18 Things Union-Free Companies Do Differently

Building A UnionProof Culture

How do some companies remain union-free without a struggle, while others are consistently targeted by union organizers? Union membership rates may be at only 10.7 percent, but new employees become union members each year, and new National Labor Relations Board rules have made it easier and faster for unions to organize. If you’re charged with making sure employees are engaged and union-free, it’s important to foster the right business mindset and uphold rules that benefit all members of your workforce. That means having a comprehensive strategy in place that builds a UnionProof culture.

Tips From Union-Free Companies

After decades of helping companies avoid the cost of unionization, it's become clear to us that there are certain things UnionProof companies to differently than their union-vulnerable competitors. Here's a thorough breakdown of 18 actionable union prevention ideas from companies who remain union-free:

18 Things UnionProof Companies Do Differently


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18 Ways To Stay Union-Free

  1. 1
    Engaging Employee Orientation Programs - Red Branch Media, a family-owned business that prides itself on its owners working as hard as its interns, says it creates a consistent narrative that starts with the job advertisement and continues throughout a highly structured onboarding process. The process focuses on training that encompasses how and why employees should follow certain business procedures. The company doesn’t end the onboarding process after the first 90 days — they check in with newer employees at the one-to two-year mark to encourage existing workers to develop new skills and continue working with the company.
  2. 2
    Effective & Creative Communication of Employee Benefits - The HR director of steam-cleaning product company Dupray found that only 12 percent of employees were opening his benefits-related emails. To increase benefits awareness, he created online pop quizzes about the information contained in his emails and offered meal vouchers to employees who got high scores. Employee engagement improved and his email open rate skyrocketed to an average 90 percent!
  3. 3
    Train Leaders to Communicate a Union-Free Philosophy - Don’t make managers think unions are a taboo subject, either. You can ask supervisors to communicate why management prefers a union-free workforce and help educate them about the company’s official policy. Ask leaders to report union activity so you can address possible union organizing early. Also, learn to distinguish between managers and employees under the law.
Tips To Avoid Unions
  1. 4
    Stay Closely Connected With Employees - Keep in mind that silence often means employees are holding back. James Detert, a professor at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, recommends that managers take employees out to lunch and find other ways to initiate informal conversations with small groups of people. Having your managers model candor during business conversations can also encourage working relationships.
  2. 5
    Ensure Employees Understand Impact of Unionization - A 2016 Rasmussen poll found that only 20 percent of workers think that unions do a good job representing them, but offering additional educational resources can help your employees avoid union hard-sell tactics. Making sure your workforce understands right-to-work laws, ambush elections, decertification, dues and fees, and other potential changes could help them understand the downsides of unionization.
  3. 6
    Install High-Performing Leaders Skilled in Positive Employee Relations - Charles P. Garcia, author of Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows, interviewed more than 600 leaders across all segments of society. He found that successful leaders put their employees first, bring passion into the workforce to motivate their teams, and are great listeners.
  4. 7
    Invest in Appropriate Training Resources To Engaged Employees - Resources include websites, training videos and interactive eLearning systems that reach employees wherever they may roam. “Knowledge workers never want to be stagnant,” notes Shannon Heath, senior communications specialist at business-analytics software company SAS. So her company offers career mentoring, on-the-job training, a career center and other professional advancement opportunities to all employees.
  5. 8
    Communicate A Union-Free Philosophy At Employee Orientation - Take some time to explain9the underlying company ethos, including why your company workforce thrives without union representation. Feel free to compare your wages and benefits with unionized workforces so employees can see the difference.
competitive wages help keep you union-free
  1. 9
    Pay Competitive Wages & Benefits - Historically, two items that union organizers often focus on when promoting union membership are wages and benefits. In a Forbes article titled “Why Companies That Pay Above the Minimum Wage Come Out Ahead,” MIT professor Zeynep Ton notes that many businesses known for their higher wages also achieve record productivity, outstanding return to investors and robust growth. Better benefits are largely the product of a change in mindset — these companies view workers as a critical asset, rather than a place to cut costs. Adopt this mindset, and you can achieve all these benefits while remaining union-proof.
  2. 10
