Union Organizing: Why Your Company Culture Matters

How culturally competent is your company? If upper management loses sight of what matters to employees, especially in situations where management and employee groups include different genders, generations, backgrounds, languages, and religions, that disconnect can lead to union organizing. Your company's cultural competency plays a significant role in whether unions are able to gain a foothold with employees, using the promise of closing that cultural gap.

The Role of a Company's Cultural Competence in Union Organization

The key principles of cultural competence, as established by Ritu Bhasin, "Foundations of Inclusion and Cultural Competence" include:

  1. Acknowledging and understanding cultural differences
  2. Adapting behavior to connect with others in the organization
  3. Awareness of your cultural biases and "blind spots"

When your organization is culturally competent, you are in tune with your employees. They have fewer complaints - and fewer reasons to believe a union organizer's promises

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How Unions Use Cultural Differences

Unions understand the power of a cultural disconnect and know how to exploit those that divide the worker and management into an "us versus them" situation. Unions see that a cultural divide can easily be made into an issue that leads to new, dues-paying members.

RELATED: Creating a UnionProof Culture Requires Courageous Leadership

Effective Communication Across Employee Differences

Employees may differ with regard to age, education, profession, function, tenure, religion, sexual orientation, values, socio-economic status, hobbies/recreational interest, political affiliations, geographical origin, race, gender, language, and family status.

As an employer, you need to understand how to effectively communicate across these differences. Consider the situations that occur due to different cultural norms within the workforce.

Misunderstandings may occur due to phrases that get lost in translation. Common slang terms and the way people communicate can be quite different between generations. Innocent wording from one generation may have a completely different meaning to others.

Well-meaning management can run into common missteps in these situations, which adds to the communication challenges. Don't assume that you've raised your cultural competence by putting someone in place to "take care of it" for you. For example, if you put a new supervisor in place who speaks Farsi, that's a start for connecting with your Middle Eastern employees, but it doesn't represent a full understanding of the situation. You need a complete solution.

How Can You Overcome A Cultural Disconnect?

You have many ways to improve communication, connect with workers, better your leadership, and prevent the kind of disconnect that leads to union organizing efforts.

  1. Leverage demographic information: You collect basic information on your employees during the application and onboarding process. Use this data to start getting a better understanding of your workforce.
  2. Make knowing team members part of leader evaluations: Supervisors and managers should be challenged to know whether their employees have families, celebrate different religions, and have other cultural differences.
  3. Conduct employee surveys: Anecdotal knowledge from managers and supervisors isn't enough. Your company needs to survey employees on a consistent basis.
  4. Use consultants to support your leadership team: During a union organizing campaign, it's helpful to gain another perspective on how to connect with employees and understand the workforce. You can bring in consultants who can help you with diversity & inclusion and your cultural blind spots, and bring up issues that you may not have considered previously.
  5. Identify and involve community leaders: Look for social, spiritual, and cultural leaders who can help you gain a better understanding of your workforce's needs and values. Invite them for a tour of your business and engage them in conversations about the employees' culture.
  6. Customize your communications: Identify the informal cultural leaders within your workforce. Spend the time to learn what's needed to educate and inform your workforce. Make sure your presentations are in your employees' native language and are relatable and understandable. Identify the gaps in their knowledge and address them. For example, employees may not understand what collective bargaining is, the realities of job security, or what happens during a strike. Take advantage of the ability to create video, web, and interactive eLearning that's relatable, understandable, and respectful of cultural needs.

People no longer need to conform in order to achieve success in the business world. Diversification of the workforce will continue and as a leader, your company needs to know how to increase cultural competency to avoid union organization. Solid and consistent communication, using videos and websites to reach the secondary audience at home, and training leaders with interactive eLearning go a long way to creating your UnionProof culture.

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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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