9 Things You Must Communicate To Employees To Stay Union Free

Your company could be in the middle of a positive, productive groove or a divisive union organizing campaign. If your workplace is not unionized, there's no better time than now to inoculate your employees against a union advance. This is especially true as the labor unions accelerate and intensify their efforts to grow their membership rolls while there is a pro-union White House administration and pro-union National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Effectively communicating with employees is one of the keys to developing positive employee relations and an environment where unions simply aren't needed.  

The Wedge of Employee Emotional Dissonance 

Labor unions have perfected their strategy for unionizing a workforce, and part of that strategy is the union representative's sales pitch. The pitch is intended to cause an emotional reaction because people driven by emotions are more susceptible to making decisions without the facts. Without getting too deep into the psychology of the labor union's strategy, researchers found that employees can experience emotional dissonance in which there is an inconsistency between their true feelings and how their employer expects them to feel. Employees who experience emotional dissonance will pretend they feel one way while really feeling the opposite (false facing). It's emotionally exhausting giving labor unions an opening. They leverage this dissonance by telling employees their employers can't arbitrarily exercise their authority for something they cannot force compliance with. Bottom line: Labor unions prey on emotions. 

Have you thought about how labor unions like to tell employees their employer is lying to them, making promises they don't keep? It's a way to encourage employees to experience emotional dissonance.    

Employees experiencing emotional exhaustion are likelier to have low employee engagement, lack trust in leadership, and be more receptive to labor unions. Developing positive employee relations is a process in which your leaders holistically develop an engaged and productive workforce. One of the most important elements of the strategy to develop positive employee relations is the quality and effectiveness of communication between your managers and supervisors, and employees.   

What to Communicate to Employees About Unions 

Some of your leaders will feel uncomfortable talking to employees about labor unions because they know emotions are involved. Leadership training on labor relations is one critical step to dispelling the fear or unwillingness to communicate with employees about unions, especially during a union organizing campaign in progress.  

To overcome the emotions driving employee decision-making, your leaders must educate the workforce by mainly talking about the facts of unionization. Facts can be backed up by actual situations involving unions, like strikes, benefits of working at the company, contract negotiations that didn't produce the union's promised results at competitors, etc. Following are nine things your organization can legally communicate to employees about unions and the impact a union can have on a workplace. These nine things will help your organization overcome the emotional turmoil unions purposely create as their wedge between management and employees.  

1 .Remind your employees why they work for your organization

Your organization has strived to provide a positive workplace culture which includes things like fair compensation, benefits, flexible work schedules, and employee voice. Labor unions focus on negatives, fomenting feelings of unhappiness, but you can offset these negatives with positives. Remind your employees of the good features of employment at your company.   

To begin with, keeping employees happy can be as simple as reminding them why they chose to work at your company. Highlight your corporate points of pride, including what makes your culture special, the shared purpose, and any unique benefits and perks your employees enjoy. This will keep your team members focused on the positive!  

2. Discuss the right not to join a union

Unions tell employees they have a right to join a union. Naturally, they aren't going to tell employees they don't have to unionize, even though the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) says explicitly in Section 7 that the law guarantees "the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations" as well as the right "to refrain from any or all such activities." It's likely going to be up to you to inform your employees of the right to NOT join a union. Educate your employees about their rights, including their rights during an organizing campaign. Otherwise, the labor union controls the narrative, which will be one-sided. 

3. Highlight employee voice

Having a communication plan in place that supports employee voice has never been more important. Developing a sense of belonging and inclusion through voice influences the level of employee engagement, retention rate, and employee perspectives on and feelings about labor unions. Researchers did an in-depth study of how employees working in four different industries experience inclusion. The purpose was to dig deeper than possible with employee surveys. The study found that 100 percent of participants said employee voice was essential to feel included. The study authors wrote, "… leaders need to intentionally create space for individuals to contribute. In doing so, inclusive leaders raise the employee's level of informal authority and credibility, resulting in heightened feelings of confidence." 

Right now, at your company, your employees likely have many ways to communicate with management, and they also likely never had to pay anyone to be heard. Bringing a labor union into the workplace means paying union dues to be heard when your managers are already listening, encouraging employee feedback, and being open to suggestions and new ideas for improving inclusion and management decision-making. Reinforcing this fact and reminding them of the many ways they can currently communicate with leadership will underline the fact that they have a voice and that they're encouraged to use it 

4. Labor unions have an organizational agenda

Labor unions attempt to make employees believe they are altruistic. They want employees to think they're selfless organizations that only want to pursue social justice and equitable treatment of employees by greedy employers. There are always two sides to every story; in this case, it's the flip side of the level of union dues.  

