How Do I Convince Employees They Don’t Need a Union?

The best way to convince employees they don't need a union is to address the main reasons they consider unionization in the first place. Still, you must treat them with emotional intelligence. It sounds simple, but too often, employers panic at that the thought of unionization rather than focusing on the real issues. Ideally, employers should utilize the expertise found at a company like UnionProof to help them keep unions out by doing what they should to enhance employee engagement through targeted actions that clearly make unions unnecessary. Sometimes, despite all efforts, employees will decide joining a union is the right thing to do for many reasons, such as believing unions will deliver future job security and compensation increases, even though they cannot. 

The Art of Labor Relations CTA

Proving You Care

In practice, convincing union and non-union employees they don't need a union requires very similar approaches. Keep in mind employees in a union workforce can decide to vote for decertification when the bargaining agreement expires. It is never a "done deal" that cannot be undone. For the workforce that hasn't unionized and the unionized workforce, your goal as an employer is to make unions unnecessary by demonstrating you do care about employee challenges, employee-management relationships, and transparency. 

The rallying cry of unions is that employers "don't care."

Employers "don't care" if employees:

  • Are paid competitive wages and paid enough with reasonable work schedules
  • Have a voice in the workplace as input into management decision-making
  • Get treated with respect
  • Feel like their supervisors are approachable to discuss concerns or personal challenges
  • Work in unsafe conditions
  • Need flexible benefits because one-size does not fit all
  • Expect businesses to be socially and environmentally responsible
  • Do not like the promotion process

Each employer has a different set of employee issues to address. One employer may need to upgrade their employee communication system so workers can utilize technology 24/7 to submit questions, offer feedback, contribute input for decision-making. Another employer may need to proactively address safety issues or review and amend compensation and benefits programs. It could be one issue, multiple issues, or all issues.

Convincing employees to not join a union includes addressing the specific promises unions make. Unions tell employees whatever they think will have the most impact. Those issues change as the workforce demographics change. Baby boomers did not spend a lot of time talking about the employer's respect for them. They focused mostly on wages, benefits, and safety. Millennials and Gen Z have brought a whole new perspective on the role of the employer in employee lives. The younger generations want to work for a company that respects their values and time and meets their needs through flexible work schedules, more training and development opportunities, and recognition. 

Recognizing the Emotional Aspect

Most employers need to strengthen the training and development for leaders because employees expect to work for leaders who are effective listeners, possess emotional intelligence, respect the efforts of employees, and are transparent and honest. One of the biggest challenges employers must understand is that unions are not always logical. They base many of their arguments on emotions. This is why an employer can prove the compensation schedule is very competitive, yet hear employees say they don't make a living wage. You might point to the many safety improvements the company made but still listen to employees say the workplace is hazardous and that you don't care.

A woman started an online group called The Emotional Labor Union. It's not a formal labor union, but millennials are increasingly joining forces in a variety of ways by using technology. The purpose of the group is to "amplify the voices and experiences of women through curated feminist topics." The choice of the words "labor union" is intentional, and the values touted are based mostly on emotion – voice as power, community, strength in numbers, and feminism as self-care. The AFL-CIO website promotes their real labor union as "an expression of the hopes and aspirations of the working people of America." It goes on to say, "We resolve to fulfill the yearning of the human spirit for liberty…"

Relationships Have Always Mattered

It's essential to understand the emotional aspect of unions and the changing needs of a multi-generational workforce to present a convincing argument against unions. Here is the real challenge for employers: they have to stick to the facts when talking about unions and show they care. The use of emotions by unions is not new, and neither is the employer's struggle to convince employees a union isn't necessary by communicating the facts while recognizing the emotional turmoil many employees experiences.

In 1956, the Law School at Washington University published a paper titled The Aims and Objectives of Unions and Management in Relation to Each Other, and it clearly demonstrates that some things simply don't change. John Stockham writes:

"While I do not by any means decry sincere efforts to establish mutuality of understanding and constructive relationships, I feel that we must be aware of the realities existing in the ordinary union-management relations. Regardless of the ultimate ideal, lawyers must concern themselves with the aims and objectives as they relate to particular situations and to specific management and union personalities. Of course, there should be constant, intense efforts to improve relationships, but such efforts, like pious preachments, will be meaningless unless the relationships' real nature is thoroughly understood. It is impossible to generalize the objectives of either party in any particular situation because many variables affect the relationship. These variables include the general economic and political climate, the economics of the company, the industry, the community, the history of the relationship, the personalities involved, technological developments, and many others." 

Understanding the Nature of Relationships

Incredibly, what Stockham wrote over 64 years ago could have been written today. Just substitute the word "employers" for "lawyers." Improving relationships relies on understanding the real nature of the relationships. Employers who are already unionized and employers who want to stay union-free must strive to understand the true nature of the employee-union relationship, and it often comes down to emotions. Are your employees feeling insecure or anxious about the future, the political climate, something in the community, and/or technology impacts on jobs?

Finding the Fact-Emotion Balance

Some of the ways to achieve the balance of talking about "just the facts" of unions as prescribed by law while strengthening employee engagement include the following:

  • Publish and maintain a union-free website that presents the facts about the company and the facts and the impact of unions on employees and their family members
  • Publish videos of unions demonstrating their intense emotional and disruptive behaviors, like strikes and protests, negatively impacting the business and the community
  • Train managers and supervisors in effective communication best practices, like active listening which includes constructive feedback
  • Help managers and supervisors with understanding emotional intelligence in themselves and in employees
  • Be open to employee questions about unions, and ensure your leaders know how to discuss unions without violating the law while conveying understanding 
  • Regularly recognize employee efforts and achievements
  • Create an organizational culture of honesty and respect

Paychex did a survey and found that people with high EQs have values like honesty, respect, dependability, reliability, open-mindedness, compassion, and intelligence. Imagine a workplace where employees are afraid to ask for time off for caregiving elderly parents or feel like they will experience retribution if they mention unions. They may be well compensated, have good benefits, and feel safe and secure, but they also believe they aren't respected, and managers are not open-minded.

Quality of Leadership

UnionProof wants employers to understand that emotions play a big role in unionization and also wants employers to understand that the quality of leadership communication with employees is often a deciding factor in whether employees choose to vote or not vote for a union. We could stop by saying that you can present all the facts about unions and that your company can make a clear case for staying union-free. Unfortunately, your employees could still vote to unionize. It's usually because management has created an organizational culture that dismisses employees' feelings and hasn't developed leaders who understand and can leverage the emotional side of employees. The bottom line is, you didn't listen.

Before a union appears, begin developing the culture built on emotional intelligence. If the union is already in place, begin developing the culture built on emotional intelligence. Do you see the pattern?

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

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

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