabilities to unions because it involves your leaders, employees, #training programs, policies and procedures, and the current status of things like #employeeengagement and organizational #culture.

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Labor Relations Readiness Step One: Plan 

With the entire organization’s people, policies and procedures, and processes influencing your readiness to stay union-free, assessment planning is critical. During the planning stage, there are interviews conducted with leaders at different management levels to identify what they see as critical issues and get their take on the current labor environment.

In a holistic approach, leaders are asked about the strengths and weaknesses of things like communications, employee engagement, leadership development status, and whether they have seen any signs of union organizing. Leadership feedback provides crucial information that senior leaders may be unaware of. Asking them what their top concerns are that point to vulnerabilities for unionization will reveal a variety of areas you can strengthen, like increasing employee knowledge of the impact of unions on a workplace, improving the employee onboarding process, developing metrics tracking of union sensitive areas, and jobs and closing gaps in Human Resources policies and practices. 

One of the key areas of Assessment is bargaining unit analysis and supervisory status within the context of the NLRA. There are increasing numbers of unfair labor charges filed with the NLRB concerning employee classification. With the PRO Act coming back to life, this will be a major focus of unions. 

Labor Relations Readiness Step Two: Educate 

Are your executives, Human Resources team members, and other designated leaders fully trained on union issues? Do they understand concepts like: 

  • The NLRA and employee and employee rights 
  • Union organizing tactics, both virtual and in-person (tech-based and traditional) 
  • The cost of unionization 
  • Importance of educating employees on things like card signing and their rights 
  • Early warning signs of organizing and determining the need for a readiness response team 
  • The importance of wise words in staying union-free 
  • The importance of keeping leaders up-to-date on union activities, strategies, and behaviors to stay prepared for union organizing

Labor Relations Readiness Step Three: Assess Vulnerabilities 

What are your real vulnerabilities to unionizing? A good place to start is by asking your leaders the issues they believe most concern employees. These issues will likely include the very issues that unions target, like wages, promotions, workloads and lack of employee voice or access to their managers and supervisors, safety, and working conditions. There may also be issues like a lack of diversity in the workplace and leadership pipeline, not enough job training opportunities to keep skills current, and bias in the workplace 

Unions are targeting non-traditional union employees, like tech workers, and these employees feel deeply about issues like how management treats part-time and contracted or gig workers. Any issue of concern to your leaders and their employees is a union vulnerability. Labor unions are doing a good job of adopting issues they haven’t normally been concerned with in past years. This is especially true if they see the potential for long-term union membership growth. The PRO Act has provisions intended to get more people classified as employees and eligible for union membership for a reason. 

Labor Relations Readiness Step Four: Communicate  

Is your communication system efficient and effective? Does senior management utilize the communication system? Are your managers and supervisors fully trained in the importance of continuous communication with employees as an employee engagement strategy? 

One of the challenges of corporate communication is there are so many options – email, texting, internal social media, one-on-one conversations, and group meetings, to name some. There are also external communication sources, like public social media posts, that should be monitored for union organizing activities.  

The communication system should enable reaching all employees in a way that best fits your organization. However, it also needs to be used as an engagement tool at all levels of the organization. Your employees need the ability to communicate with their direct managers and supervisors, but that means your leaders must be fully informed about critical issues and understand effective communication. Your communication efforts need to align with employee needs. It’s easy to let regular communication slip or to not recognize communication gaps, like a failure to communicate with deskless workers 

  • Assess your communication system to ensure it reaches all employees 
  • Assess leadership communication practices – who, what, why, how 
  • Determine if leadership communication is engaging 
  • Decide how your organization monitors union focused communication 
  • Determine if your managers and supervisors know the next steps to take when they detect potential union organizing 

Do your managers and supervisors know the next steps to take when they detect potential union organizing? #prepared #unionorganizing #unionavoidance

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Labor Relations Readiness Step Five: Develop Leaders 

The importance of labor relations training in order to stay prepared for union organizing can’t be overstated. It’s management at every level, including supervisors, that determine whether your organization stays union-free. They must: 

  • Know employee rights per the NLRA 
  • Know TIPS and FOE rules 
  • Be comfortable sharing the company’s philosophy on unions 
  • Have confidence in answering employee questions about unions 
  • Know how to support the organization’s union-free efforts through words and actions 
  • Understand their role in helping the organization stay union-free 
  • Have the ability to recognize early warning signs of unionization 
  • Understand what is entailed in developing positive employee relations 
  • Have easy access to regular leadership training via eLearning courses, custom training meeting unique organizational needs, and labor relations training 
labor relations readiness

Labor Relations Readiness Step Six: Engage Employees 

Building a culture of engagement means that your teams understand and support the challenges the company faces. A direct connection with employees means they have a voice in the workplace. They know that their ideas and concerns are heard, that they are included in decision-making, are safe in expressing concerns or problems, and their managers care about their health, safety, and general well-being. Employee engagement sometimes seems like an ethereal concept, but through good people analytics, it’s a measurable and critical path to staying union-free. 

Do your employees have opportunities to: 

  • Get and give feedback from supervisors and managers? 
  • Express different perspectives ? 
  • Easily access current organizational information via blogs, texts, newsletters, etc.? 
  • Attend company online or internet-based townhalls where they can ask top leaders questions? 
  • Use employee apps
  • Participate in periodic performance reviews that are designed to help the employee advance their skills and careers? 
  • Access an organizational union-focused website that enables employees to stay current on union-related information concerning the company and allows them to use a frequently asked questions forum? 

The items and activities mentioned in each of the six areas of labor readiness are only examples and not a complete list. It’s important to understand that each organization is unique and at a different stage of readiness. Your organization has vulnerabilities likely not mentioned here.  

Union Vulnerability Assessment

Doing an assessment of union vulnerability is really about finding answers and solutions. Given the fact each organization is unique, the vulnerabilities and solutions are unique too. The best approach is to work with IRI Consultants to complete an in-depth Labor Relations Readiness Assessment. It’s the quickest, simplest, and most thorough strategy to ensure everything known to encourage unions to start a union-led corporate campaign, intended to lead to a formal union organizing campaign, is addressed.  

Even if an organizing campaign and union vote never materialize, a union corporate campaign will do enormous harm to your business. Its goal is to destroy your company’s reputation and relationships with employees and other stakeholders. 

Prepare and Engage Your Leaders

Our Labor Relations Readiness Assessment involves an in-depth intake interview, either in-person or virtual, that probes deeply into the six areas discussed. This process reveals gaps, vulnerabilities, and opportunities for improvement. After the Assessment is complete, we’ll have a debriefing session with you to review where the company is on a scale of READY/LOW RISK - - NOT READY/HIGH RISK in each of the six areas. You’ll discover ways to engage your leaders and employees.  

As the pro-union environment heats up, the time to be working on staying union-free is now.  

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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