Do I Need to Create a Rapid Response Team to Prevent Union Organizing?

Labor unions are more active today than they have been for years, giving new importance to developing a Readiness Response Team (sometimes referred to as a Rapid Response Team) to ensure your company - and your team - are prepared to manage a union organizing campaign. An RRT provides your organization with peace of mind that not only can your leaders recognize the signs of employee dissatisfaction, but they’re prepared to respond.

A Readiness Respons or Rapid Response Team is a group of managers who consult with union experts and labor law attorneys to prepare in advance for potential union activity. However, their primary role is to engage employees, so they trust the employer enough to discuss unions openly regularly. 

A readiness response team is made up of key players, identified and specifically tapped for their role in the company’s positive employee relations strategy. These representatives are trained in specific strategies and tactics, utilizing role play scenarios and more to be prepared to support the company’s direct connection to its employees. 

Deciding to Invest in a Readiness Response Team

There is a time and place for a Readiness Response Team. Not every company needs one. If vulnerability assessments demonstrate that your risk of union organizing is low, simple preparedness can include developing a campaign-ready website that explains the company’s position on unions, reinforces the positive aspects of working for the company and focuses on employee engagement as best practice. 

Training leaders on a wide variety of soft skills from intentional conversations to conflict management to implicit bias can also help prevent unionization, but for companies in industries or areas where unions are aggressively active, the the Readiness Response Team can be crucial. If your company has experienced union organizing in the past, or if you’re concerned about risk factors, consult with a labor relations professional to assess the need for an investment in a Readiness Response Team.

By investing in this type of very specialized development and training, your company is making a commitment to support it’s direct connection to employees. But commitment is the key word - this investment isn’t just financial, it’s also an investment in time and energy.

Beyond that, your Readiness Response Team will need resources and ongoing support. Your executive leadership must make a commitment that developing the team is not a one-time endeavor but a long-term investment in the future of the organization.

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The Role of the Readiness Response Team

The goal of the RRT is clear: be prepared to address employee questions and concerns surrounding union organizing in an effort to meet their need for information. To reach that goal, determine the roles individual team members will take on. Those roles will be unique to your workforce and the ways in which you lead and communicate.

Think about the power of strategic, planned conversations versus more casual, informal interactions. Which will resonate with your employees? Make sure that your RRT members know how they are expected to interact, control the narrative and deliver information. Your training should reflect these expectations.

Take care that you don’t place undue expectations on your RRT. While they need a clear understanding of the NLRA, employee rights and the things that can and cannot be said by management during a union campaign, excessively citing legal references won’t connect with employee concerns during a union organizing drive. Help RRT team members learn to build rapport and engage employees on the things that matter.

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Readiness Timeline

Today, unions are emboldened by public support, a pro-union administration and an unprecedented interest in organizing, post-pandemic. Unions are not waiting for employees to approach them. They are actively and routinely seeking new members, disgruntled employees, and vulnerable employers. Beyond that, internal unions - formed by employees themselves - are becoming more and more common.

The timeline for deploying the Readiness Response Team is tightly tied to the typical union campaign timeline, so let’s review that first. NLRB rules still enable a union campaign to evolve quickly. Once a representation petition is filed with the NLRB, the employer has eight business days (10-12 calendar days) to prepare and file a statement of position. Employers who haven’t thought about unions, union campaigns, and union issues are going to have a lot of difficulties meeting the deadline with a quality response. Think about how long it takes to develop, write, and issue any business policy, especially an HR policy, and it gives perspective. By developing your RRT ahead of time, they will be able to take action, connect with employees and gain a better understanding of how you ended up here, even as you work with your labor attorney and consultant to draft your position statement.

The timeline continues: 14 business days from the initial petition to hold the pre-election hearing, five business days for the employer to post a notice of election, and five business days to file a post-hearing brief. The employer must give the union a list of eligible voting employees within 35 days after petition filing. Once an election is approved, it will take place in 20 days at the earliest, meaning the time period for a petition to contested election is 55 days. 

