How to Respond to Union Organizing

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership continues to drop, year over year. The relevance of unions just isn’t what it once was. However, that doesn’t mean your company won’t be faced with union authorization card signing or a full-blown organizing drive. Even if the process has already begun, there are still steps you can take to respond to union organizing before it goes any further. The key is to be proactive. You can make your situation better by connecting with your employees. Here’s what you need to know.

Build a Culture That’s Union-Proof

In the past, “union avoidance” involved reactionary tactics that were often heavy-handed. However, new rules have made this an outdated approach to due to shortened time. The National Labor Relation Board’s (NLRB) 2015 “Ambush” Election rule shortened the time for the campaign period — time the employees have to consider unionizing — from 70 days to 42 days. That means employers have to be a step ahead in creating an organizational culture that’s union-proof.

Responding to union organizing begins with creating that union-proof culture. By continuously monitoring and measuring the organization’s risk and vulnerability of being unionized – while proactively engaging with employees. By understanding your risk and preparing materials in advance, you can be confident that you’re building a union-proof culture.

Stay Informed

Once you have a clear assessment of your company’s vulnerability, you’ll need to proactively gain an understanding of the law and labor relations issues.  Keep up to date with the current developments. This gives you an excellent foundation for designing a protocol, including producing campaign strategies and tools that are ready for use when you need them, rather than waiting and reacting under pressure. Staying informed can even help you predict the potential for organizing activity by alerting you to what unions are organizing, in what industries, and what geography. Information can be one of your most valuable assets.

Embrace Holistic, Company-wide Labor Relations Training

In order to respond to union organizing properly, you’ve got to give your managers and leaders the right training. The best union-proof training will make sure they’re prepared and know how to handle the situation if they are presented with union authorization cards.  Get them ready by providing them with effective and efficient training. Ensure they know and understand the FOE (Facts, Opinions, Examples) and TIPS (Threats, Interrogations, Promises, Surveillance) rules. For example, your supervisors should understand that it’s illegal to spy on union activity (surveillance). Supervisor training should include both proactive and reactive skills, such as with the course Supervisors Can Keep You Union-Free.

You may also wish to be even more proactive, and consider generalized leadership training, such as A Better Leader. This online course allows you to choose the topics your leaders need most and design a learning plan to address those needs. From conflict management to addressing change, to union-proofing, this type of program takes a positive, proactive approach.

Finally, if you’ve got a labor relations team (or if you yourself are in need of additional labor relations knowledge), becoming UnionProof Certified may be the best option to help your company stay union-free.

Be Transparent

If you want to build trust and loyalty with your employees, opt for an approach of transparency. Acknowledge the mistakes the company may have made – and confront them head-on. This builds engagement and trust. When you provide your employees with an explanation of how you plan to improve the situation so that these mistakes are reduced or eliminated, they’re less likely to turn to an outside party – like a union – to address their concerns.

All that said, don’t make promises you can’t keep, or the speed at which the changes may come. The goal is, to be honest and realistic about what you can achieve with your resources and time.

Embrace Early and Frequent Communication

Don’t wait until the last minute to communicate with your employees about issues or what union representation is about so that your employees don’t feel slighted. Discuss these matters early on and educate your employees on the union that is trying to organize them. Share with them the unions’ finances, dues, and membership requirements. Leverage technology as an educational platform, and communicate with employees via videos in meetings and online. Provide custom content, including a website and online video content, to demonstrate your care and concern for their interests.

Regardless of the unionizing process has begun, you can take the necessary steps to proactively avoid and respond to union organizing. It comes down to being an organization that your employees trust and choose to work for. By applying these union avoidance tactics, you can set up your organization for success.

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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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