Walter Orechwa, Author at UnionProof

All Posts by Walter Orechwa

digital communications to organize your employees

How Unions Are Using Digital Communications to Organize Your Employees

Increasingly, social media and digital communications have become important organizing tools for labor unions. Moreover, according to a recent Labor and Employment Report, social-media organizing is particularly effective among millennials who are also "more receptive to unionization." Employers must be familiar with how unions use digital communications to best protect themselves from these sorts of activities.

It makes sense - social media and digital communications are used for absolutely everything. With a few clicks, it touches everything from staying in communication with people to hosting virtual meetings to keep remote employees connected, online shopping, ordering lunch or grocery delivery, and more. It also gives people easy (and private) access to one other, which is a recipe for union organizers to insert themselves and establish connections with employees. In addition, social media channels provide a way for labor unions to create a space for employees to express grievances and to spread the claim that their employer can't or won't take the time to hear those same complaints. It's easy to see how social media sites where private groups can be created, such as Facebook, have quickly become a tool for union organizing efforts. 

Social media and digital communications have become increasingly more important organizing tools for #laborunions. #socialmedia #unionorganizing

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Social Media Apps and Union Organizing

In December of 2020, the Clubhouse app made its way onto the scene as a new style of digital communications. With its invite-only access, Clubhouse lets like-minded users connect in private audio-only sessions. Like a podcast, users can simply listen to a discussion and connect with others. In short, it's a great place to exercise the right to talk with coworkers about wages and benefits or any other number of working conditions. Clubhouse could be the perfect platform for labor unions to seek out disgruntled employees. We've written at length about the Clubhouse app since we anticipate the growth to continue in 2021 and beyond. You can read more about it here.

Frank is another online platform where employees can privately organize on campaign issues -- like ending forced arbitration for sexual misconduct cases -- and call to form a workplace diversity & inclusion committee. Employees create a campaign on the platform, include a description of the issue, a demand letter, an invitation to coworkers to collaborate, and any applicable attachments that add context. The campaign goes live and invites coworkers to join in the discussion and sign on. 

digital communications for union organizing

Of course, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram all also provide for private and direct communication for employees, and therefore, union organizers. With private groups on Facebook, and direct messaging among all platforms, there is the ability for a conversation about organizing to occur without employers being included or notified until it's too late. It's absolutely crucial to be proactive, not reactive, in this ever-changing world of labor and employee relations that Projections refers to as "The Proactive Era.

It can be extremely beneficial to utilize existing social media channels and connect with employees whenever possible. You can solicit feedback from them and establish open lines of communication, even if your employees are in the field or not at a desk. Not only that, you can use internal social media, such as podcasts, to deliver various messages, information, and instructions, as necessary. 

How Unions Use Digital Communications as Organizational Tools

1. Social media, email, texting, and apps like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram allow employees to communicate and present the opportunity for organizing discreetly. According to The Century Foundation, workers can begin an organizing campaign by using these types of digital communications -- completely out of sight from their employers. This ability allows workers to discuss grievances in their workplace and how organizing may address these issues.

2. Since the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) reversed its years-long policy banning employees from using their workplace internet connections for organizing activities. The NLRB states that employees can use their workplace internet and email to organize activities during non-working time.

3. By using social media, employees can instantly communicate with a large number of their colleagues. Also, workers are able to begin organizing on their own. Since many employers successfully characterize labor unions as outsiders, the workers' ability to organize on their own easily can seriously undermine this argument.

4. Social media allows workers to coordinate with national labor unions. This gives them access to experienced union organizers who can give them information regarding strategies and best practices. By connecting with national unions over social media, workers may also gain access to labor attorneys.

5. Using social media makes the whole organizing process easier for those involved. Labor unions can use specific algorithms to target areas that might be particularly susceptible to labor organizing. Employees can use these algorithms to identify potential demands.

social media union organizing

Be Proactive: Use Social Media to Connect With Employees

Communicating with employees where they already are and in familiar ways can be crucial during an active organizing campaign. Digital communications that you develop and implement, or simply utilization of existing social media, can be a great way to stay connected with employees. But, it can't be overstated: a positive employee relations strategy and workplace culture of communicating are the utmost priority. This helps your organization to remain one where unions simply aren't necessary.

Even if you don't believe that unions are threatening your company, it's important to use social media to engage with your employees in advance of any organizing attempts. If a labor union targets your company later and you haven't established a social media presence, then it may be too late to do so with credibility. Employees will view late social-media development as an obvious attempt to counteract union-organizing activities, and those efforts will likely fail. It's important to implement your own digital communication strategy to not only stay union-free but to maintain positive employee relations and a strong connection between your leaders and employees

Maintain Positive Employee Relations

One of the best ways an employer can prevent union organizing is by implementing and prioritizing positive employee relations. According to the Labor and Employment Report, employers should make sure that managers and supervisors receive training to "take notice of and address changes in the workplace, including changes in employee personality and morale." Since unhappy employees can easily take to social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, to vent their frustrations and connect with other like-minded employees, you can get ahead of the game if you can keep your employees from wanting to unionize in the first place. For some ideas to boost your employee relations strategy, you can check out this post, where we break down some best practices for staying union-free. 

Moreover, employers can harness social media to improve relations with their employees and make union organizing less likely. You can use social media as an engagement tool. Keeping your employees engaged will make it harder for labor organizers to gain support in your organization. For example, offer online videos that connect and provide meaningful learning resources for your employees and supervisors.

Employers can harness #socialmedia to improve their #employeerelations and make union organizing less likely. You can use social media as an engagement tool! #unionorganizing #unionavoidance

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ProofBox

Develop Your Digital Communications Strategy

Projections, Inc. has had the pleasure of working with hundreds of companies and their thousands of employees to stay connected, implement communication strategies, and stay union-free. With comprehensive tools like custom video and eLearning, we can help organizations tackle their employee engagement and communication challenges. 

With a solution like ProofBox, you can instantly solve even the most challenging employee communication needs and build a culture where unions simply aren't necessary. You'll have one easy-to-use comprehensive platform to address the diverse needs of your Human Resources and Labor Relations teams. With resources that help build an authentic employer brand and true employee engagement, ProofBox will become your favorite way to communicate with employees on tough topics. Schedule a demo today or connect with our team of professionals today to get assistance with the digital tools you need.

dedicated website for union organizing

Using a Dedicated Website to Communicate During a Union Organizing Drive

If you’re committed to keeping your organization union-free, you need to make sure your online employee relations resources are as powerful as what any union might offer your employees. At the top of this list of resources should be an employee-focused website that helps not only during union organizing campaigns, but can be a resource that is used for employee reference anytime they should need it. Unions are among today’s most active social media marketers, utilizing social media networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and even Twitter to lead organizing drives. So if your organization fails to address – and answer – unions’ online and social media outreach, you could be sitting at the bargaining table before you know it. Add to that the fact that employees can now sign union authorization cards online, and you’ll come to the conclusion that you’ve got to reach your employees where they are.

Projections Inc. is a leading resource for video, eLearning, and custom website solutions for companies in all industries. With decades of experience, we’ve had the pleasure of helping organizations to stay union-free and consistently empower and educate their teams with the resources they need. We will cover why it’s so important to have a custom website for union organizing, and steps you can take to make sure you’re equipped with the knowledge and resources necessary to protect your workplace from a union. In our experience, we believe that focusing on creating a culture where unions simply aren’t necessary is key to increasing employee engagement and retention, and building a workplace that is truly union-proof.

Social Media Among Generations

According to the Pew Research Center, 93 percent of Americans use the Internet. Among Millennials, or those between the ages of 18 and 29, the figure is even higher, at 99 percent! Even more significantly, as of 2021, Millennials make up at least 35 percent of the workforce as of 2021, meaning they make up the largest percentage of today’s workforce. And poised to reach them, with their robust social media marketing machine, is organized labor.

Take into consideration some of the pro-union groups utilizing social media to reach your employees. The Teamsters (IBT), for example, boasts almost a quarter of a million “Likes” on their Facebook page. UniteHERE! has nearly 40,000. The SEIU boasts over 60,000, and has just as many Twitter followers. With new social media platforms, such as Clubhouse, a private app, with no record of what’s discussed, open to anyone with an invitation, you don’t have to be a social media expert to know the potential implications. It’s no secret that union organizing is continuing to grow virtually, and utilizing every platform possible to reach more people and spread their pro-union rhetoric.

Your company employs state-of-the-art technology to enhance production and performance. You invest in the best talent money can buy and work hard to create and preserve your reputation as an employer of choice. Unions, on the other hand, tap into their online network of thousands of organizers to militantly accost workers through social media, often spreading misinformation and false accusations. Organized labor certainly isn’t shy about boasting of their social media organizing drives, and more and more unions are now conducting card signing drives online.

website for union organizing

A Manager-Facing Website for Union Organizing

First things first: effective union avoidance strategies are a two-way street, and involve sincere actions on your part. A big part of this relies on positive employee relations,  When your workers understand that they’re a valued part of your business, both of your jobs become much easier. You may wonder if your workplace is more vulnerable to union-organizing, and you can take a free quiz here to find out how susceptible your organization may be.

To protect your organization from the unions’ influence, start with a dedicated, password-protected website that will provide your managers and supervisors the support they need. A management-side website can give your supervisors the tools, the resources, and the confidence they need to quickly respond to any “ambush” union organizing drives, whether online or off.

What goes into a site like this for managers? Begin with detailed information on what to do, who to contact, what to say (and not say) in the event of organizing activity. More in-depth information such as specifics on the union or unions most likely to target employees, including their finances, membership, and current state of affairs.