The primary source of labor union revenue is union dues. Your employees probably don't know how union dues are used. A significant amount of dues are used to support the Democratic party. There are also stories all over the internet concerning the misuse of union dues and corruption by labor union leadership. For example, an IBEW Local 1260 labor leader was convicted of using union funds for personal purposes. In January 2023, the SEIU Local 1000 removed the local's president from office because of gross financial misconduct. If these were unusual circumstances, it wouldn't be mentioned. However, misuse of employee union dues is common. In addition, employees have no control over how union dues are spent unless they form an independent union that is not affiliated with a labor union.  

While the NLRB has lauded the surge in election petitions, the reality is that union membership is declining (10.3 percent in 2021 compared to 10.8 percent in 2020). Also, the people with the highest union membership rate are 45-54 years old, and the oldest are edging toward retirement. The labor unions look at the statistics and see a continuing membership decline which means a decline in membership dues or revenues. It's one reason they are targeting lower-wage younger employees. They must make up for lost dues and prevent further erosion of their revenues.  

The Art of Labor Relations CTA

5. Communicate the need to protect their signature

union authorization card is a legal document, and by signing a card, they could be designating the union as their legal representative. How can that be when employees probably expect a union election to take place? If the union can get 50 percent plus one signature, the union election is bypassed in a process called "card check" organizing. Employees who don't want to join a union are forced to become union members when the union is automatically formed. Explain to employees how their signatures have value to a union, and they should be wary of just giving their signatures away. 

Employees need to understand what they are signing. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation showed an actual Teamsters authorization card and how it tries to deceive employees into bypassing an NLRB-sanctioned secret union election. The authorization cards appear to request a secret ballot election, but the wording makes the signature a vote for the union. The NRTW writes, "Workers often sign the cards to "get the union off their backs' (as the AFL-CIO has admitted), believing they will be able to vote against the union in secret. However, the fine print actually authorizes the union to represent workers and impose unionization without an election."  

6. Discuss union organizing tactics

Share with your employees the typical union organizing tactics and how unions can manipulate employees. Remember that union organizing depends on evoking strong emotions. For example, workers walk off the job because the labor union has convinced them to be fearful of their job security and angry at their employer. Whether pressuring them to sign cards or simply encouraging a negative view of the workplace, employees need to know how an organizer might push their buttons to get what they want. Suppose you know the labor union initiating the organizing campaign, or there is a labor activity in your area or at a competitor. In that case, you can research specific labor union tactics and share them with employees.  

7. Share the risks of collective bargaining

There are risks associated with collective bargaining. Union promises are not guarantees, and contract negotiations can be risky. These are two important points that are critical to communicate to your employees. Workers assume that once they unionize, they will get what was promised, like a particular pay increase, additional benefits, new work schedules, and so on.  

The reality is far different. It can take over a year to negotiate a union contract, as Starbucks workers discovered, especially if there are points of contention. Educate your employees about the collective bargaining process. Employees could end up with more, end up with the same, or end up with less after bargaining than they had before. It's much wiser for them to utilize their employee voice and talk directly to your leaders about their needs and wants.  

8. Communicate likely organizational cultural changes

There is a cultural cost of union membership. A union presence can negatively impact working relationships between employees and management as well as between employees, creating a detrimental "Us versus Them" environment.   

In December 2022, the NLRB made it easier for employees to enable micro-units, which are bargaining units with a small number or subset of employees. This opens the door for a workplace to have union and nonunion workers side-by-side, each group operating with different rules. This increases the risk of tension between union and nonunion employees.   

Gallup found that engagement is higher among nonunion employees (33 percent) than union workers (27 percent). The survey also found that 24 percent of union members are actively disengaged at work compared to 17 percent of nonunion workers. The actively disengaged are resentful of the workplace. The organizational culture can't help but change when employees decide to organize when so many factors come into play.  

9. Talk about the true financial cost of union membership

Union membership is not free, and members are expected to pay monthly dues, plus any fines, fees, and assessments that may come along the way. Challenge your employees to consider whether or not union services are worth the price its members pay and whether that money might be better spent in other ways.  

Prevent Union Organizing Among Team Members with a Custom Website 

Suppose your workplace is currently not unionized, and you wish to keep it that way. In that case, you must educate and inform your employees – and one of the best ways to do that is with an employee-facing custom website, a major element of a digital employee engagement strategy. 

Why a dedicated website? Just ask any union. Today's unions depend on the internet to help orchestrate their campaigns, using campaign-targeted websites, social media, and virtual meet-ups to recruit new members. With a web presence of your own, your company can educate your employees before a union campaign begins. If it does, having your employee relations website will give you the platform you'll need to counter union claims.   

IRI Consultants' websites effectively communicate all nine of the points mentioned above, presenting the facts in persuasive, sometimes interactive, ways. Every site features compelling images and in-depth labor discussions. Still, your site may also include a range of other offerings, including Q&A with employees and dues, strike, and investment calculators that will drive home the need to say no to a union.  

The websites are custom-produced and designed to reflect your brand. They're responsive and updateable and may be password-protected to keep your communications private. The IRI Consultants website is part of a holistic approach to positive employee relations, the ideal strategy to prevent union organizing. 

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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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