4 Tips for Crisis Control During a Labor Union Event

When unions are on your company's property, passing out flyers, trying to get authorization cards signed, or contract negotiations go awry, you need to know how to respond. Whether unionized or union-free, your business can face union-specific challenges, including strikes and negative publicity in the form of corporate campaigns. However, you can take the right steps to keep these issues at bay. In fact, you can even determine how vulnerable your organization is to union organizing in the first place.

Projections, Inc. has been a widely-used resource for employee and labor relations for hundreds of companies over the last few decades. It is our honor to help employers to empower their leaders with the skills they need to maintain a direct connection with employees, unite their workforces, and move their organization forward. We have helped many workplaces to remain union-free and create environments where unions simply aren't necessary. We understand that unforeseen labor crises can take place when organizations aren't adequately prepared. Our resources can help you navigate challenges and drive sustainable behavioral change.

It's important to maintain communication with your employees during a crisis. Here are four ways you can have crisis control during a labor union event.

The Art of Labor Relations CTA

1. Establish a Crisis Management Team

We have written a very in-depth article on the importance of effective crisis management. With that said, labor crises - strikes in particular - can be unpredictable and can damage your company's reputation. Before a labor union event gets out of hand, it's ideal to have a team of leaders in place that are trained to handle an action such as a picket, demonstration or even online campaign. This designated leadership team needs training and education on how to respond to various labor union crises, such as outspoken demands during a strike or organizing practices that stretch the boundaries of legality. This management unit can include members of your company's executive team, senior management and supervisors, as well as in-house counsel or a labor attorney and any number of labor consultants that can help manage and develop your communication strategy.

Crisis control during a labor union event means your crisis management team can create worst-case scenarios, such as a strike, to prepare for real adverse labor union events. The crisis management team should also establish a protocol to follow in the event a crisis halts normal operations.

2. Provide Professional Presentations to the Public to Address Demands

When contract negotiations stall due to disagreements between the union and a company, demonstrations can shortly follow that can quickly turn into a public circus involving the media. That's why crisis control during a labor union event means presenting a professional demeanor when facing the public. This can include inviting media outlets to a formal press conference delivered by the company's official spokesperson or by providing an interview.

These options provide you with an opportunity to calmly answer questions even when angry employees or cynical journalists murmur or ask inappropriate questions. Addressing employee demands via the media also helps rationalize the company's premise for honoring (or not honoring) specific requests, such as an unreasonable or unfair payment increases that could financially ruin the company. This helps to improve the public's perception of the company for better crisis control.

crisis control during union organizing

3. Use Technology for Agile Communication

When you need crisis control during a labor union event, consider using technology to deliver your message with speed and to avoid any miscommunication.

Verizon accomplished this with the help of social media, for example. When Verizon's landline division went on strike in 2016, the union worked hard on public relations, painting an unflattering picture, and vilifying the company in the public's eyes. The perception was that Verizon was not paying its employees a fair compensation and that it also mistreated the employees of the landline division. Rather than just sending out leaflets or fliers, Verizon used social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook to address employees, partners and the public regarding the reason for the strike. Social media can help you to not only stay in direct contact with your employees, and display authenticity as a company, but remain open and transparent with with the public as well.

This utilization of social media helped Verizon to quickly communicate information before other media outlets gave incorrect reports. Their quick response meant improving the company's reputation because the public was able to not only identify the issue as concerning one division, rather than a company-wide problem, but also that the picture the union was painting was not quite the whole truth.

4. Communicate Frequently and Consistently

Communication that's frequent and consistent is vital to crisis control during a labor union event. Employees upset with pay or the lack of a particular benefit can and do reach out to unions, and sometimes this can involve miscommunication. This happened in the 2016 Verizon landline division strike.

However, Verizon quickly updated its employees on a weekly manner on the state of negotiations. The company also provided frequent and consistent communication to the public regarding its plans to maintain service with replacement workers. As a result, Verizon came to terms with employees, who shortly returned to work.

steps to keep you union free

Stay Prepared With Crisis Communication Management

Regardless of the labor union issues you face, you want to stay prepared with a plan. Avoid union-event disasters by delegating a crisis team, staying professional, using technology, and communicating often -- and with clarity. To equip your leaders with the knowledge they need and be prepared for crisis communication management, IRI Consultants would love to be a resource to help you.

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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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