Supervisor Training: The #1 Way To Protect Yourself From Unionization

After over 40 years of connecting with employees, we’ve found that many companies spend little – if any – time or resources on educating their supervisors as to how their daily behaviors can have a significant impact on keeping employees union-free. Yet, ask your labor attorney, and they’ll tell you: a well-trained supervisor is the #1 way to protect against unionization.

Here at UnionProof, we created LaborWise Leadership  to provide you with union avoidance training for managers. This labor relations eLearning is designed with the needs of your managers in mind, inspiring them to improve their skills and arming them with the knowledge they need to recognize and respond to organizing, even at its earliest stages. It includes actionable steps to meet employee needs and create more engaged team members.

The Projections team has been teaching these principles since 1989, and the number one way to protect your company from unionization is proactive memorable union avoidance training. While your frontline supervisors are the key to retention and productivity, there are also several key strategies you should implement to create an environment where unions aren’t necessary.

Union Avoidance Training For Managers

How Do I Protect My Company From Unionization?

One of the main reasons employees turn to a union is the feeling of being unable to express their concerns or frustrations to leadership, and have those concerns heard. First, it is critical to actively maintain your open-door policy. Maintain an open line of communication with employees at all levels, and actively seek their feedback. Leadership training is crucial to remaining union-free.

We’ve already written about several helpful ways to prevent a union from organizing, and here are three strategies to help you further.

1. Maintain Trust and Communication

Building trust through excellent communication should be a top priority and a key element of your strategy. Supervisor training will help you foster an environment of mutual respect and collaboration. Instead of focusing on being anti-union, concentrate on being pro-employee. Unions will not be necessary if you have trained supervisors who address employee concerns and work to improve employee engagement.

2. Recognize Employees and Their Work

Another essential way to protect your company from union organizing is incorporating employee recognition regularly. All of your employees’ contributions to your overall company mission are important – and you should celebrate that. Empower your supervisors and leaders to take the lead on employee recognition with small gifts like coffee, lunch, or even an email shared within the company about a job well done. Maintain competitive pay practices and stay within or above pay brackets among the competition in your market. Employees who feel they are treated well and compensated fairly are far less likely to turn to a union for solutions.

3. Address Employee Concerns and Provide Feedback

While we spend a lot of time talking about communicating with employees, the truth is, two-way communication is a vital part of this process. Provide team members with opportunities to express any grievances. Typically, employees seek union guidance when they do not feel they are being treated fairly, aren’t being given an outlet to express concerns, or feel like their grievances are not being addressed. Demonstrate that you’re willing to take action on these concerns, and be sure to communicate what’s being done with all employees. Put tools in place that allow your supervisors to take the lead on soliciting employee feedback.

Case Study: Supervisor Missteps Cause Union Recognition

Without supervisor training, it’s possible that companies can unionize quickly. Employers need to remain vigilant to avoid a rerun of possible union elections. A prime example of this is a situation that happened with Intertape Polymer – a duct and masking tape manufacturing facility in Columbia, South Carolina.

The following explanation is written according to Matthew J. Kelley from Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. The United Steelworkers (USW) filed a representation petition. After losing the union election 97 to 142, the union looked to overturn the results by filing objections to the election in addition to unfair labor practice charges. The charges claimed that Intertape Polymer violated Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Union Avoidance Training For Supervisors

Union Allegations

The union alleged Intertape Polymer violated the Act by, among other things, (1) interrogating an employee regarding his union sentiments; (2) confiscating union literature from the employees’ break room; (3) engaging in surveillance of employees’ union activities by leafleting at the plant gate while union supporters were simultaneously handing out leaflets there; (4) threatening employees that it would be futile to select the union as their collective-bargaining representative; and (5) discharging a union supporter. A panel of the National Labor Relations Board (with Member Miscimarra dissenting) agreed with the first three of the union’s assertions. As a result, the Board ordered a new election.

