7 Helpful Tips to Prevent a Union from Organizing

Transparency and communication play a pivotal role in order to prevent a union from organizing. Organizational heads need to take the lead in resolving employee issues as well as maintaining a workplace culture that has a strong positive employee relations strategy. Employees need to feel that leadership is pro-worker rather than anti-union. If you want to prevent union organizing, the goal should be to create an atmosphere where unions simply aren't necessary; one where employees feel respected, valued, and that their concerns are not just heard but addressed in a timely manner.

One of the many reasons that there has been an increase in union activity, specifically in healthcare, is due to the challenges that employees faced in 2020 and 2021 during the coronavirus pandemic. They were forced to work in stressful and dangerous situations, without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and didn't even receive the proper hazard pay for showing up every day, even while risking their lives to do so. Giving employees (in healthcare or any other industry) the appropriate tools to do their job, compensating them well, and listening to their grievances should always be top priority to keep your workplace running smoothly and prevent a union from organizing. It's the right thing to do, and we will be feeling the impacts on workplace mental health and in the form of work burnout and stress for a long time. If you're wondering how to avoid unionization, here's an in-depth explanation.

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Why Do Unions Organize?

Typically, unions come in as a third party to enhance employees’ welfare. They mostly bargain for better employee checks, regulated working hours, a safe working environment, and fair treatment. Employers can meet these needs freely without the need for union organizing. Shrewd HR managers cultivate a union-free culture where employees find amicable solutions within the internal systems of the organization.

Essentially, employees will unionize when the existing systems do not support their welfares satisfactorily. Developing a culture that promotes a healthy working environment, teamwork and a sense of belonging will go a long way in preventing unions from organizing. If you want to know how to avoid unionization, the idea of a union-free culture should be introduced to all staff in the initial stages as they get absorbed in the organization.

During induction processes, the HR team should take time and share the company’s stand on unions and union activity. A union statement can easily be shared alongside other training materials.

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Can a Company Stop a Union From Forming?

There is a lot of information available surrounding the things that employers can't do when it comes to union organizing. There are many things that you CAN do -- such as being transparent and open about things like your hiring process, and helping your employees understand what their legal rights are under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) -- while avoiding an unfair labor practice charge. You must adhere to federal law, as the NLRA has established workers' rights to collective bargaining. So, can a company stop a union from forming? The answer is complicated. However, you can proactively work to create an atmosphere where employees never feel they have to resort to a third-party to have good working conditions and a positive working environment.

Organizations that value being union-free make continuous deliberate efforts to ensure they are not susceptible to unionization. They do this by inculcating a union-free culture among all workers. Certainly, there are several ways to enhance this. Let's discuss the tips your workplace can implement to prevent a union from organizing.

How to avoid unionization

1. Creating a Friendly Working Environment

Firstly, you can begin by curbing any forms of staff mistreatment. Employees need to feel secure at all times. You should give room for everyone in your workplace to air their concerns and grievances. 

Additionally, encouraging open conversations between juniors and their supervisors is one way of creating a vibrant atmosphere for everyone in the workplace. Employees revere bosses who provide a clear roadmap of how things should be done.

You can create a friendly and positive work environment include creating a shared sense of purpose that leads to stronger relationships among team members. A shared purpose helps your organization to increase employee engagement, morale, and leads to higher levels of productivity, since your workforce understands how important they are to organizational goals. In addition to this workplace collaboration, leaders should understand how they can connect with their employees on a deeper level.

Developing a culture where employees know their voices are heard, any complaints are taken seriously, and managers/supervisors are authentic and caring are all critical to a positive work environment. It's less likely your workplace will entertain union organizers or any sort of union organizing campaign when there is high engagement, high morale, and an overall positive culture.

Most importantly, you don’t want your employees to suffer in silence. Employees need to know they can share confidently and confidentially. Ultimately, a friendly workplace is essential if you want to know how to avoid unionization, since teams can share issues at hand freely.

2. Recognize Staff Efforts and Reward Extra Miles

Innovation, hard work, teamwork, and company growth milestones should be marked by some sort of celebration. Each employee’s contribution to the bigger vision matters and should, therefore, be celebrated. You can appreciate your staff using cash, trips, promotion, and training. In fact, there are so many ways your workplace can celebrate employee recognition. If an added bonus or vacation isn't in the cards for your organization, a little can go a long way. Consider recognizing your employees publicly in front of co-workers for their contribution, treating them to lunch, sending flowers, or even offering them more flexible working hours. 

One way of promoting transparency is by maintaining competitive pay practices. You should let everyone know the procedures and rationale used in rewarding individuals and groups. Additionally, let them know how you will decide on a standard payment.