The Benefits of Employee Sites, Dark Sites, and More

By far one of the most effective campaign tools is a private website dedicated to addressing your employees’ questions and concerns, as well as anything union organizers might be saying. Crafting a “dark site” (meaning 95% complete, but not yet online)  ahead of organizing activity allows you the flexibility to respond quickly to ambush elections and launch your site the moment you receive a union petition. If you’re not familiar with the basics of a dark website for union organizing, you can learn more here to educate and empower yourself on the benefits. The just-in-time nature of a dark website means your team can address the issues immediately, without worrying about the technology!

Consider these points when planning your site:

  • Experience matters! Especially when creating a dark site, you may not know what you don’t know yet – but an experienced provider will, and can help you anticipate what content you’ll need.
  • Choose a smart, memorable URL
  • Tracking is key – do NOT plan to track individual visitors, but instead use your tracking data to understand what concerns are urgent, and where you need to provide additional information
  • Don’t be afraid of two-way conversations. Plan to allow for anonymous submissions – and answer those questions!

employee-focused website

What to Include in Your Employee-Focused Website: 

Your employee-focused site should provide the following helpful information:

  • Engaging, accurate and frequently updated information on compensation, benefits and the costs involved with union dues.
  • Interactive elements, such as a strike calculator
  • Videos highlighting the benefits of being union-free — video makes the site more “sticky,” or engaging, and most people (of all generations) prefer video to reading
  • Transparency, including a forum for workers to anonymously air concerns and ask questions
  • Remember that your site will reach not just employees but their families. Even if you choose to password-protect it (which we highly recommend), the union supporters will have access to the site. The more straightforward and factual the site is, the more this will work in your favor.

Next Steps

If you have found that your organization may be vulnerable to union organizing, or you simply want to be prepared in the event a union organizing drive occurs, we’re here to help! Whether you need to prepare for union organizing, educate and inform throughout the campaign itself, or stay in touch during contract negotiations – we’ve got the tools you need to make your online communications a success. Contact the Projections team today, or book a screenshare demo to see some examples and explore your specific needs.

employee relations best practices

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.

Projections Inc. 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.

1. HIRING/SELECTION PROCESS

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.

employee relations best practices podcast

2. FIRST LINE SUPERVISION

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.

3. COMMUNICATION

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.

Legal Ways To Stay Union-Free

4. UNION AVOIDANCE TRAINING

First, your managers, supervisors, and employees at all levels need to know what a union is, and what happens during union organizing campaigns. 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 organizaiton 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.

5. ORGANIZING (THIRD PARTY) DETECTION

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.

6. EMPLOYEE RELATIONS (HUMAN RESOURCES) TEAM

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.

7. WAGE & BENEFIT STRUCTURE

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.

employee relations episode

8. RETENTION

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.

9. POLICIES & PROCEDURES

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.

positive employee relations strategy

10. EMPLOYEE INVOLVEMENT

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.

11. MANAGEMENT VISIBILITY/ACCESSIBILITY

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.

the cost of unionization

The Cost of Unionization

What is the cost of unionization? For union members, it’s typically around two-and-a-half hours of pay each month. But, for a company, the cost of unionization is more in line with a 30% increase in operating expenses. And the cost of a union to a community – in lost jobs, loss of competitiveness and productivity, strikes, and consumer confidence - can be staggering.

In this post-pandemic time, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotional side of the question of unionization. With a new pro-union administration, calls for social justice, and even labor union excitement at the political support they’re currently receiving, unions are clearly expecting an upswing. Despite this emotional wave, it’s important to stay focused on the facts about the cost of unionization.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics research indicates the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions in 2020 was 10.8 percent (private and public sectors combined), which is a .5 percent increase from 2019. The hope is that this makes people believe the trend in the decline of union membership was reversing. However, the relative increase in union membership was mostly due to a decline of 9.6 million fewer employees because of the pandemic. This made the union membership rate higher. The fact is, overall union membership was down by 321,000 members when comparing 2020 to 2019. There are many reasons for the continued decline in union membership, and the financial cost to employees and employers is one of them.  

What impact do unions have on employers and employees? Most research focuses on union wages and benefits, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that union workers continue to earn more than non-union workers. But the cost of unionization includes far more than wages, and these statistics are only a small fraction of the complete picture of the cost of unionization. As unrest in the workforce grows, understanding the real and full cost of labor unions on business, employees, families, and the community is vital for a complete picture of the cost of unionization.

The Cost of A Union Organizing Drive

Labor consultant Jim Gray specializes in helping business leaders with human resources and business transitioning issues. Over the course of decades in working with companies facing union organizing drives, Gray found that companies could expect to spend anywhere from $400,000 to well over $2,000,000 on a single unionization campaign. Gray’s analysis includes vital investments like legal counsel to keep the company from running contrary to the law, costs like travel expenses, and spending time and resources to educate employees on both sides of the unionization question. Add to that the lost productivity, the stress, and a loss of consumer and vendor confidence, and you have a total cost that is often hard to quantify but can add up to thousands – even millions. And of course, the larger the company, the more a single unionization campaign costs.

Today, we’re in the path of a perfect storm that has a lot of employees asking if a union is their best path to a brighter future. The COVID-19 pandemic, job losses, scheduling changes, and the pivots companies have had to make to stay afloat have affected workers dramatically, and in some cases, permanently. Issues surrounding worker safety and mental health during the pandemic created uncertainty, and fear of the future is a formula for employees turning to unions. 

cost of unionization video

Add to that Corporate Social Responsibility, wealth inequality, the push to pass the PRO Act, and technology that supported remote work actually making it easier for unions to organize employees from traditional and non-traditional bargaining units, and the cost of unionization becomes more relevant every day. 

The Amazon union vote in Bessemer, Alabama, got a lot of national attention. Teacher strikes and protests regarding returning to face-to-face classrooms, work stoppages, and walkouts over a perceived lack of corporate responsibility for worker safety and a seeming lack of concern for the contingent or gig workforce have each been at the center of a rallying cry by unions. These issues have provided a platform for greater visibility for unions.

Unions have long stated that “it doesn’t cost to belong to a union – it pays!” But the cost of a strike can be enormous. During the 2020 pandemic, after two years of increases in the number of work stoppages, we saw fewer major work stoppages in 2020. Experts are predicting an increase in work stoppages in the second half of 2021 as people return to work.

Unions’ strategy for seeking out new members is to target employees at growing, profitable companies. Fewer companies fit that profile in 2020 and early 2021, having had to make cuts to remain competitive. But sudden change can cause fear in employees and put them squarely in the sights of unions. When unions cannot seem to make headway into well-run companies, they’ll vilify a company working to maintain profitability by engaging in orchestrated corporate campaigns. A corporate campaign is a strategic and concentrated effort to damage a company to the point where they accept the union’s representation of workers. A corporate campaign is also when the cost of unionization for the company begins even before a union represents workers.

A lot of employees wonder if a union is their best path to a brighter future, but the cost of a #unionstrike can be enormous. #unions #costofunions



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How Much Do Union Dues Cost? The Cost of Unionization for Employees

Unions still like to organize on a platform of “The Benefits Of Being A Union Worker”— that unionized workers receive higher wages and more benefits than non-union workers. But the real question is, why should employers pay more per hour to cover the cost of union dues? The Office Of Labor-Management analyzed union financial data for the period 2000-2019. In 2019, $10 billion was collected in dues, and only $3.75 billion went to representational activity. The average union collected $2.5 million in dues in 2019, and about 36 percent went to representational activity. And with fewer members, unions must increase the dues for existing members, meaning workers see an increase in the cost of unionization as well.

How are union dues calculated? The amount of union dues employees pay varies because each union sets the amount. Some unions charge a percent of pay, while others have a flat amount. The Teamsters Union dues rate is 2.5 times the hourly wage for one hour plus two dollars for the strike fund if you make $11 per hour or more. If making less, it’s 2.0 times plus the strike fund. 

The UAW has a more complicated setup because, tellingly, they are trying to build an $850 million (yes, almost a billion dollars!) strike and defense fund. Until that goal is reached, UAW members are paying dues of 2.5 hours of straight time pay. After that amount is reached, dues are two hours of straight time pay.  

SEIU Local 2015 for California Long Term Caregivers has a regular member dues rate of 3 percent of gross wages with a minimum of $15.50 and a maximum of $45 and includes the strike fund. So the average union dues percentage in 2021 ranges from 1.5-4.0 percent of gross wages, depending on the union local and any assessments the local union charges.

the cost of unionization

What Do Union Dues Pay For?  

Unions talk about the cost and benefits of union membership in the same breath. The dues are said to benefit employees, but up to half of the dues (called per capita) go to the International. In exchange for their dues money, union members get: 

  • Representation in collective bargaining 
  • Representation during labor grievances 
  • Established rules on wages and benefits 
  • Established rules on issues like promotions and raises 
  • Lobbying at the national level for laws that benefit organized labor  
  • Established rules on job security, seniority, and tenure
  • Established rules on hours, scheduling
     

What’s important for employers to communicate is the flip side of these services. Employees lose their flexibility to have personal needs met, something that’s vital in times of stress. Unionized employees lose their voice and ability to speak to management on their own behalf. A unionized worker can be forced to strike - often when they’re least able to afford it. Adversarial relations often develop between management and employees, perpetuating an “us vs. them” mentality, which can devastate any organization that thrives on collaboration and teamwork.

The Cost of Unionization on Companies

Why do so many organizations, such as Amazon, Wal-Mart, FedEx, Citigroup, Associated Builders and Contractors, even the US Chamber of Commerce, take such a strong stance against unionization? In his landmark text, “Unions Are Not Inevitable!” author Lloyd M. Field explained, referencing multiple studies conducted in the five years following unionization. Field found that newly organized company’s operating costs increased by more than 25 percent of their gross payroll and benefits costs. In his book, Field provides an example of a company with a total payroll of $18 million, for whom unionization would then result in $4.5 million in additional annual operating costs. 

