Employee Relations Best Practices to Stay Union-Free

It's no secret that to become an employer of choice, you must embrace positive employee relations. In addition to helping your workplace to remain union-free, this will also foster a strong sense of community and boost employee retention. There are best practices that your organization can follow that can help to strengthen your workplace culture. We have written at length about developing a positive employee relations strategy, and the many benefits that come along with it.

Our team has had the honor of completing over 3,000 projects with employers in organizations that have engaged employees, developed leaders, and prevented unionization. Furthermore, we have supported more than half the Fortune 500 in their efforts to connect with hundreds of thousands of employees by way of custom-made videos, e-learning solutions, websites, social media, online learning platforms, certification programs, streaming services, and additional creative solutions to their employee relations challenges. Today, we're going to cover what we believe are the most vital areas to address when creating an environment in which unions are unnecessary.


First, your positive employee relations strategy starts with hiring. You need to partner with your Human Resources professionals when it comes to choosing the right candidate for the position. Use extreme caution, do background checks, and if it's possible, leverage social media in the recruitment process. Be sure to always have more than one person interview each prospective hire if at all possible and be sure you know the legal "do's and don'ts" of interviewing. Make sure all participants are not only trained on what they cannot ask, but also about what they should ask. Furthermore, take into consideration your recruiting strategy - placing the right people in the right position will have a positive impact on future retention and engagement.

Establishing a strong, positive employer brand is going to have a significant impact on your job pool and the candidates who apply for positions within your organization. In fact, it may be one of the largest factors that are within your control when it comes to hiring. Consider the following statistics from Glassdoor:

What does this mean for your workplace? In order to keep employee engagement high and become an employer of choice, a branding strategy should be in place in order to hire and retain top talent.



Always maintain supervisory involvement on all shifts - your first-line team makes or breaks a union-free facility. First line supervision "is" the organization to most employees; front line supervision must "sell" the organization's party line at all times. Establish a core team of trained supervisors on all shifts, often known as part of your "Rapid Response" team, and use this team as a sounding board for policy changes, as communication conduits, to train weaker or new supervisors, and to communicate about unions in the event of card signing.


Communication is of the utmost importance when it comes to a positive workplace culture. Communicate early, often, aggressively, and as consistently as practical on all matters affecting the business, Human Resources matters or community-related items. In addition to frequent communication, you should make it a point to request feedback from your employees whenever the opportunity presents itself. Relying on annual employee engagement surveys to give you a clear picture of employee relations and how your employees are feeling is a practice of the past.

Establishing an open-door policy where employees can ask questions and express grievances directly to leadership and management will help to avoid them turning to a union in the future. In addition to this, it's important to establish communication lines with employees across the board. In many organizations, especially after the 2020 shift to remote-work and some sort of mix of working in the office and at home, there are employees who don't set foot in the workplace. Some are simply working in the field and don't have access to the same resources as those who are always in-house. Keeping employee engagement high and, therefore, staying union-free means that you have to have consistent and frequent communication with deskless and field workers just as often as the employees that you see every day in the workplace.

Never let the rumor mill be a suitable substitute for communications and never assume employees understand company policy, procedure, culture or benefits. As much as possible, involve the employees' families.


First, your managers, supervisors, and employees at all levels need to know what a union is, and what happens during union organizing campaigns. You should implement labor relations training for your leaders first and foremost, so they understand how their actions impact the culture in your organization. Employees should have a basic understanding about why unions may come poking around their workplace, and what their rights are should union organizing take place. Knowledge is power, and supplying your leadership teams with the information they need to protect themselves and their organization from things like a union salt can only be beneficial to everyone involved. It's common for employers and even some Human Resources professionals to shy away from certain topics, like union organizing, but it's essential to empower your teams with knowledge. Sharing your company values and all the reasons for remaining union-free shows authenticity and honesty, and instills trust and confidence in leadership.

Union avoidance training should be ongoing or at least bi-annual for all supervisors and leadership within the organization. Upper management should be actively involved and have major buy-in. Get as sophisticated as possible with this training - the better armed your supervisors are, the better they will be able to defend the facility. Use a combination of live training, video, and eLearning to reach every supervisor on a regular basis and to keep them engaged.