Be proactive, survey the market, and establish what competition is offering and create salary brackets that meet or exceed market rates. Make this part of the discussion during interviews; let potential employees share their expected salaries. If you're looking for more ideas for employee recognition, we've compiled a longer list, here.

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3. Develop Transparent and Fair Dispute Resolution Practices

Be sure to solve any disputes early and amicably using standard company procedures. When attrition mushrooms, you need to be decisive and objective. Supervisors should be in a position to curb arising concerns before they blow up.

Furthermore, employees should also have the lee-way to seek further support if the immediate supervisor is perceived biased or for some reason is unable to resolve the issue at hand.

Conflict resolution is a learned leadership skill, and that means it doesn't always come to your managers and supervisors easily. Employees need to know that conflicts are handled appropriately, fairly, and timely. Your organization should have a strategy in place that handles any disputes with the right solutions and proper follow-ups.

how to prevent a union from organizing

4. Maintain Open-Door Policy to Prevent a Union from Organizing

Cut arteries that feed union organizations by maintaining an open-door policy. In the case where a direct supervisor may be unavailable or incapacitated, allow rank-and-file employees to escalate the issues to higher offices.

To achieve this, you need to establish clear communication channels. If employees have the assurance that you can listen, and provide feedback, then they will have no desire to join the union. It is imperative that your employees feel comfortable walking into any supervisor or manager's door and have their concerns heard. Not only that, they should feel confident that any concerns will also be addressed -- as required. One employee who doesn't feel heard can be the catalyst to union activities within your organization. It's essential to have consistent communication between managers, supervisors, and all employees. This helps establish stronger workplace connections, deepens trust, and a positive workplace culture; one where unions aren't necessary.

5. Involve The Staff in The Decision Making Process 

Certainly, it is your responsibility as a manager to seal any loopholes that can trigger possible unionization efforts. You can outmaneuver those who want to organize unions by being receptive and empathetic. Additionally, you can take views from the whole group, or have staff appoint representatives who can speak on their behalf. Supportive channels like suggestion boxes, whistleblowing emails, and open forums can also come in handy. You can seek  feedback in several ways, and employee engagement surveys are another opportunity to find out about any potential concerns before they turn into a way for unions to get a foot in the door.

It's important to know the rights you have as an employer by law, and perhaps more importantly, the rights that are guaranteed to your employees and enforced by the national labor relations board, or NLRB. The NLRB ensures you do not interfere with any form of employee rights, which can result in an unfair labor practices charge. You can read more about how to avoid an unfair labor practices charge, here. Ultimately, you should equip yourself with a labor relations specialist who is well-versed in labor law if you want to remain a union-free organization. It's important to always be proactive, rather than reactive. Establishing a positive workplace culture that addresses employee concerns, while having an educated and professional labor relations consultant on your side is critical.  

6. Provide Clear Policy Guidelines on Circulation of Company Information

Tighten all the loose ends in the workplace by disseminating information on policy and procedure changes before they are enacted. Consider training staff on policies and procedures so that they can embrace them.

Oftentimes, staff will feel ambushed if new policies are applied without prior updates. Avoid changing policies during union campaigns as this can be seen as a manipulation of the labor practice, and potentially lead to an unfair labor practices charge. Again, it's important to have a labor relations expert in your corner that helps you adhere to the law as you strive for union avoidance.

7. Expose Employees to The Challenges Associated with Joining Unions

Unfortunately, most employees just sign up without even realizing the repercussions of joining a union. To avoid this, you should make it a priority to educate them on the charges involved and your organization’s position on unions. Many employees are unaware that they have to pay union dues, or simply misinterpret union literature that may be distributed or left behind in break rooms. 

Employees are more likely to be drawn to unions if they feel their grievances keep falling on deaf ears. If they have raised the same issues over and over and no attention is paid to them, they are likely to unionize and start organizing. To prevent possible unionization, you need to listen and attend to your employee concerns. Remember, communication plays a major role in order to prevent a union from organizing.

Help Your Leaders Understand How to Prevent Union Organizing

Ultimately, every leader in your organization, from executives and management, to your front-line supervisors, needs to understand the steps you can take to prevent union activity. Now that we're in the Proactive Era, it's more important than ever to always be proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to your positive labor and employee relations strategy. It starts with putting the employee first, recognizing and addressing any concerns they have, and then following through to create a positive workplace culture where everyone feels valued and respected. Give your managers and supervisors the tools they need to develop proper leadership skills that foster this kind of environment. 

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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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