Some years ago, researchers John Dinardo and David S Lee conducted a study on “Economic Impacts Of New Unionization On Private Sector Employers,” in which they estimated the impact of unionization on business survival, employment, output, productivity, and wages. They concluded that increased wages and benefits have an insignificant impact on the market value of an organization. In the years since we have had reason to question the truth of this conclusion. Why did unionization play a significant role in the automobile industry crisis? How did unions figure into the Hostess crisis that laid off over 18,000 workers? It’s clear that the cost of unionization on a company can be devastating to its ability to survive in difficult times.

unionization costs

Do unions cost jobs and reduce the ability of a company to remain competitive?

The additional costs are real. The real estate firm Related, located in New York, sued construction unions because the unions were inflating costs by $100,000. The lawsuit said the company was being forced to pay up to $70 an hour for someone to pick up coffee. The union’s own financial struggles were being passed along to employers. Unnecessary high costs like this were a product of inefficient union work rules requiring more workers than necessary and New York’s prevailing wage law.  

While this is just one example, New York’s construction unions are not the only unions that have a problem because their retirement funds are in crisis. Unions need new members and younger workers to support retiring workers. In this case, in a completely legal scheme, New York’s construction unions were setting wage rates based not on costs or market rates but on their own need to fill their coffers. 

Gray estimates that the total additional annual operating expenses for an organization with a union presence range from $900,000 (for a company with 100 employees) to more than $4,000,000 (for a company with as many as 2000 employees.) These estimates do not include wages and benefits but do include items such as:

  • additional training on managing in a union environment  
  • additional Human Resources training and administrative support 
  • ongoing legal fees 
  • cost of arbitrations  
  • handling of grievances 
  • time spent in negotiations with each contract renewal 
  • lost productivity due to union work rules 
  • strike contingency planning to reassure customers 
  • security in the event of unrest 
  • lost sales margin against non-union competitors

Extending the research out to 10 years post-unionization, the Employment Policy Foundation (EPF) stated that a unionized company’s output per employee is 2.4 percent less than a union-free competitor if that unionized company experiences just a .25 percent reduction in productivity. The EPF concluded that, unless the unionized company could sell their product at a higher price or other cost savings could be attained, the unionized company is likely to see 14 percent less in profits per labor hour than their non-union competitor. 

In his book, “Union Proof – Creating Your Successful Union Free Strategy,” author Peter J. Bergeron noted that the cost of operating a unionized organization is estimated to be 25 to 35 percent higher than a union-free organization. Bergeron goes on to point out that unionized organizations lead to more extensive human resources staff, increased legal counsel, increased involvement with regulatory agencies, loss of flexibility, and increased labor costs due to rules on overtime, grievances, and arbitration processing and many other requirements.

The Impact Of Unionization on Corporate Valuation

David Lee conducted a second study, this time teaming up with another Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University, Alexandre Mas; this second study used a similar methodology to Lee’s earlier study with DiNardo and found that unionization reduced an organization’s market value by approximately $40,500 per worker eligible to vote in a unionizing campaign. 

A more recent project by Keegan Woods and Kelvin Jui Keng Tan at the University of Queensland looked at union influence from a different perspective. Does the influence of unions in the political arena in the United States have a negative impact on corporate value? If so, do corporations spend more than they would otherwise to try and offset union influence? The conclusion was that labor unions do have a negative effect on firm value through the political channel (lobbying paid for with union dues), forcing corporations to make more political contributions to stop the potential damage. This is particularly relevant today as the pro-union Biden administration and House of Representatives push for laws like the PRO Act, making it easier for employees, gig workers, and supervisors to join unions.  

With extensive operational costs and potential loss of market value, organizations must be diligent in their strategies to avoid unionization. An integral part of any successful union avoidance strategy is communication with employees.

As noted by Bergeron, “Companies that are afraid of the ‘U-word’ are the unions’ most accessible targets.”  

If your employees aren’t knowledgeable about unions, make sure that you are the one to provide that information – otherwise, the union will do it for you, and not in a beneficial way. Employers need to provide useful information. In short, employees need to see current, relevant factual information. They need to know about the things that can affect them, and they need to know that upper management... is aware of the challenges they face on a daily basis.” 

The Library of Economics and Liberty points out that economists studying unions analyze them as cartels that restrict labor supply to force wages above the competitive levels. Think of apprenticeship programs for the trades. They limit the supply of labor. Once a union wins an election, they have monopoly power to represent all employees. Unions get their monopolistic power from government policy and laws that protect them from things like antitrust laws and force employers to make their property available for union use. When employers face increased costs and are forced to pay higher wages, they inevitably hire fewer workers.

Make sure that you are the one to provide knowledge about #unions to your employees – otherwise, the union will do it for you, and it won't benefit you! #unionproof #costofunionization



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The True Cost of Unionization

Given all the factors working in favor of unions, now is the time for companies to embrace the new Proactive Era and take measures to make sure employees understand the value of their signature and their voice. 

cost of union

How do employer costs per hour worked compare for a union vs. non-union workforce?  

A 2021 study released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) supports these claims. Researchers found that, as of March 2021, union-free employees were paid an average of $25.43 per hour, while union employers in the same sector were obligated to $30.24 per hour. Additionally, unionized workers received $20.49 per hour in benefits, whereas union-free employers were able to keep benefits costs to $10.03 per hour per covered employee. Union dues are not accounted for in this study, but does any of that matter if the company – or entire industry – collapses under the strain? The differences in the cost of unionization to a company are significant when annualized. 

Union organizers and supporters may quote numbers like these and point to the fact that non-union workers have median weekly earnings that are 84 percent of the earnings for union workers. They cherry-pick facts, leaving out a large piece of the total picture.  

If you don’t talk to employees about the true cost of unionization, they will only hear the union’s interpretation of statistics. 

Back before 2000, most companies lived in the Reactive Era, only talking about unions – and investing in remaining union-free - when there was an active organizing campaign. But constant fire-fighting was exhausting, and we all realized we needed to get out in front of union activity. As we worked diligently to understand what employees were thinking, the last two decades have been characterized as the Engagement Era. Positive employee relations was really coming into its own, and the cost of preventing unionization shifted to investments in avenues for campaign readiness, feedback, input, and so many employee surveys. 

Then, we ushered in 2020, a pandemic, corporate social responsibility, and the beginning of a new era in labor and employee relations. 

As leaders today, we’re expected to step up and stay one step ahead of the challenges facing workers today. This shift has ushered us into a new era of labor and employee relations – the Proactive Era

What does it mean for you and the future of your positive employee relations strategy? Every union-free employer must take preventive action now – building positive employee relations with employees to let them know how much they are valued, not just for their output, but for their skills and input as well.

Employers should consider it their responsibility to educate and inform employees of the reality of the cost of unionization. The marketplace is challenging and competitive; make sure you and your employees understand the cost of unionization in order to stay ahead. 

NLRA stay-union free

How the NLRA Can Help You Stay Union-Free

Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) in 1935 to “protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy.” As an employer, you may want to shy away from training on the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), because you want to remain union-free, but that’s generally a bad idea. Not only do your employees have a right to know this information, but exemplifying honesty and transparency (and overall authentic leadership) will create an environment where unions simply aren’t necessary.

Helping employees understand their rights under the NLRA can actually help you remain union-free, and establish trust between employees and leadership. This, in turn, builds a stronger workplace culture and improves employee engagement and retention. We’ll cover some of the basics about the rights your employees have under the NLRA, but also share the rights that employers have when it comes to union organizing activities as well.

NLRA

Communicate With Your Employees

Union organizers love to throw around the idea that forming a union is a right protected by the National Labor Relations Act – which is, of course, completely true. But a strong, union-proof workforce also knows that the law also protects their right to NOT form a union. By educating employees on this one simple fact, you can simply and elegantly support employee efforts to remain union-free. For a more in-depth breakdown of employee rights during union organizing, click here. It’s also important to remind your employees of some of the common misconceptions surrounding union organizing. Often, when union organizers make promises to your employees, like safe working conditions and fair wages, they are insinuating that they are not already entitled to such things. However, these are legal rights your employees already have.

It’s essential you maintain an open-door policy in your workplace so that employees know they can express concerns and potential grievances, ask questions, and know that their voices are being heard. Lack of communication can lead to your team members succumbing to union organizing pressure, so that they can finally feel “heard” — when you can take proactive steps to lessen the likelihood that employees feel they need a union in the first place.

Employee Rights Under the NLRA

As powerful as that idea is, diminishing your NLRA training’s impact to just that would be short-sighted.  The NLRA discussion is important for a variety of reasons. All your workers have employee rights under the NLRA, and they deserve to know what those rights are. By informing employees of their rights yourself, you create an open dialogue and level of trust with your employees that they wouldn’t ordinarily have. By helping them understand their rights, you’re showing them that you’re on their side, and genuinely have their best interests in mind. Plus, you’re letting them know that you aren’t scared of unions, though you can certainly let them know about your union-free views. To take additional preventative measures, you can find out if your workplace is already vulnerable to union organizing.

So, what rights do your employees have under the NLRA? For one, they can organize a union to discuss terms of employment, including wages. They are free to form a union, join an existing union or assist a union. They can bargain themselves or via representatives about hours, wages and other concerns. Additionally, employees may also strike or picket under certain conditions. Most importantly, they can also opt out of all of these activities. Under the NLRA’s Section 7 rights, it is illegal for either the employer or the union to threaten or harass employees for any reason. Your employees should know these rights and understand them. Of course, while your team members have rights, so do you. Both employees and employers have rights when it comes to union organizing. Here is a list of 30 things employers can do regarding unions.