Ensure that there is a network to report any and all unusual or suspected third party activities. A management-facing LaborLook. com website is an excellent tool for keeping an eye on union activity if you have multiple locations, allowing reporting of any activity in the local area as well. The core team of supervisors can be the conduit for such reporting and they should develop their own networks within their work areas to keep apprised of and report any activity. The reporting party should be thanked and not chastised for reporting seemingly insignificant items.


Human Resources representatives must walk the fine line of employee advocate and management defender. They should be very well versed in union avoidance/detection skills. Partner with your HR professionals to not only hire the right candidates for the right positions, but avoid the likelihood of hiring a union salt. Keep your Human Resources team up-to-date with training and fully filled in on union avoidance strategies.

They should have a presence on all shifts and "press the flesh" as much as possible. The absence of this presence will steer employees towards outside assistance, such as a labor union or government agency.


A true union-free culture should differentiate itself from unionized workers and product competitors by providing competitive wage and benefit structures. These items should be reviewed and adjusted on an annual basis, or more, if needed. Don't let the competition get ahead, especially if they are a union shop.

Consider some of the following employee engagement and retention statistics gathered from LinkedIn's Global Talent Trends 2020 report:

  • Companies that were rated highly on compensation and benefits saw 56% lower attrition
  • 48% of talent professionals say their workplace should improve compensation and benefits

Additionally, Zoro found that 72% of employees felt that more work benefits would increase their job satisfaction, and 82.5% of Millennials (who make up the largest part of today's job force) would like in-office perks and benefits such as a gym, game room, etc. While wages and benefits make a significant impact on employees and their willingness to stay with a company, don't disregard the smaller "benefits" that you can offer to incentivize them and to provide a better employee experience. Of course, frequently communicate the benefits employees are entitled to, so there is never a question.


As we shared above, employee retention begins with the hiring process, from the initial interview through the onboarding process. Consider a Pre-Hire Orientation video that honestly describes the company, your brand, values, culture, and of course, the job and the expectations for the position. Crucial to any business is the retention of its workers. Care must be given to provide the proper wage, benefit, and career growth opportunities to all employees. Your onboarding of new hires should include an orientation video with the company's union-free philosophy as a part of that consistent message.

Company culture plays a large part in the retention of your employees as well. Focusing on a positive workplace, employee experience, and creating an atmosphere that fosters respect, diversity & inclusion, should all be incredibly important to be able to attract and retain top talent.


Policies and procedures should always be tailored with keeping the third party at bay. Items like skip-level meetings, spontaneous employee recognition, general employee recognition, employee involvement, company sponsored community involvement, etc. should be developed, encouraged and fostered to the fullest extent possible.


The key to a positive employee relations strategy is to establish teams that empower employees to provide feedback, input, and suggestions. The importance of frequent and consistent feedback from your employees cannot be overstated. A workforce that knows their voices are being heard and their input is valuable is much less likely to turn to a union to express and grievances. They know they can come to management before potential issues become bigger problems. A UnionProof culture, when managed effectively, has proven to be a valuable extension of the management team, and can facilitate problem resolution and favorably impact on the bottom line.


Management visibility is essential in every union-free environment. Upper management's visibility and accessibility is also a needed ingredient. Employees welcome the attention and sense that it is all part of management's commitment to the company's culture. The interactions must be genuine and sustained and cannot be perceived as the "car salesman" approach or the "glad-handing politician."

As we stated above, an open-door policy where management is always readily available to hear from employees and listen to them is crucial to becoming an employer of choice. Remember, forums such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn exist -- where employees can anonymously share their experiences and give a behind-the-scenes look at what it means to work for a company. Potential job candidates are actively seeking this feedback and judging whether or not they want to work for an organization based upon their reputation.

Developing Your Positive Employee Relations Strategy

Positive employee relations can be the key to becoming a union-free workplace where unions simply aren't necessary. Developing this strategy is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight, which is why it’s so important to start now! Over 40 years of experience has taught us that connecting with employees is the clear path to creating successful companies that matter.

Whether you're a Human Resources executive, thrown into the midst of a cardsigning campaign or a seasoned Labor Relations expert, UnionProof Certification will give you the knowledge you need to be prepared in any labor relations discussion or situation.

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.

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