The Golden Age of Union Organizing

IRI Podcast Episode on Union Organizing Today

By all accounts, it seems that unions are having a moment right now in the United States, a moment they haven’t experienced in quite a while. Efforts at Amazon and Starbucks have made union organizing more visible, employee activism continues to gain public favor, and let’s be honest, we all got a wake-up call during the pandemic that forced us to re-examine what employee experience and satisfaction truly mean. Today's guest is Jon Hyman, an employment labor attorney with Wickers Herzer Panza, as well as an author, a speaker and a blogger for Ohio Employer Law Blog. Here, he explains:

  • The "perfect storm" of union organizing caused by the pandemic;
  • The impacts of the White House's support for unionization and collective bargaining;
  • The trend of smaller, "in-house" unions, such as those seen at Starbucks and Amazon; and
  • How employers need to assess their labor strategies in response to these changes!


If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 

 

Preparing for Union Organizing

  • The pandemic contributed to the creation of a “perfect storm” for labor unions today.
    • Workers began questioning if their management was listening to them, if they were being fairly compensated, the quality of their working situation, and where their work has the potential to take them.
    • Younger people are much more in favor of union organizing today as they begin to enter the workforce.
  • A recent White House report indicates that the executive branch supports and promotes unionization and collective bargaining. 
    • This is also shown by the current National Labor Relations Board, a politically appointed body by the President. This group’s ideologies sway based on who is in office.
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The Pandemic’s Impact

  • The pandemic highlighted many issues in the workplace, including safety, and that advocated for changes in workplace policies and procedures.
  • The Great Resignation focuses on employees looking to feel satisfied and fulfilled at work, and having a sense of purpose. If employees are feeling unheard from their employer, they often turn to organized labor unions to feel like they have a voice.

Union Activism

  • Even large companies are seeing unions organizing today at a small scale, but have the support of larger organizations
    • Workers at some of the large-scale companies, such Starbucks, are looking to create their own smaller labor unions, but those unions have the support of much larger unions, such as the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). 
  • Big labor has long used social media for union organizing, but they are learning from the way these “in-house” organizing drives have used social media to meet their goals.
  • Other kinds of industries are also starting to form their own organized labor unions today, and branching out from the traditional “blue-collar” unions.

Why Employees are Unionizing

  • Many employees looking to unionize are looking for respect and communication, and to have a voice at an organization.
    • While wages are a factor, this is not the driving factor of union organization
    • Safety and communication have been the most prominent issue for organizers since the pandemic began  

The Spread of Unionization

  • Mr. Hyman believes we are seeing a re-education of the workforce and the perceived benefits of organized labor unions today. 
  • Unionization is not just happening at large companies like Apple and Amazon, but at smaller companies as well.
    • Some of the larger campaigns use high profile campaigns and catch headlines to draw attention to their cause
  • Younger people and their activism play a role in union organizing today.
    • This has also brought a huge online presence to union organizing, and organizers are going online to get their message out to employees. Employers, on the other hand, have been slower to employ digital campaign strategies. 
  • Employers have been using an older approach, holding mandatory meetings with employees to tell them why unions are bad, but Mr. Hyman says companies should start using a softer approach to union organizing because the traditional approaches don’t work anymore. 
    • Instead of telling employers that unions are bad, it is better to say why the company is good to work for.

What Comes Next?

  • There will likely be more high profile union campaigns in the coming months or years. With the National Labor Relations Board being more in favor of unions until the next presidential election, pro-union rules are very likely. 
    • The NLRB is currently trying to outlaw “captive audience meetings”, hence why it is important for companies to take a softer approach to communicate their message to employees. 
  • Most employees form unions via secret ballot.
    • Employees can present a potential bargaining card via a secret ballot supervised by the NLRB. If 50%+1 of employees vote for the union, the employer can choose to recognize the union or not.
      • Secret ballots typically take weeks, and this gives the employers more time to get out their message. If the NLRB eliminates secret ballots, then employers lose this campaigning time.
  • The best way to avoid a union is by being a good employer. 

What Can Employers Do?

  • Employers should take a serious look at workplace culture to avoid unionization; to make sure that employees feel valued and respected.
    • It is important to not only talk to your own employees, but make sure that other businesses in your industry are talking to their employees too and listening to and addressing their concerns. 
  • Human Resource departments also need to be educated on the union organizing process: 
    • HR need to know how their industry is feeling and what other companies within that industry are doing regarding unionization.
    • HR can do satisfaction surveys about how they feel about the workplace and develop a conversation with employees about some of the negative elements of union organizing today. 
  • The NLRA is trying to get rid of captive audiences, so employers need to put rules around disclosures when talking about unionization. It is important to have those conversations with employees before a union campaign begins.

Wickers Herzer Panza

  • Wickers Herzer Panza is a law firm in Northeast Ohio that works with businesses facing any kind of disputes. Mr. Hyman is the chair of the Labor and Employment Practice Group, working with employers of all sizes as a general counsel. Mr. Hyman is also the co-chair for the Craft Beer Practice Group. In his role, Mr. Hyman litigates for companies in discrimination, wage, non-compete, and trade cases. 
  • He has also been blogging for 15 years about labor and employment law at Ohio Employer Law Blog.

Jon Hyman Background

  • JD, Law from Case Western Reserve University School of Law
  • BA in History, Philosophy from Binghamton University
  • Mr. Hyman began his career as an Associate in a number of law firms before becoming a Partner with Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis
  • He currently serves as Shareholder/Director with Wickers Herzer Panza
  • He is the blogger behind Ohio Employer Law Blog 

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About the Author Jacqueline Gregory

As a creative, persuasive communications professional with extensive experience guiding projects from concept through completion Jacqui has produced custom communications for some of the world's best known brands. Producing ProjectHR has been one of her favorite ways to engage and delight HR and Labor Relations professionals!

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