Beyond a preventive approach, if you do receive a petition for an election from a union, you should immediately begin educating your employees about their rights under the NLRA. Because of newer “ambush election” laws, you may only have about two weeks to speak to your employees before a secret ballot election is held. This short period of time is the only opportunity you’ll have to speak to your employees about the effects of unionization, so use the time wisely.

employee rights under NLRA

Train and Empower Your Leaders

It’s not only overwhelming to understand and relay all the rights your employees have under the NRLA, but it can be difficult and time-consuming to educate yourself and your leaders to do so. This is why many companies seek expert help when developing employee communication systems and training programs. Labor law has become a very complex issue to manage without professional assistance, and this is why a Labor Relations professional within your organization is such an important resource.

If you’re worried about the possibility of a union, try talking to your employees about the NLRA. By starting a frank, honest discussion, they’ll see you as an ally, which will make your company – and your workforce – that much more union-proof. If you need more assistance when it comes to labor relations and leadership training, Projections and our partners at UnionProof would love to help you find a solution and protect both yourself and your employees.

Virtual union organizing from Unionproof

Virtual Union Organizing: The Latest Strategy for Employees

Before online connectivity, every stage of union organizing became apparent fairly quickly. Organizers had to hand out fliers, meet at the union hall, and knock on employees’ doors. That was then, and this is now. Today, virtual union organizing is enabling workers to connect through websites, social media, and union organizing-focused apps. The approaches may vary but the goal is the same: giving unions the ability to organize online with ease.

Supplementing “Once Upon a Time” Union Organizing

The strategy unions used after years of success was simple, clear-cut and easy to see. There are five basic steps unions use to organize employees: spread the message, notify the NLRB, run an organizing drive, hold an election and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. As UnionProof explains, there is a step-by-step process for a union campaign that has become relatively predictable over the decades.

Two events are significantly changing this “old-fashioned” form of organizing. The first is technology, giving people easy and private access to each other. The second is new generations of workers who embrace technology and have different perspectives about what employee voice entails and different expectations concerning management, work, and the workplace. Millennials and Gen Z have different ways of communicating. Social media, texts, audio apps, podcasts, and videos are more prevalent than any face-to-face communication.

So it’s not surprising that new ways of union organizing appear, like Alt-labor and various online organizing platforms. The latest step forward is Unit, an online platform where employees can create their own legal labor union. Others are not labor unions as defined by law, but are employees organizing just the same. Younger generations of workers view the concept of organizing with a new perspective, making staying union-free even more challenging. Sites like unitworkers.com along with apps like Signal and Clubhouse make virtual union organizing easy, convenient, and largely, secret .

Virtual Union Organizing Tactics

Getting The Message Out With Technology

Not long ago we discussed the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), which was formed as a non-contract union, designed to address Corporate Social Responsibility. It isn’t an NLRB-certified labor union. It is an employee group that agreed to pay dues and to have a single voice, similar to a union. Anyone can join the “club” that is connected to Google, including gig workers. A national union is helping the employees, of course – the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The virtual union organizing effort was kept silent for a year, and technology was the major enabler initially and is making rapid growth in membership possible. 

A company called Unit of Work is now taking virtual union organizing to the next level, enabling the formation of an NLRB-sanctioned labor union.

Calling itself “a new kind of labor union.” unitworkers.com is a kind of union in an app – that caters to younger workers. The platform and process are designed to encourage employees to participate by making the process of forming a legal labor union and negotiating a contract as simple as possible. It’s meant to attract employees who don’t necessarily want to get involved with a national union but have no idea how to organize.

Everything is done via the app:

  • An employee creates a Unit
  • The Unit originator gets the conversation going about a workplace issue and possible solutions
  • Coworkers are invited to join Unit and find tools for sharing anonymously, digitally, and/or in-person
  • After 70 percent of coworkers sign the petition, Unit submits the petition to the National Labor Relations Board
  • A vote is held via mail or in-person
  • If a majority of people vote “yes,” a Unit Union is formed
  • Unit handles all necessary paperwork, including contract management

Employees pay a fee of .8 percent of monthly earnings to Unit. Employees can also vote to pay additional union dues for their own projects, attorney fees, local union campaign costs, and/or social events. Reading Unit’s webpage, “Common Questions About Unions,” the explanations designed to justify unionizing point to the importance of developing positive employee relations by giving employees a voice.

  • Will an employee joining a labor union affect the ability to get raises or promoted” The answer: “You get a voice” in how the union negotiates.

  • Will unionizing hurt the employer? The answer: Unionizing helps the employee and employer make sure needs are met, which requires giving workers a voice to express needs.

  • Is Unit Union different from traditional unions? Answer: Employees get to vote on everything that happens in the union, and they get access to digital voting and communication tools.

  • Can we run an independent union ourselves? Answer: Unit is being built from the ground up to make running an independent labor union easy and rewarding. Please let us know if there is a feature you want that we aren’t talking about.

Unit Union employees are free to affiliate with a conventional labor unit at any time, suggesting Unit might be working with the national unions. Unit of Work, Inc. developed Unit platform through the efforts of three people who have years of organizing experience per their online bios. They surely have connections in the major national unions and praise large unions’ ability to “bring pressure against employers and support local unions.”

Virtual Union Organizing Overcoming Common Issues with Labor Unions

It is interesting to note that Unit specifically addresses the common anti-union arguments and claims this new tech-based organizing approach is designed to eliminate the significant issues. For example:

  • Employees can track how their dues are spent online at any time, which prevents corruption

  • Employees can cancel the Unit Union contract at any time

  • Employees can choose how much they want to pay for dues

  • Employees can say they don’t want any dues sent to politicians

  • Unit allows employees to decide what they want to negotiate individually, like pay, versus what is negotiated collectively.

Online Union Organizing Is Private

The goal is for virtual union organizing to take place before the employer finds out. There is a growing number of communication apps that focus on user anonymity. Though not explicitly designed for creating a labor union, they are ideal for undetected communication. These tools also enable organizers to reach out to employees in any location and recruit support for their cause.

The nonprofit Signal designed a platform that enables secure messaging through end-to-end encryption. Privacy is built into the system, so only people in a particular conversation can see messages, videos, stickers, file transfers, photos, voice calls, and listen to and view video calls. It can handle up to 1,000 people on a group chat and up to eight people on a group call. The messaging app is so secure, even Signal’s owners can’t monitor whatever is shared. It also has a self-destructing messaging feature.

“We recently wrote about the Clubhouse App because it is indicative of the trend in social media in which a platform is designed to specifically bring together like-minded people,” explains Jennifer Orechwa, COO, Projections, Inc. “Technologies like Signal and the Clubhouse App have a real potential to change how unions connect with employees and how employees connect with each other.”

The apps are accessible via a computer, mobile phone, or tablet. Mobile apps make it easy for employees to communicate 24/7 and for unions to gain access to employees. It was more difficult when union organizers had to arrange meetings in a physical location to share information and get signatures on union authorization cards.

Turning the Tables with Technology for Positive Employee Relations

Unit Workers, like all virtual union organizing enablers, emphasize employee voice as a source of empowerment. They are using technology to support connecting employees in legal and non-traditional labor unions. Apps and other tech tools are used to develop online relationships, especially important in a workforce that consists of remote workers who can rapidly become disengaged.

Ironically, labor unions and employers have a common goal: develop positive employee relations because there must be a certain level of trust before people will thoughtfully listen. Achieving positive employee relations is a process that requires ongoing communication, innovation, and a thoughtful ,strategic approach.

Bottom line:  You can turn the tables on virtual union organizing and give employees access to the same type of communication tools – mobile apps allowing messaging, chat sessions, videos, pictures, file sharing, and most importantly, connection. Video calls and podcasts add a personal element. Giving employees and their families easy, 24/7 access to a fact-based dedicated website is a crucial union prevention strategy. Your site should include company positives, making the business case for remaining union-free, and fact-based information on the union. Add an FAQ page and the ability to ask questions anonymously, and you are offering the same opportunities as the emerging apps, maintaining your direct connection with team members.

Then train your leaders, providing skills to support employees and promote positive employee relations, employee engagement, employee voice, and employee empowerment. Employees need to be able to connect to each other and to managers and supervisors in meaningful and exciting ways.

Online Labor Organizing

Communication Determines Culture

The truth is the type of communication in an organization determines the culture. As Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, wrote in a Harvard Business Review article, “While work cultures are unique to every organization, the foundation of what enables a culture to thrive is the extent to which employees are empowered to be engaged, feel valued, and be heard. This is where leadership comes in.” She explains that leaders in a survey believed they were doing what is necessary to build and improve a positive culture, but 45 percent of employees said their leaders are either putting out minimal effort or are not committed to improving their organization’s culture.

The recommendation is for leaders to prove to employees they want to create a positive culture by putting some of the power to impact culture into employee’s hands by:

  • Allowing employees to give feedback and acting on that feedback
  • Giving employees the power to speak up when they disagree or have issues with management
  • Building a culture of recognition in which leaders and employees acknowledge and appreciate each other frequently
  • Encouraging employees to interact with each other on a day-to-day basis to strengthen workplace relationships, which can be online or in office
  • Developing leaders who can provide guidance to employees on improving relationships, i.e., encouraging employees to talk to coworkers they don’t know well, suggesting groups or projects, etc.

Positive employee relations are genuinely about having a culture of honest, encouraging, supportive communication. Technology is a powerful supporting tool. You want your employees to use apps as a source of support for the role they play in organizational success, a path to giving and receiving feedback, collaboration, and recognition – and not for virtual union organizing.

Avoid Complacency

Unions are constantly seeking alternative ways to reach your employees. Apps are the current focus. As the unions and individuals with union organizing experience develop new ways to organize non-union employees, it’s easy for employers to get complacent. Virtual union organizing apps have limited success to date, and in the meantime, employers read that unionization rates are declining. You may think that employees don’t want a union.