    Maintain Safe Facilities & A Strong Employee Safety Protocol - Also, emphasize proactive employee housekeeping to minimize potential hazards by making sure employees know how to avoid creating fire hazards, tripping risks, dust and falling hazards. Consider starting a monthly safety meeting, where you can focus on a single safety concern. You might also implement a monthly security checklist, where someone is responsible for verifying that all machinery has the proper safety devices and all workers have the correct safety gear. Posters explaining proper safety procedures and first-aid kits should be easily accessible as well.
  3. 11
    Cultivate a Fair Employee Grievance System- Commercial real estate services firm Parkway Properties created an Employee Advocate program, which allows workers to talk about their concerns to someone who isn’t in their direct communication path. These questions and concerns are then relayed to top-level management and the chief executive so they can be addressed. Employee advocates also regularly travel to Parkway Properties locations to make sure each employee can air a grievance without fear of reprisal.
  4. 12
    Establish Solutions To Manage Communication During Times of Crisis - Give as much information as possible, and offer consistent updates. If you're forced to downsize, try to make all the cuts at once, and explain why certain positions are cut. If you deliver misleading information, your best staff may experience significant workplace survivor guilt and decide to leave for greener pastures.
Educate Employees on Labor Rights To Prevent Unionization
  1. 13
    Educate Employees on Their Rights Under The National Labor Relations Act - Remind employees that they never have to talk to a union organizer or sign a union card. Always talk about unions using the F.O.E. rule — offer verifiable facts about unions, personal beliefs and opinions, and examples of union disadvantages. If you are asked, you can explain how workers can decertify their union with enough support.
  2. 14
    Refuse to Engage in Unfair Labor Practices - Don't prohibit wearing union insignia at work, and never imply that you will offer better wages or benefits if your workers vote against the union. Not only are these practices illegal, they also erode trust and create anger within your workforce. Employing unfair labor practices can also lead to high turnover, low productivity, and other problems that will tank your company's profits.
  3. 15
    Train Leader on Good Management Practices - One survey found that 87% of mangers wanted more management training. Jeff Solomon, co-founder of WorkplaceU, suggests enacting a formal training program but also providing employees with ways to informally update their skills. At WorkplaceU, the company fosters important leadership skills with workshops on listening, crisis planning and technology. These workshops aren’t lectures but real opportunities for new managers to interact with senior staff and practice new skills. If your company doesn’t have the time to launch a proprietary training program, consider companies, such as A Better Leader, that will create a management program for you.
  4. 16
    Regularly Update Policies & Procedures, and Communicate Those Changes To Employees - The Society for Human Resource Management recommends updating your employee handbook to reflect changes in paid sick leave laws, minimum wage laws, weapons policies and NLRB decisions. If your state has legalized marijuana, your company may also want to update its drug policy for clarity’s sake. Also, you should ensure that your employee handbook doesn’t accidentally discourage reporting workplace violations to government agencies.
  5. 17
    Uphold Fair Employee Promotion Policies - Accounting firm Ehrard Keefe Steiner & Hottman gives all employee feedback on their performance every month or at the end of every client project. Employees also give feedback about client engagement to their bosses during the review. Each worker has a coach who is one level above them in the firm. These policies help workers understand exactly why their careers are advancing as they are. Even if your company can't offer monthly performance updates, regular one-on-one performance meetings help your managers spot promising employees and allow your workers to give upward feedback.
  6. 18
    Stay Current on NLRB Decisions - UnionProof companies visit the official NLRB website to find news updates, and consult with an attorney if they’re unsure which changes affect the business. SHRM notes that some federal labor laws only affect large businesses, but your business could still be affected under certain circumstances. If your company does business across state lines, provides a service or product to military members, does business with American Indians or international entities, or contracts with railroads or airlines, federal laws likely apply to you. Even if you only have customers in another state and contact them by phone, mail or internet, your business could fall under these restrictions.

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18 Things UnionProof Companies Do Differently

It’s clear that UnionProof companies do one thing that vulnerable companies do not: they aggressively foster positive employee relations. By looking after employee welfare and remaining informed about labor changes, your business can create a thriving, productive workforce that doesn’t need third-party involvement to achieve its goals.

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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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