Your communication strategy for a union organizing campaign response gives you about 55 days to build (or rebuild) the trust and respect that helps you maintain your direct connection to employees. That can include:

  • Develop a statement of position on unionizing

  • Work with labor consultants and a labor attorney to analyze the petition 

  • Train managers and supervisors on the organization’s position on unions

  • Train leaders on T.I.P.S. Rule and F.O.E. Rule (what they can and cannot say) 

  • Train leaders on dealing with disruptive union supporters 

  • Train leaders on union tactics and their arguments they use to convince employees

  • Set up a system to respond to NLRB requests for information 

  • Develop and regularly update a campaign website to keep team members and their families informed

  • Prepare and distribute printed and virtual educational materials to employees

  • Develop interactive communication tools for employees, to give them a voice and to provide management feedback

  • Create a system for responding to union complaints and grievances 

  • Develop a system for responding quickly to an increase in employee grievances

  • Review all employee handbook policies to ensure they don’t offer opportunities for charges of unfair labor practices

As you can see, the ability to put into place a well-trained and highly skilled Readiness Response Team can address nearly half the items on this checklist. If you have reason to believe your company may face a union organizing campaign, the Readiness Response Team development and deployment timeline should be part of your preparedness plan.

Getting Started With A Readiness Response Team

The primary role of the RRT is to engage employees, and provide the truth, so team members trust the employer enough to discuss unionization openly. Readiness Response Team members are internal ambassadors, engaging employees in honest, informed conversations about unions, and problem resolution. The Readiness Response Team is always prepared to factually  answer employee questions about unions, the impact of unions on employees and their families, the realities of a collective bargaining, and employees’ rights under the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act). If employees are asking questions about these issues, an honest dialogue can help combat the promises and half-truths union organizers often use to convince employees to vote for unionization.

The ideal Readiness Response Team has two main functions: 1) maintain the company’s direct connection with employees, and 2) respond to a union organizing campaign in progress. To behind developing your team, you will need to:

  • Select cross-functional team members from different leadership levels

  • Determine the extent of the team’s responsibilities, i.e., responding to disruptive workplace issues as they arise to avoid unionization, holding ongoing conversations with employees, managing the union organizing campaign, etc.

  • Train RRT team members on the leadership behaviors that contribute to a culture of open communication, employee engagement, honesty and integrity, fairness and equality, and respect

  • Train team members on the rules of communication about unions and employee rights so they don’t cross the line and appear to threaten or coerce employees; i.e., holding conversations that are based on active listening, not asking employees questions about their feelings on the union, not making false promises, etc.

  • Train team members on the do’s and don’ts of union campaigns

  • Train team members on identifying union organizing activity, i.e., quiet and obvious signs

  • Develop a communication strategy with supporting resources regularly and transparently talking about unions, i.e., social media, texts, emails, brown bag meetings, department meetings, forums, videos, etc.

  • Provide regular follow-up management training for maintaining the team’s current knowledge of the fundamental law, NLRB decisions relevant to the general workplace (without asking them to be legal experts), union specific information, holding engaging conversations with employees, etc.

  • Develop a strong support system for the team that includes resources like a union-free website (dark website), campaign material that addresses the benefits of working for the company, communication technologies, printed material, UnionProof tools, etc.

  • Conduct periodic union vulnerability assessments to uncover specific issues bubbling up in the workplace, i.e., industry or local unionization rates, turnover rates, rate of employee grievances, employee feedback, etc.

  • Identify the unions that present the most risk to the organization based on industry research or local activity, and train team members on their tactics and strategies to better detect signs of organizing or the union’s influence on employees and develop a targeted, targeted, insightful response

The Readiness Response Team is important to maintaining a union-free workforce, but only if its members are well-trained in engaging employees and have access to the right resources. Members must know how to initiate non-threatening conversations with employees and how to respond to questions. Should a union organizing campaign start, RRT members are already trained to respond quickly and appropriately, alleviating the stress and burden that is so often apparent in an unexpected organizing drive.

Is An RRT Right for Your Company?

First, work with your trusted advisors to determine if a Readiness Response Team is indicated for your current situation. If the answer is yes, and you have the commitment of resources, look to someone skilled in the development of RRTs to help put one in place. Attempting to do-it-yourself will result in wasted time, energy and resources, while gaining support from experienced RRT providers will ensure that your Team is ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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