Four things are making this perspective a risky proposition. The pandemic has brought change, but other long-term factors are very likely to see union membership increase. One is that millennials and Gen Z will continue to grow as a percent of the workforce, and organizing online makes sense for them. Second, the federal government’s full force is backing unions for at least the next four years, pushing legislation like the PRO Act with other labor bills to follow without a doubt. Third, there are social and economic inequalities, and inequities are driving employees to find a collective voice to demand change.

Fourth, and finally, the use of apps as organizing tools is far from a mature strategy. It is very likely they will be increasingly used as people get more comfortable with the concept. This is a classic perfect storm of events leading to greater risk and more certification elections in the near future.

oppose a union organizing campaign

What Can Employees Do to Oppose A Union Organizing Campaign?

As a community, we often discuss how employers can oppose a union organizing campaign – and what cannot be done. We have even written here about what employees can do and say when they don’t support unionizing. Today, staying union-free gets more difficult by the day due to a union-friendly U.S. administration and turmoil created by events like a pandemic, remote work, technology leading to job changes and required worker skills, and a growing gig workforce. 

Now, it’s a great time to be sure you understand employees themselves can do to push back against union organiizng. It’s a fact that one thing that’s not reported in the media (by labor-friendly politicians and labor unions themselves) is how employees who want to stay union-free can fight back against the social pressures to organize. 

Helping Employees Help Themselves

While Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act supports workers’ right to organize, it also supports their right oppose unionization – and in fact, protects their right to be open about that opposition. Employees can push back on unions. That’s a fact. They can wear “NO union” pins and t-shirts, refuse to sign a union card, and report illegal union activities to management.

Educating employees can be as simple – and as challenging – as showing a video that explains their rights, like “Push Back.” This resource can help you understand what your employees can do to help stay union-free. Here’s a quick review of the legal steps you can take to support their efforts. 

Taking Personal Action

Here are a few things your employees can do when they want to stay union-free.

  • Post positive statements about their employer on social media
  • Explain false union statements, using social media or face-to-face meetings
  • Meet with coworkers in their homes and one-on-one
  • Hold offsite social gatherings to discuss the impacts of unionizing
  • Defend the NLRA rights of their manager or supervisor to lawfully oppose unionization, express an opinion and explain facts about the union, overcoming the misconception the employer has to stay silent during a union organizing campaign
  • Refuse to meet with union representatives, accept their phone calls or answer their emails
  • Form a “no union” task group of fellow employees
  • Talk to the media about their opposition to unionizing

In fact, your employees who oppose joining a union can take action like posting pictures of the union behaving badly on Instagram or post podcasts as a post link or video on Facebook that describes how much they enjoy their work, how your organization empowers employees, and the company’s open-door policy, to name a few tech-based options. 

employees oppose union organizing

Employees Can Support Coworkers

During a union organizing campaign, employees supporting unions focus on negatives. They forget all the good aspects of the workplace, don’t remember the way the supervisor adjusted the work schedule to accommodate family needs, and fail to remember how management was transparent about operational changes. 

All the union wants is for employees to see themselves as “victims” of management. But employees can resist and focus on reminding coworkers of the positives.

Employees can remind coworkers that being union-free means they:

  • have excellent wages and benefits, provided by the company
  • have the ability to personally speak with management concerning many job-related issues, like scheduling and promotions
  • don’t have to pay union dues that often go to support issues, projects, and political parties with which they might not agree
  • have the power to personally negotiate grievance resolutions
  • can’t be forced to risk their paycheck and go on strike

Anti-union employees can also remind coworkers that times have changed. Even today, unions focus on changes they brought to the workplace in the early 1900s. We’ve advanced as a society and these changes are now part of our laws.

Amazon has built a facility in Bessemer, Alabama, and has a union vote coming up at the end of March 2021. A union organizer made an interesting comment concerning the new facility built on land once owned by U.S. Steel, a solid union operation. “I truly believe that if we win,” says Joshua Brewer, an RWDSU (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union) organizer in Alabama who’s working on the Bessemer campaign, “it will be because grandparents and uncles and parents talked to these young folks who work out here and said, this helped me, and it’s a good thing.” 

Times have changed since grandparents and uncles and parents joined unions. Today, employees have legal protections, all monitored by various government entities, making unions unnecessary. There are laws and regulations requiring safe working conditions, healthcare benefits, leave time, paid holidays and sick leave, and retirement security. There are anti-discrimination laws, too, and several agencies employees can access when they believe their employer is treating them unfairly. Even better for employees is the fact they don’t have to pay fees out of their earnings to get representation! 

It’s a major reason unions had to come up with new non-traditional issues to address.

Keeping it Factual Rather than Emotional

Your employees who want to stay union-free can talk about these facts, and you can provide the information they need. Anything that is a fact is legal. One option is to add a web page to your employee-facing union-focused website (aka a dark website taken live), with the facts your employees can use to talk to coworkers about why they want to remain union-free.

It’s not easy to oppose unionizing, so respect the employees that do. It’s not easy to tell emotional coworkers why they want to remain union-free. The pressure placed on people is intense. During the Amazon campaign mentioned earlier, organizers set up a tent close to the Amazon warehouse that has snacks. “We haven’t had to buy doughnuts, coffee, or food for four months,” the RWDSU organizer says. “Local unions are always coming by the tent, feeding our organizers. There’s very much a brotherhood and a sisterhood here of union people.” 

So your employees may be up against a tide of support for the union from co-workers; something that’s far more difficult to oppose than some outside union organizers.

Every day for months, the RWDSU members from local businesses stood outside the Amazon facility from 3:30 AM to 8 PM to talk to Amazon employees. Social pressure is a major challenge to overcome. A group of workers from multiple businesses making your employees feel special goes right to the emotions rather than reason. 

Understanding Union Behaviors

The Jobs with Justice Education Fund published a 30-page guide titled, Making the Case for Union Membership: The Strategic Value of New Hire Orientations. It was written for union leaders and their staff. Though directed at recruiting new hires in a place already unionized, it supplies valuable information you can use to help employees who want to stay union-free understand union behaviors, so they aren’t blind-sided and can pass on the information to coworkers.

  • Unions don’t like being described as third-party entities that are separate from employees. So they say “we” a lot to promote community. Your employees can remind coworkers the unions are not “we,”  they are a “them.”
  • Unions use language carefully. Sometimes, the language is focused on promoting employee hostility. Unions also use language intended to make employees feel special, like “working people” instead of “worker” and “joining together” instead of just “joining.” It’s emotional manipulation that your employees can recognize and resist if you help provide the education and tools.
  • Unions present joining a union as moving towards something positive and won’t talk about their own shortcomings. Encourage employees to do their own research into the union’s finances, membership statistics, strike record, and even the union’s constitution. When you educate team members about the specific union trying to target them, they can share what they learn with co-workers.
  • Unions use psychological tools like presenting employees with a list of rights and opportunities they won’t have if they don’t join a union. Employees who want to stay union-free can warn coworkers they should be wary of any such list, as these rights are protected by law.
  • Unions hold meetings before the vote in which representatives are caring and concerned for employees. But the Freedom Foundation found public records from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) that documented highly coercive SEIU 755 meetings with new hires. Your employees can explain to coworkers how unions do whatever it takes to gain new, dues-paying members and to not let emotions or fear guide their decision-making.

As the Freedom Foundation describes an analysis of the documents, 

“In the documents, DSHS staff describe SEIU 775 organizers presenting at the I.P. contracting appointments as “aggressive,” “forceful,” “rude,” “unprofessional,” “coercive,” “demanding,” and “bullying.” These same staff report caregivers feeling, “pressured,” “misled,” “tricked,” “coerced,” “intimidated” and “forced” into signing SEIU membership forms. In at least one case, DSHS staff report a caregiver being reduced to tears by the high-pressure tactics of two SEIU organizers.”

oppose a union organizing campaign

Pressure to Support Unions

The social pressure to accept a union as the solution to every employee issue is more intense today than it has been for decades. The government and unions are seizing the moment of social unrest – and corporate responsibility – to support unions, so the PRO Act has been reintroduced in the House of Representatives.

Some businesses are discovering that social pressure is also coming from former employees and non-employees, taking the challenge of staying union-free to a newer, more challenging level.

For example, employees voted down a union at No Evil Food on February 13, 2020, but unionizing was not the current workforce’s idea. A former employee told Waging Nonviolence, “The union was brought up by past employees who originally were wanting higher wages, healthcare, and a voice within the company.” Once the current employees decided they needed a union, the laundry list of complaints became much longer – micromanagement, failure of COVD-19 prevention measures, turnover issues, shifting schedules, and other major issues.

Helping Employees Who Oppose Union Organizing

Your employees who don’t want to join a union are really fighting a groundswell of support for unions in general. You can help them in significant and legal ways. They include:

  • Leveraging positive employee relations by reinforcing management transparency and your open-door policy to encourage employees to ask questions
  • Encouraging employees to submit questions anonymously, online, to get clarification on issues or to verify something heard about the management or the way managers are responding to various union issues
  • Using your Campaign Central website, plus text messaging and dedicated social media to quickly correct misinformation and false promises spread by union representatives as soon as it’s discovered.

It’s important to reiterate that employers cannot tell employees how to vote or provide resources directly that do more than explain the company’s position on unions or suggest employees vote. Education, however, is a powerful tool. The information you provide must be allowed under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and legal within National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decisions, which means the information is from your perspective as an employer. You cannot speak for your employees. 

Union Not Needed

Anything said, written, or posted about the union must be factual too. You will face an Unfair Labor Practice charge if you don’t stick to the facts. A pushback employee may tell coworkers, ” don’t give your money to the union – it’s a corrupt organization that’s only in it for themselves.” What fact backs up the claims of corruption? What facts can you provide to legally fuel the union opposition from within?

In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement in a corruption investigation of the United Auto Workers (UAW). Twelve UAW officers were found guilty of embezzling union funds and defrauding union members. Wouldn’t an employee who doesn’t support unionizing want to know that fact if the UAW is trying to unionize the workplace? You can legally present this kind of information that your employees can then share with one another.