The Intertape decision illustrates that employer policies on distribution and solicitation must be followed evenly and pursuant to past practice during any union campaign. The employer conduct at issue, in this case, illustrates that the risks of straying from these policies outweigh the reward. Although the company was extremely successful in delivering its message and highlighting to employees the pitfalls of unionization, a few stray actions resulted in the union getting another bite at the apple in a rerun election. In union campaigns, proper supervisory training is imperative and discretion is often the better part of valor in any effective communication strategy. A well-trained supervisor will exercise the employer’s free speech rights without running afoul of the restrictions of the NLRA. 

Supervisor Training Is Crucial

As you can see, supervisor training is vital to keep employee engagement high and retention low. But it is also a crucial element in avoiding unionization altogether. Our mission at UnionProof is to help you create an atmosphere where unions simply aren’t necessary.

What does that look like?

  • Frontline leaders are informed and well-suited to maintain a direct connection with employees and take action.
  • Managers who receive union avoidance training are more confident and able to address questions about union organizing
  • Employees trust that leaders have their best interests in mind, and trust the factual information their supervisor provides

Union Avoidance Training For Managers

So, what steps can you take to build this kind of environment? How can you begin to implement supervisor training? Do you develop it for your own company, or should you hire a professional? How much does it cost?

How Do I Develop Supervisor Training?

First, you’ll need to determine who will be creating the training. Will you have training videos created by a professional? Will you have your staff participating in it, or professional actors? This will help you determine your budget. Hiring a producer, narrator, editor, or graphic artist can increase costs significantly. Professionally created training videos will cost you somewhere between $500 and $1000 per finished minute. Next, you’ll need to decide what your training is going to cover. Keep in mind, today’s tone and approach are very different from even the recent past. You’ll want to include creating a positive and supportive environment for employees, what a union is, how it can change your workplace, and how supervisors can recognize the signs of union organizing.

Next, determine when you will implement this supervisor training, and how long it will take for your employees to complete it. Studies have shown that people learn best in short sessions or “micro-busts” of learning as the best way for people to retain information. Now, let’s move on to how will you deliver this information? Will you provide a set of online tests? Will it be a series of videos your employees will watch, with quizzes to check their understanding and knowledge? Perhaps you want to implement an in-person training or seminar that your supervisors will attend together.

As you can see, a lot of planning and budgeting goes into the development of supervisor training. You will need a consistent form of training so that all of your leaders are aligned with the same goals and values in mind for your organization.

Union Avoidance Training Materials

How Much Does It Cost To Develop Supervisor Training?

The short answer: it depends! From our experience in custom video production, the average price of a 15-18 minute custom video is $25,000–$32,500. We’ve found that a second language production produced at the same time is 60% of the cost of English, so $15,000 to $19,500. What is the value of your training and the message you want to deliver to your workplace? Consider the “shelf-life” of your custom video. It’s reasonable to assume that you will be able to utilize your content (and that it will remain relevant) for around three to five years. 

Production elements can vary widely and can significantly affect the overall price of your training. Some of the more common “add-ons” found in custom video production that you may want to consider include: 

  • Adding talent or actors
  • A special talent or a voiceover
  • Additional shooting days in-studio or multiple location shooting
  • Higher-end 3D animation for an opening
  • Specialized shooting equipment such as a crane, dolly, or Steadicam
  • Foreign language version (translation, talent, graphics)
  • Custom music or licensing
  • Props
  • Location fees

Supervisor Training and Labor Relations

As you can see, custom video production and creating your own supervisor training have a reasonably wide “average” price range. It may or may not fit into your budget. The good news is that even if it doesn’t, you still have options to train your leaders. LaborWise Leadership was created by professionals, for your leaders. It’s a practical union avoidance training designed to keep your workplace union-free. You don’t have to worry about the who, what, when, or how of developing a supervisor training; because we’ve got it all covered. You may not have prioritized this particular training initiative in the past, and that’s OK!

We would love to help you implement this training and get your supervisors up-to-date with all they need to know about labor relations. Once all of your supervisors have completed this labor relations course, you can foster an environment of mutual respect and collaboration, where unions just aren’t needed. 

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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