What Is A Union and What Are Organizing Campaigns?

You may be wondering, what is a union? What exactly is a union organizing campaign? And, most importantly, what do I need to know to prepare my workplace and my employees in case unions do come around? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 14.3 million workers belonging to unions in 2020, down by 321,000 from 2019. This is a significant amount of waged and salaried workers, and it’s important to take note, since the Biden administration has made it well known that labor laws and regulations are likely to be enacted, thus making it even easier for unions to organize employees in 2021 and beyond.


So, what does this have to do with your workplace or your industry? How might this affect you or your employees? UnionProof and the Projections team have had decades of experience helping employers and leaders become labor relations professionals in their workplace. We offer the latest tools and resources that Labor Relations and Human Resources professionals are using to engage employees, build and develop their UnionProof culture, and ultimately create the strongest workforce in their industry! With powerful and professional video, web and eLearning, we help employers to create an involved and focused workforce, where engaged employees are less likely to turn to a union to address issues.


Below, we’ll cover some of the basics surrounding unions, union organizing campaigns, and ways to stay prepared should you ever have to face one.

What Is A Union?

Here is a definition from Investopedia to describe exactly what a union is: “a labor union is an organization formed by workers in a particular trade, industry, or company for the purpose of improving pay, benefits, and working conditions. Officially known as a “labor organization,” and also called a “trade union” or a “worker’s union,” a labor union selects representatives to negotiate with employers in a process known as collective bargaining. When successful, the bargaining results in an agreement that stipulates working conditions for a period of time.” However, while this may sound like it would be beneficial to employees, there is a myriad of reasons why unions can actually hurt employees.


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Often, unions will make promises to employees to entice them into voting yes. What many employees fail to understand, due to strategic language and skewed statistics, is that many of the promises made by these organizers are benefits and working conditions that they’re already legally entitled to. Employees don’t need to pay a union in order to address and discuss grievances, and they don’t need to give up the ability to speak directly with supervisors and management.

One best practice to implement in your workplace is an internal communications channel, whether that be social media in the form of internal podcastsemployee apps, or a webpage, that shares legal employee rights and encourages them to speak up about anything that’s bothering them at work. Additionally, here is an in-depth round-up on many of the content we’ve written and shared surrounding recognizing and addressing some union lies and statistics.


What Is An Organizing Campaign?

A union organizing campaign is essentially a drive or movement to form a union within an organization. Workers can petition for organizing with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) or consult with an organizer to petition. The organizer can rally an organizing committee and can hold a union card signing event. Card signing events have the goal to sign up the majority of workers (about 30 percent) to push the union organizing forward. If this occurs, an election is held with the NLRB. If the union wins, then your company will have to negotiate contracts. These negotiations usually entail wage and work condition negotiations.

Understanding Union Organizing Laws

It’s also important to understand union organizing laws. The first aspect you must understand is that your employees have the right to unionize. With the Taft-Hartley Act and the National Labor Relations Act, companies can’t discriminate against employees who want to join a union. This means you can’t directly interfere with the process in any way, and you can’t actually refuse a union. A common example of illegal interference is offering higher wages to employees who choose not to unionize. You can’t keep your employees from wearing union buttons, either. Both of those actions can lead to an unfair labor practice or ULP.


Now, this doesn’t mean you don’t also have rights as an employer during a union organizing campaign. If you find yourself in this situation, here are 30 things employers can do in the case of a campaign, most importantly being open and transparent with your employees. Some organizers may go as far as performing what’s called “salting,” or taking a job with the intention of organizing the company’s worker. While salting can be a nuisance and appear cunning, it’s not against the law.


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Tips to Handle Union Organizing

While organizing can seem overwhelming and even inevitable, it’s not impossible to avoid. The key is to be proactive, and develop a positive employee relations strategy. The development of a PER strategy doesn’t happen overnight, and it is a process. The good news is that there are many things you can implement to avoid a union organizing campaign in your workplace. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Be Transparent – It’s important to be honest and upfront with your employees. Have an open-door policy with them. Additionally, ensure that your employees have all the information they need to make an informed decision before electing to unionize. This will require that you prepare material for the campaign, such as video content that communicates what is actually involved in being part of a union. You can discuss any disadvantages and financial impacts it can have on employees, such as membership dues.
  • Be Legally Informed – This is the time to consult counsel from a labor attorney. Be clear on what the law states regarding your rights during an organizing drive. You don’t want your supervisors spying on employees, making promises in exchange for not unionizing, questioning employees about what they’re doing, or even going as far as threatening them. This can come with serious allegations and penalties. Instead, take the approach of seeking legal advice and communicating the right things to your team.
  • Be Fair and Proactive – You can union-proof your culture by being proactive and fair with their wages from the start.
    Recognize employees’ needs and be consistent with your practices and policies. Educate employees about organizingand consider doing this process during onboarding employees as well.


Staying Prepared and Being Proactive

Naturally, even the most prepared organizations can still succumb to a union organizing campaign. Or perhaps, you find yourself here because you didn’t know the signs to look for and the steps to take to promote a positive culture and atmosphere where unions simply aren’t necessary. If that’s the case, there are still many things you can do as you prepare for union organizing. This includes the four KEEP steps: knowledge, educate, engage, and prepare materials. You can find more information here and more steps you can take to not only prepare for union organizing but to help establish a union-free workplace.


Final Thoughts

Now that you’re familiar with what a union is, what union organizing is, and how you can prepare for it, it’s time to proactively take the necessary steps to become an employer of choice. An employer of choice has a positive employer brand and an atmosphere where unions simply aren’t necessary. Creating a union-proof culture is possible once you understand what’s involved in an organizing drive or campaign. In addition to the above steps mentioned, you can be proactive in finding out how vulnerable your workplace is to union organizing in the first place, with a vulnerability assessment.


Do you have a Labor Relations expert in your workplace? If not, it’s never too late to become one. Let UnionProof and Projections support you with the training, tools, and resources you need to remain union-free.

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, 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.

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