There will always be employees who don’t want to join a union. Supporting that internal effort with additional fact-based research, as videos, and websites can help those employees will push back, even bravely go public with their opinion.

Dawn Hoag is an Amazon worker at the Bessemer facility. Ms, Hoag told the A.P. News she is not voting for unionization for several reasons. One reason is that Amazon makes it clear to job applicants the physical work requirements are demanding. In addition, Hoag said she can speak up for herself and doesn’t need to pay a union to do it for her. “That’s just what I believe,” Hoag says. “I don’t see a need for it at all.”

Take Advantage of the Resources

Be authentic in your desire to maintain your direct connection. Give your employees the facts, the truth, transparency, and a voice to stay union-free. Projections, Inc. has all the tools and resources you need to keep the union out. Tools include leadership training, videos with targeted information, podcasts, customized web development, employee communication resources, union campaign tools, and more. You’re not alone in your desire to stay union-free, and with your support, neither are your employees who want to push back against unions. 

recognizing and addressing common union lies

Recognizing and Addressing Common Union Lies

Labor unions seem to have perfected the art of telling lies to employees and staying silent on topics that employees need to hear, like documented union corruption. Acknowledging the most common union lies or, at times, simply misconceptions, is critical to developing and sustaining a positive employee relations strategy among your organization. Engaging employees in a transparent, honest discussion about union lies by sharing labor union facts. It is one step in developing honest management and employee relations to stay union-free.

We’ll cover some of the most common misconceptions that we’ve seen arise in our experience in labor relations and in working closely with companies to maintain a union-free environment.

Fact-Checking Union “Statistics”

The AFL-CIO issues an annual report on executive pay in S&P 500 companies called the Executive Paywatch. The report says, “In 2019, CEOS of S&P 500 companies received, on average, $14.8 million in total compensation. The average S&P 500 company CEO-to-worker pay ratio was 264-1.” These impressive statistics are meant to convince employees that the organization’s management is greedy and underpaying the frontline workers.

Here’s the truth about these particular statistics. According to the American Enterprise Institute, the AFL-CIO manipulates the statistics, so they show what the union wants them to show. Scholar Mark Perry analyzed the union report’s details in 2017 and found a number of issues. One is that CEOs’ total compensation is compared to cash wages (no benefits) for employees working a mix of full-time and part-time hours. If the total hours for employees were used that are comparable to the hours a top executive works, the ratio significantly changes. 

That is just one example of how statistics can be manipulated. Perry also discusses the fallacy that one party can only gain at the expense of another. In his calculation, after confiscating all of the CEO compensation and redistributed it to workers, each rank-and-file employee would get an annual increase of $65 (3.7 cents per hour). 

Another issue per LaborPains is the fact the AFL-CIO cherry-picks CEOs running the largest companies to ensure the comparison of CEO pay to staff pay looks as bad as possible. When all Chief Executives are included, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found their average wages were $193,850, a far cry from $14.8 million. Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, earned $295,789, per a filing with the Department of Labor for 2017-2018.

common union lies

Common Union Lies and Misrepresentations

Here are statistics employers can believe: The number of certification elections roughly doubled every single month since the pandemic hit through June 2020 and continue to increase. The union win rate is up from 55 percent in June of 2019 to 76 percent in June of 2020. Businesses are more vulnerable to unionizing now than they have been in decades. 

Congressional Democrats have reintroduced the PRO Act, as expected. The new bill is almost identical to the original 2020 bill. The Democratic-controlled Congress and President Biden’s administration are moving fast to create a union-friendly government. The online newsletter “Join the Conversation” that Projections, Inc. publishes each Monday is filled with updates on increasing current union activity across the country. 

The Conversation newsletter is getting longer every week as unions ramp up their drive to grow their membership in collaboration with a union-friendly government and while employees remain in a state of turmoil initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic’s impact on the workforce has already been profound and will be long-term. 

This is a good time to do a round-up of effective employer actions and responses to union lies or union bluffs discussed in various UnionProof blogs. We are “herding” these reminders up, so you continue to take effective steps to avoid unionization and stay on top of false statements and bluffs made by labor unions. UnionProof has discussed a variety of union bluffs, so we wanted to make it easy for you to find explanations and responses your leaders need.

Union Lie 1: Employees have a say in how their dues are spent, and they only go to improve employee lives.

The truth is that union dues once remitted to the union are spent however union leaders see fit. Unions don’t ask their members to approve a budget. Union dues go for political campaigns, lobby groups, union administrator and staff salaries and benefits, administration and operating expenses, and more. We suggest you read:

Where Do My Union Dues Go?

Union Lie 2: Unions always try to solve problems peacefully and avoid strikes and protests. 

Clearly, this is not true. In fact, unions have used strikes and protests to pressure employers since the days they first appeared, and they don’t worry about the financial impact on the business. Now, unions have found new ways to form strikes and protests by using the internet, which will continue and grow. We suggest you read:

How Unions Hurt Workers: The 2019 GM Strike

The Virtual Walkout: Picketing in a High-Tech World

2021 – Current Trends in Labor Relations

Union Lie 3: Union decisions impacting employees are always made democratically.

Employees forming a union do not vote on every decision the union makes. They vote on the union contract. It is the selected union representatives who consult with management over issues and make decisions. We suggest you read: 

7 Leadership Challenges to Meet in 2021 to Stay Union-Free

Why Your Employees Need Union History Education

Union Lie 4: Management is greedy and only interested in making a profit.

Labor unions consistently fail to mention that companies must make a profit in order to achieve business sustainability, which means ongoing employment for people. Unions try to make the word “profit” equate to “evil capitalism” that hurts workers. Companies that don’t make a profit will not stay in business very long. We suggest you read:

How to Talk to Employees About Collective Bargaining

9 Things You Must Communicate to Employees to Stay Union Free

Union Lie 5: Unions guarantee employees that, if they vote for a union, they will be paid more or get an increase in benefits or both.

A company cannot raise wages just because the labor union thinks it should because there are always economic consequences. For example, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour in increments between now and June 2025 could cost 1.4 million jobs. Unions are strong proponents of the increase. The National Restaurant Association that represents 15.6 million employees says the increase will create “insurmountable costs” for the restaurant industry. We suggest you read:

The Real Effect Unions have on Wages 

Five Things Unions Promise that Employees Already Have

Pay Secrecy – Do You Know the Law?

Union Lie 6: Joining a union means an employee can’t be terminated without the union’s permission. 

This is false. You can terminate an employee for a legitimate reason, whether or not employees belong to a union. We suggest you read: 

Union-Free Job Security: 5 Ways to Show Employees It Exists

Union Lie 7: Unions promote a collaborative culture.

This is not true because unions expect employees to work within their grade and only perform specific duties in the job description. In fact, unions try to get “jurisdictional restrictions” in union contracts that prohibit employees from working outside their department or unit. We suggest you read:

5 Traits of a Union Proof Culture

Disadvantages of Unions on Company Culture

addressing common union lies and misconceptions

Tackling Common Lies With Positive Employee Relations

The way to counter common union lies is with facts, a key element of developing positive employee relations. For refresher information on developing positive employee relations strategy and identifying issues in your organization, Projection’s suggests reading the articles:

The challenge of staying union-free is that it takes a well-defined strategy incorporated into the employee engagement effort. There is no easy, quick way to develop positive employee relations and strengthen employee engagement. There are many resources for employers already developed that ensure employees are basing their decision-making on the truth about unions.

Resources For Employers

  • a live “dark website” that explains why staying union-free benefits employees
  • an employee-focused FAQ webpage that encourages employees to ask questions about unions anonymously and get feedback
  • accessible videos in which management and employees discuss the benefits of working for the company and the open-door policy. (great for building positive employee relations too!)
  • accessible videos and podcasts that deliver updated information about unions and union activities, including their negative behaviors
  • enterprise social media posts containing relevant information (i.e., how a union strike at competitor harms employees)
  • union dues and strike calculators that drive home the net impact of joining a union on the paycheck
  • e-learning presentations on unions
  • Onboarding and new hire orientation videos presenting the company’s union-free perspective

Videos, websites, e-learning programs, and other resources like podcasts can communicate information about unions to employees. At the same time, this shares information that builds positive employee relations. 

Leaders Telling the Truth About Unions

The really critical element of achieving both goals – strong employee engagement and a union-proofed business – is to develop leadership able to meet the challenges of staying union-free. Suppose your executives, senior leaders, managers, and frontline supervisors are not knowledgeable of union lies and manipulated facts, or their ranks include weak links as communicators and are not familiar with employer and employee rights per the NLRA. In that case, it’s easy to make a simple statement that leads to an expensive grievance procedure. From there, you will likely find your company dealing with a union campaign.

Engaging employees and maintaining positive employee relations is not as easy now as it was just a decade ago. There is a new business normal. Many employees are working remotely, globally, or at various business locations. Unions are reaching out to employees through the internet, and you may never know until a union campaign starts. There is now an invite-only audio drop-in app (Clubhouse app) where people can listen to and join private discussions. Unions regularly push discord, dissatisfaction, and a variety of issues that take root among disengaged employees.

Don’t Let Unions Be the Only Voice Your Employees Hear

The message (especially now that the current Democratic administration is vigorously pursuing pro-union legislation) is to make leadership training, communication of union facts, and employee engagement top priorities. Don’t avoid talking about unions because that doesn’t educate your employees to recognize and be educated about some of the most common union lies.

