Why Do Workers Turn To Unions?


While it’s true that fewer workers are joining unions these days, some still seek out membership. Why do workers turn to unions? Once a union gets involved (even before they represent employees), employers must spend time and money dealing with them as a third party. On top of that, indirect communication, misunderstanding and differing objectives can all negatively impact the relationship between employers and their employees. These factors can all lead to a drop in productivity, but the situation can be avoided if companies are proactive and intentionally work to create a UnionProof culture.

Why Do Some Workers Seek Out a Union?

If you asked those workers seeking out union representation why they felt it was necessary, you’d get all kinds of reasons. They might explain that they felt like their opinions weren’t being listened to. They might have had concerns over fair treatment in the workplace, or they may feel under pressure from colleagues or union representatives. Whatever the reason, the real root of the problem is a sense of powerlessness, the idea that the decisions that affect them are being made around them, and that they aren’t “in on things.”

That’s a problem that can begin at any level of a company when leaders don’t explain the reasons behind management decisions, but it’s one that can be avoided if company management is listening – and takes action.

Creating a UnionProof culture

Every company has the power to offer employees the things that ensure a good working relationship. This strategy would include a range of policies that address employee needs, such as:

  • Opportunities for advancement, creating job security
  • Excellent compensation and benefit programs
  • Proactive personnel department
  • Regular and effective communication channels

Making employee satisfaction a priority creates a climate of trust and confidence among workers. By fostering a proactive and positive working climate, a company can actually make unions redundant – because who wants to pay some third-party for services they’re already getting for free?

Other systems a company might put in place to minimize the perceived need for a union include:

An Open-Door Policy

Companies that implement a true open-door policy find that it’s a highly successful way of enabling workers to raise concerns and grievances. Having a policy that invites interaction ensures that all workers within a company are treated equally and fairly – and it makes sure leaders are effective, approachable and in the loop.

Some employers also provide employees the option of voicing concerns or making suggestions anonymously. This option is likely to encourage workers to raise concerns they feel uncomfortable voicing in person, but on which they might turn to a third party for resolution. Even more importantly, managers and employers will be made aware of important issues that no one is vocalizing.

Frequent Meetings + “Expected Impromptu Meetings”

Communication is key in understanding between a company and its workforce. Regular, planned meetings between employees and management to discuss both potential and present problems are vital. Equally important is calling meetings to discuss issues that come up unexpectedly. When employers make sure leaders are available, workers know they don’t need a third party.  This kind of meeting is an excellent opportunity for workers to raise their immediate concerns with those in a position to act on the information. When workers feel like their voices are being heard it gives them a sense of empowerment, essentially taking the power from the unions and putting it into the hands of employees and their employers.

4 tips to prevent a union from organizing

Common Goals

As a part of these regular meetings, employers need to be clear about the goals and motivations that drive the company – including a union-free operating philosophy. Working toward a common objective allows employees to feel like they are part of something, not just a means to an end for the company. Fostering understanding of common goals – whether they are monetary or otherwise – means the entire team is more likely to identify with culture of the organization, removing any idea of an “us vs. them” mentality

Prioritize Communication

Last, but certainly not least, effective communication is without a doubt the most important union avoidance strategy in making sure employees feel heard. Over at SnackNation, they shared their favorite motivational videos for teams, and those are just a few good ones. Creating your own custom-produced videos can convey your company’s most important messages powerfully, leaving a lasting impression.

Begin to convey this inclusive mindset with effective onboarding, and continue that effort with regular discussions on the company’s philosophy. From there, let employees know that your open door policy isn’t just lip-service! Have regular and frequent meetings – not long, drawn-out meetings that leave employees with barely a recollection of what was discussed! Incorporate video, websites and eLearning into your UnionProof culture, and you’ll never have to wonder why employees turn to unions.

About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Projections’ CEO 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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