Micro-Unions: The Growing Unionization Threat


Until recently, a unionized business had one collective bargaining unit for all employees. That changed with the introduction of micro-unions, now sanctioned by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The micro-union is a true unionization threat, leading to employers dealing with multiple collective bargaining units rather than one and creating a management nightmare. It is more important than ever for leaders to have a good working relationship with employees, an effective workplace communication system and a plan for staying union-free.

NLRB Changes the Rules

Historically, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was interpreted by the NLRB and the courts as giving employees in a bargaining unit the right to select a union as the exclusive representative and negotiator responsible for advocating for the collective interests of union and non-union employees. It is a one-workforce, one-union scenario.

That decades-old picture changed with a July 2014 NLRB case. The NLRB decided to recognize Macy’s store employees in the cosmetics and fragrance department of a Saugus, Massachusetts store as a bargaining unit based on past legal precedent in Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, 357 NLRB No. 83 (2011) . Macy’s tried to fight back by refusing to bargain with Local 1445 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, sending the case back to the Fifth Circuit Court in January 2015.

In April 2015, the National Retail Federation (NRF) filed a friend-of-the-court brief to make sure the court understood the havoc the NLRB decisions are having on the retail workplace.

Nothing “Micro” About Micro-Union Organization

There is nothing micro about micro-unions. Micro-union organizing efforts divide a workforce into multiple bargaining units, each with its own agenda. The implication is that groups of employees will have different rights based on negotiated agreements with different unions. If your workplace has micro-unions, you will have to negotiate and administer multiple union contracts. The potential for creating divisiveness in the workforce is enormous, and the workload for administrative personnel grows exponentially each time a new micro bargaining unit is established.

The NLRB ruling also equates to increased employer costs for union contract management, defending against NLRB grievances and legal expenses. Many employers and legal analysts view the NLRB decisions as a political strategy for promoting unionization because union membership has been shrinking for half a century. Today, only one in ten workers is a union member, compared to three out of ten 50 years ago.


Forewarned is Forearmed

Unions are getting more aggressive in their efforts to unionize the workplace as they watch membership numbers decline. To stay union free, it is important to stay abreast of the current labor laws and union efforts and to understand the full implications of new and developing NLRB decisions. Ultimately, keeping a direct line of communication with employees is the key to keeping your workplace union-free.



Summary of NLRB Decisions for the Week of July 21, 2014: https://www.nlrb.gov/cases-decisions/weekly-summaries-decisions/summary-nlrb-decisions-week-july-21-25-2014
Macy’s, Inc. vs. National Labor Relations Board: https://nrf.com/sites/default/files/Macy%27s%20Amicus%20Brief%20-%20AS%20FILED.pdf
50 Years of Shrinking Union Membership, In One Map: http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2015/02/23/385843576/50-years-of-shrinking-union-membership-in-one-map

About the Author

Jennifer Orechwa

In over 25 years of helping companies connect with their employees, 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.