Take advantage of the union-facing resources developed by experts, consult a labor relations specialist, strengthen your communication procedures, and stay on top of what’s happening in government, with unions, competitors, and the general marketplace. Make developing positive employee relations your proactive defense against unionization because “let’s wait-and-see” what happens is no defense at all.

google alphabet workers union

You’ve Got Issues: Here’s What Companies Need to Know About Google’s “Alphabet Workers Union”

Early January 2021, two Google software engineers made a startling announcement. They had formed a union: the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU). This is not a National Labor Relations Board sanctioned labor union, though. It’s a minority union or a members-only union – a new brand of organizing that appeals to white-collar workers, tech workers, and independent contractors (gig workers). There was no need to sign union cards, petition the NLRB and hold an election. 

It was kind of like joining a club. You agree to join and pay some dues, which are to cover mostly legal fees and organizing costs. Of course, a labor union helped the Google employees organize in secret. In this case, it was the Communications Workers of America (CWA). For a year, activist employees worked with the CWA on structure, recruiting, and keeping efforts secret from Google’s leadership. Then on January 4, 2020, the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) was announced. 

Not a Real Union but a Union Just the Same

This is an unusual union because it is a non-contract union. Though 225 Google employees signed union cards with the CWA, the AWU only has NLRA collective bargaining protections and isn’t legally certified by the NLRB. Anyone who works for Google in North America (all 120,000) can join. “Anyone” means full and part-time employees, temporary workers, vendors, and contract workers. 

Of course, the CWA hopes the Google employees will eventually become card-carrying, full dues-paying members. The AWU is part of the Coalition to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA) project and belongs to CWA Local 1400. The AWU will elect representatives, make decisions democratically and hire professional organizers. The union doesn’t have a democratic mandate because most employees didn’t vote to designate it as their exclusive bargaining representative. So unlike a “real” union, the AWU can ONLY speak for its members.

The AWU membership is growing rapidly. As of January 24, 2021, membership has grown to 700 members in three weeks. The AWU website says members are “from Alphabet subsidiaries, TVCs (members of the temporary, vendor, and contractor workforce), both tech and non-tech job families, and people located all over the US and Canada.” One of the reasons a members-only union works best for tech workers is that employees are dispersed across the country. The traditional NLRB process would restrict who can join based on their location or job description. 

google alphabet workers

Here to Stay and Grow?

This all presents some interesting and sometimes puzzling scenarios. The AWU can’t speak for all employees yet is getting enormous media attention, making it seem as if they do. Employers don’t have to bargain with a minority union, but they can’t ignore them either. The AWU talks publicly about the lack of management response to employee issues, harming the company brand and reputation like a true union would do. 

But here is another puzzle. The AWU pays dues, but only one-percent, whereas the union dues to belong to a real union like the Teamsters is 2.5 percent. If this form of unionizing is successful, then why should employees join a real union and pay union dues and accept forced representation for themselves and anyone in the bargaining unit? The labor union’s intent to grow its membership base and revenues may not become a reality should minority unions grow. The potential is there for members-only unions to interfere with the traditional labor unions’ efforts to grow once again.

Non-Traditional Drivers of Unionization

There are so many issues revolving around the formation of the AWU. Traditional union issues like compensation/benefits weren’t the driving force for the engineers leading the formation of the AWU. The compensation plan for engineers is generous. Per Payscale, employees with the job title Staff Software Engineer earn an average annual salary of $158,308. A Senior Software Engineer earns an average of $155,225. This is just base pay. Again per Payscale, they earn bonuses and stock options too. A Staff Software Engineer earns an average annual bonus of $46,500.

The Google engineers formed the AUW for very different reasons than the traditional union issues. Even the claims that seemed standard are not. For example, the employees claim that Alphabet’s management has been unresponsive to employee issues over the past years. Still, this time the very modern issue concerns how management has handled sexual harassment allegations

But what makes this particular situation very different is the fact it portends big changes in workforce expectations as to their power to have a strong employee voice and influence in critical areas, like where a company invests resources; the type of projects conducted; the governmental and private partnerships a company forms; and the company’s ethics. It has always been managers that almost exclusively make these decisions.

The AWU members do not talk about pay, benefits, grievance procedures, and seniority rights for employees. They are talking about things like:

  • Paying all workers equal pay and benefits (contracted workers outnumber full-time employees)
  • Adhering to the original company mantra of “don’t be evil” and do good in the world and for its workers
  • Objecting to Google’s partnership with the Pentagon in the Project Maven drone computer vision project
  • The firing of AI-ethics leader Timnit Gebru
  • Insisting Google pledge to not work with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), US Customs and Border Protection (CPB), and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)
  • Promoting diversity and ensuring minorities receive equal treatment in every way
  • Having the right to decline to work on projects that don’t align with personal values

The Alphabet Workers Union may not be traditional, but it sure sounds like on. Its website says, “To fight the systems of oppression that persist to this day, we stand in solidarity with workers and advocates everywhere.” This is the language of unions.

AWU is a Formal Culmination of Past Informal Efforts

The AWU formalizes what has been happening over the last couple of years. In 2018, Google employees walked out to protest sexual harassment. In June 2019, Googlers Against Racism got over 1,000 employee signatures on a Coworker.org petition to urge Google management to take steps to promote diversity and end police contracts. Then, in August 2019, Google employees circulated a petition asking Google not to bid on government contracts they believed contributed to social injustice. 

When Timnit Gubru was fired, it was the mobilizer for taking action. Gebru was a Google artificial intelligence researcher who raised ethics questions about AI in a paper authored by six people from Google and academia. A manager requested she removes her name or issues a retraction. She refused and was terminated. The reaction was swift and in defense of Gubru because she didn’t criticize Google or the company’s work in the paper. She addressed potential bias in AI. 

Recently, the NLRB issued a complaint in December 2020 that accused Google of unlawfully monitoring and questioning a few workers and then firing them to protest company policies and organize a union. 

The AWU suits a tech company because so many temporary and contract workers are employed. They cannot organize in an NLRB-recognized union right now. That could change over the next four years as a pro-union Democrat-held Congress pushes for unions with legislation like the PRO Act. The AWU can accept anyone’s membership, which gives it a massive advantage over a traditional labor union. The organizing was done in secret by using social networks. There were no public union organizing rallies – just a one-by-one sign up until the announcement in January 2021.

risk of union organizing

Striking a Balance

Looking at the reasons the AWU formed makes it very clear that employees expect to be participants in decision-making and have a say in critical issues like who the company does business with and how it handles workplace issues. Employees increasingly act more like shareholders than traditional workers. Meredith Whittaker, one of the 2018 Google walkout participants, told The Verge, “I’m not interested in a movement about kind of tea workers have in the free snack kitchen. This is a fight for power over everything at Google – what they build, how they treat people, whether certain parts of the company should exist.”

Like shareholders, employees want a vote on how a company is run. The AWU is like a metaphor for the group of non-controlling shareholders who show up at a Board of Directors meeting to demand the company end an environmentally damaging project or protect human rights in the supply chain. The AWU showed up to demand the company listen to its employees about critical issues like justice and equality, workplace harassment, discrimination, ethics, corporate culture. 

As an employer, you are at a critical juncture. You must find the balance between giving employees a voice in decision-making without giving up your right to make the final decision. Employers must increasingly treat employees like shareholders, who have the right to give input and have a “vote” to express an opinion but don’t have the final say. The global employment law firm Littler pinpoints the difficult challenge employers face by pointing out that members-only agreements are not unlawful under the NLRA, but “…companies need to develop ways to strike a balance among rebuffing these groups’ demands, maintaining credibility within a workforce that consists of activist employees, and also, maintaining credibility with broader external audiences that are watching to see how the company reacts.”

What a challenge! “The path to finding the balance is by developing positive employee relations, utilizing all the strategies and tactics that promote strong employee engagement through effective leadership,” says Jennifer Orechwa, Chief Operating Officer at Projections, Inc. “When employee relations are built on a positive foundation, employees can respect and understand decisions, even when they don’t agree with them. The reason is simple: there has been good communication between management and the workforce. Communication, including feedback, is a key element of positive employee relations.” 

One of the major reasons the AWU formed was because employees believed management was unresponsive, meaning there was a lack of communication. 

Management Mindset 

Following are some best practices in treating employees like shareholders. They will look familiar because they are precisely what each organization should be doing to stay union-free.

  • Consider employees as shareholders who bring value to the business through their investment of time and effort in the company
  • Keep employees informed of projects and why the projects were undertaken 
  • Make sure leadership is accessible to all employees
  • Maintain consistency in ethical behaviors and decision-making
  • Get buy-in for changes because it’s lack of information that makes employees nervous
  • Ask and give feedback
  • Communicate policies and procedures and the reasons they exist
  • Be transparent about compensation decisions 
  • Develop valid unbiased talent management processes throughout the entire employee experience
  • Help employees become participants in problem-solving rather than announcing solutions that did not receive employee input
  • Reinforce a positive organizational culture
  • Make real commitments on critical issues like social equity and racial and gender equality rather than falsely believing perks keep people placated

Frankly, fostering employees as shareholders comes down to effective leadership communication. You need emotionally intelligent leaders, problem solvers, uniters, and good communicators. Not all of the AWU issues revolve around people merely feeling like their concerns are ignored. As employees become social and workplace advocates and utilize the power of social media to drive change, managers will need to approach their workforce with a collaborative mindset.

Projections, Inc. is always ready to help employers stay union-free and develop leaders with strong employee engagement skills. We have a wealth of resources specifically designed to help employers develop positive employee relations. 

disadvantages of unions on company culture

Disadvantages of Unions on Company Culture

The question is: What are the disadvantages of unions on company culture? “The entire dynamics of the company culture change,” says Jennifer Orechwa, Chief Operating Officer at Projections, Inc., “and the harsh reality is that it is often not for the better without a clear strategy to protect and maintain a positive culture and positive employee relationships.”

Company culture is frequently thought of as an intangible asset in many cases. But take a deeper dive into what makes up the culture, and it’s a tangible asset. It’s not some vague concept. The type of organizational culture is a tangible component of the organization that encompasses values, ethics, attitudes, working styles, stakeholder interactions, and innovation. It also includes employee engagement level, morale, and performance. The tangible aspect of culture makes it something effective leadership doesn’t leave to develop on its own. Effective leaders deliberately design and develop a culture and then leverage it to improve employee engagement and organizational performance.

Let’s Talk About Organizational Culture First

Company culture is essential for many reasons. One is that it differentiates your company from other companies, contributing to making you an employer of choice. It seems intangible because it’s anchored in mindsets, unspoken behaviors, social patterns, and the employee experience

In a Harvard Business Review Spotlight Series, researchers discuss organizational culture, making the point that “culture and leadership are inextricably linked,” and influential leaders can “shape the culture, through conscious and unconscious actions.” The authors define culture as: 

“The tacit social order of an organization: It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive. Culture can also evolve flexibly and autonomously in response to changing opportunities and demands. Whereas the C-suite typically determines strategy, culture can fluidly blend the intentions of top leaders with the knowledge and experiences of frontline employees.” 

The fact that conscious actions can shape culture is just more proof that culture is tangible.

Organizational Culture Impacts Everyone

Organizational culture impacts everyone in the organization, from the CEO to the frontline workers. Some brands have developed such a strong culture that just saying the brand name evokes a sense of its culture. Starbucks claims a culture that was initially viewed as inclusive, warm, collaborative, and friendly. Leaders put employees first so that employees would put customers first. Yet, things can change fast unless leadership understands what employees are thinking and experiencing; when employees have unresolved grievances and turn to the union for assistance, the culture changes. The internet is now full of stories about employees accusing Starbucks of low wages, poor working conditions, understaffing, and discrimination against certain groups of people, safety concerns, and more. Most stories involve unions in some way because unions thrive on negativity.

The Starbucks Workers Union was formed in 2004 by the Industrial Workers of the World for the sole purpose of organizing retail employees. Unionizing Starbucks sites has not stopped in the U.S. In other countries, there has been ongoing unionizing of Starbucks employees. As recently as August 2020, the United Steel Workers Union was voted in by the workers at a Starbucks drive-thru in Victoria, Canada. It was the first time the USW had organized a union drive digitally. 

What does this have to do with organizational culture? Unions are organizing by convincing employees that joining a union is the only hope for getting fair treatment, and leadership is often not even aware the organizing is going on. Long before a union vote is taken, the company’s positive culture is being eroded by disgruntled employees, many turning to social media to discuss working conditions.

disadvantages of labor unions

It’s Not One or the Other: Culture and Strategy Must Work Together

Peter Drucker said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can develop a great strategy, but the culture determines if the strategy will work. At UnionProof, we believe culture and strategy must work together. You can’t stay union-free and have one without the other – a great culture without a union-free strategy or a negative culture with a great union-free strategy. The strategy should be a good fit in the culture, and the culture should support the strategy. A positive culture makes it much less likely employees will turn to a union. They will talk to management. 

If culture is tangible and can be impacted by leaders, then culture can be affected by a union. When unions get involved, the company culture will inevitably change and seldom for the better. Following are some of the union disadvantages on company culture. 

Labor Unions Discourage Individuality and Encourage Groupthink

Like any membership organization, unions want people to think and act in a certain way. This is one of the many disadvantages of unions since groupthink is essential to union success, where individuality encourages new thoughts, ideas, and collaborative efforts. Groupthink is defined as a phenomenon that occurs when people feel the need to conform or that dissent is impossible. It also discourages individuality. It can also lead to situations in which employees ignore moral or ethical consequences to avoid disagreeing with the consensus. A third consequence of groupthink is some employees that don’t want to join a union are afraid to say so and just go along with the crowd. It is not a good dynamic in a business environment where creativity and diverse perspectives are important to business success.

Unions Discourage a Collaborative Culture and Influence Work Norms

A truly collaborative culture is one in which employees are encouraged to work with people across functions and departments and to work with management to solve problems and innovate. Unions don’t like employees “working out of grade” or performing duties that aren’t specifically in their job description. There are often “jurisdictional restrictions” in union contracts. If an employee works out of their area, it opens up a whole set of issues that include union contract compliance.

Union contracts create a productivity disadvantage for two reasons. One is that unions usually impose restrictive work rules when negotiating union contracts. Management is restricted from organizing work activities. Employees are prohibited from being more productive (production limitations), working across jurisdictions (cross-department, function, location, etc.), and taking on responsibilities not explicitly included in their job descriptions. The second productivity disadvantage is that union members are expected to be supportive of other union members. You may have personnel work issues in one department that have nothing to do with other departments, but union members will join forces across the organization.

Labor Unions Make it Difficult to Identify Leadership Potential

Unions are diligent about ensuring regular staff doesn’t assume any leadership roles, even willingly. They are always striving to get as many people as possible who are supervisors and currently can’t join a union reclassified. When the PRO Act is passed (UnionProof assumes it will be since the Democrats are now in charge and wrote the legislation), there will likely be a surge of union efforts to have many employees reclassified from non-union to union-eligible status. Many current non-union employees are frontline supervisors. The general impact will be to discourage employees from showing leadership potential. 

Disadvantages of Labor Unions Continued

Labor unions discourage personal initiative – Most union contracts require promotions based on next-in-line rather than competencies. This isn’t very encouraging to people who excel in their jobs and deserve to advance. Watching someone less competent (in some cases) get the higher-level position only because of seniority harms the workplace culture.

A we-they attitude develops in unionized companies – Unions promote a we-they workplace attitude in which employees (we) assume management (they) will always try to take advantage of employees. This negative attitude leads to a culture of suspicion, which increases the number of conflicts and grievances.

Adversarial relationships can develop at any time – There are places where management and the union work well together. The problem is that the union can quickly change the culture of cooperation by promoting an adversarial attitude among employees over an issue – usually a charge of unfair labor practice. The power play is always a union option, even when currently kept in check. Adversarial relationships are tense, unproductive, and will inevitably impact employer-employee engagement. 

The management-union relationship always maintains some level of wariness, for this reason, making it difficult to develop positive employee relations. It’s like a proverbial “dark cloud” hanging over the business. 

Labor Unions Resist Change

Companies must have a culture that embraces agility and flexibility, and that means having the ability to make changes and adapt as necessary to marketplace dynamics quickly. Unions usually resist change to protect union member interests. This difference in perspective means success is only possible through successful management-union negotiations, which is very difficult when unions resist change and end goals are different. 

Change adaptability is a significant component of the modern company. Legacy hierarchical organizational structures that unions are used to operating in are ineffective, which means they must be changed. Instead of the hierarchy, command-and-control structure, organizations are moving to a structure that empowers employees. Only 14 percent of the executives believe the model of hierarchal job levels based on specific area expertise makes the organization effective. 

Many forward-thinking companies have already adapted their structures. There is a need for a team-centric structure that encourages shared values and culture, the free flow of feedback and information, and employees rewarded for their skills and abilities and not their position. These are organizational culture features that are in direct opposition to the union culture. In social enterprise, individuals are empowered. Unions say they give each employee a voice, but in reality, it’s a collective voice in which individuals are only empowered through union membership. 

Labor unions create a separate culture – Paul F. Clark, author of the book Building More Effective Unions and School Director and Professor, Labor and Employment Relations at Penn State, points out that unions create their own culture among employees. He writes, “Many of us are familiar with the slogans, songs, jackets, parades, banquets, and picnics of unions because they are all part of the labor movement. To some, they are simply window dressing, unconnected to the important things that build an effective union. But these things are part of a potentially powerful phenomenon called “organizational culture.” (page 10) He mentions how union members call each other “brother” and “sister” to create a bond. 

The union culture must be integrated with the company’s culture of beliefs, attitudes, values, and objectives to achieve a truly positive organizational culture. Employees must be fully engaged in their workplace culture in order for management to develop strong employee engagement. It can be very difficult to integrate two cultures because one must be willing to be a subculture, something neither entity wants to do. 

Compounding the Disadvantages of Union Membership

There are many disadvantages of union membership. Each of the impacts on culture can be viewed from the employee’s perspective. Union employees lose their right to speak for themselves, pursue their career goals as they see fit, work with whomever they want to work with, collaboratively solve problems with management, and agree to changes they approve of without union intervention. For these privileges, employees must pay union dues, receiving less net pay while knowing the dues are spent in whatever manner the union leaders see fit. 

The disadvantages of union membership are compounded by the disadvantages unions bring to company culture. Notice that most of the union disadvantages are interrelated. Creativity is needed for innovation, and innovation flourishes in a culture of change. Employees who are highly engaged are more productive and successful in a collaborative culture because they feel empowered. Unions can harm the very aspects of the culture that lead to success for employees and the company. 

Culture and strategy must work together. In a survey of senior executives at 1,348 North American firms, 92 percent believed that improving culture would increase its value. Still, only 16 percent believed their culture is where it should be. Executives linked culture to ethical choices, which includes short-termism, innovation, which includes creativity, and value creation, which includes productivity. 

Sharing Deep Knowledge of Labor Union Behaviors

UnionProof and A Better Leader professionals have worked over the decades with hundreds of large and small companies that are trying to stay union-free or effectively manage the company’s relationship with a union. Having studied union philosophies and behaviors for so many years, we have a deep understanding of unions’ influence on organizational culture. We can look ahead to the long-term impact of unions on your culture. 

Successfully negotiating a union contract has little to do with the union’s influence on the organization’s culture yet to come. Think of it like this: There is nothing in the contract union bargaining agreement that says: “Union representatives will always maintain a positive culture.”

The tools and resources developed through Projections, Inc. specifically and directly speak to the strategies for developing and maintaining a culture of employee empowerment and engagement. Culture may eat strategy for breakfast, but culture plus a positive employee relations strategy for staying union-free is a full day’s meal!

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