15 Reasons Why You Need a Certified Labor Relations Specialist

If you're concerned about union organizing, you may think you'll save money by not hiring a labor relations specialist. But as Allied Medical Transport found out, that's a myth. Allied faced multiple ULPs and had to pay remedies to make fired employees whole. Most importantly, they must now deal with the high cost of unionization for years. There's no doubt the company also had to hire a labor attorney for the duration of the NLRB case. This one cautionary tale is a direct reflection of why, when it comes to tricky labor relations issues, you need a labor relations specialist on your team. 

There are many reasons to justify not hiring a labor relations specialist. But rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of labor violations, let's look at why you need to consider hiring your own labor relations consultant. Here are 15 reasons to consider enlisting the expertise of someone who truly understands what it takes to handle labor relations issues:

Why You Need A Certified Labor Relations Specialist

1. A Labor Consultant's Sole Focus Is The Union

Most organizations don't have adequate staff to give the quality response that union organizing requires. This includes assessment of the situation, counseling management on options, preparing communication and materials, training supervisors, understanding NLRB procedures, and responding to campaign issues properly. Union organizing requires the attention of managers, supervisors, and Human Resources staff. The staff must ensure they're always prepared to legally respond to employee questions. A well-qualified professional will help your team act and communicate effectively and legally to the company's best interest.

In the meantime, managers and supervisors must maintain day-to-day operations. A labor law consultant is crucial to the management's ability to keep the business operating while successfully responding to union representatives and union organizing. This saves the business thousands of dollars by working as needed.

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2. Labor Relations Specialists Have Vast Knowledge & Experience

Company leadership and Human Resources professionals don't have the in-depth knowledge that a certified labor relations specialist has. With their vast knowledge and experience, certified labor relations specialists are in a unique position to help company leadership navigate the complicated process of union organizing. A labor relations consultant can provide invaluable advice about how best to approach employees on what can be a challenging subject - because they know both what not say (and when) as well as who should carry the message.

The truth is, most company leaders and HR professionals don't have the time or bandwidth to learn what a labor relations specialist already knows. This includes the law, NLRB board decisions, and the real-world mistakes that other employers have made before, during, and after union organizing.

3. Labor Relations Specialists Can Act Quickly & Efficiently 

A labor law consultant can save you time and money in various ways. One is the professional's ability to respond quickly, effectively, creatively when things go south during an organizing campaign, but even when things go well, their knowledge can provide you with support that keeps your team from wasting time and resources

Skilled union representatives and organizers have the experience they need to target your team.  While no two union organizing drives are alike, if you don't have someone on your team who has an equal amount of experience, you can be caught in a position that consumes far too much time and money.

4. Labor Relations Specialists Are Experts In Their Field

Unions are experts at organizing employees, and ultimately, the success, or failure of any organizing effort is dependent on how the company (and its leaders) treats their employees and handles their concerns. Unions of course have developed a successful system for organizing. They know how to appeal to workers who believe they are disrespected, undervalued, or helpless. They are also now incorporating digital solutions for more efficient and secretive communication with employees. 

This why it can be so important to have labor consultants who are experts in the field working with you. You need an expert labor relations specialist to deal with expert union organizers. 

5. Labor Relations Specialists Can Help Prevent Overwhelm For Employers

Unions have tried and true methods for overwhelming employers. One is burying the employer in charges of Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs) – violations of Section 8 of the NLRA - filed with the NLRB.
Or they may make other claims intended to make the employer look as bad as possible in the eyes of employees. Corporate campaign strategies include attacking employers in the court of public opinion, examples of which include employee's allegation that he/she was paid less than promised when negotiating starting wages years earlier; another example could involve claiming mistreatment based on religion, discrimination, poor treatment, untenable working conditions - all of these (and many more such claims, be they true or false) have helped unions overwhelm employers and win organizing campaigns.

And of course, national organizing campaigns like the recent efforts at Starbucks with dozens of locations, and hundreds of campaigns, can be similarly overwhelming. Labor Relations specialists can help manage these seemingly insurmountable odds.

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6. Labor Relations Specialists Understand the Rules.

Unions will try to trip up employers. They'll gamble that your supervisors don't know the law, that you failed to coach your leaders, and they'll potentially try to back you into a legal corner with the wrong response. For example, the union presents authorization cards to the employer and demands recognition. Many people naturally and thoughtlessly acknowledge the cards, even if communicating a refusal to recognize the union at the same time. The right response is refusing to acknowledge or even look at the cards, and enlisting your in-house or independent certified labor relations specialist.

Tactics such as these have been to the detriment of many a company, and only a trained and experienced labor relations specialist will know to be on the lookout. The consultant has a vast knowledge of labor laws and understands the steps to take when it comes to resolving labor grievances.

7. Labor Relations Specialists Provide Quick Response Times

The union's organizing campaign can be swift and shocking if the employees and union representatives have managed to keep the organizing efforts a secret via online communication. Union organizers are taking to employees on social media and via digital platforms to increase union membership. Being able to respond quickly is vital to educating employees.

Leaders at all levels are often caught unprepared to answer employee questions, which can include a large variety of legal questions. Rapidly consulting with an experienced labor relations specialist is important to responding just as swiftly and with the correct reaction. This is why it pays off to develop at least one Certified Labor Relations professional in-house . Turning to outsourced labor relations specialists once you are in need will give you both answers as well as advice about what response is best under your unique circumstances.

8. A Labor Relations Specialist Can Help You Maintain Relationships With Employees

Employers who haven't dealt with unions before often don't understand how unions can damage employee-employer relationship, actively working to erode trust in the employer.. Unions have pre-prepared responses to every conceivable employer statement or action. The responses are designed to convince employees their only recourse is to seek outside help.

The loss of these relationships can be very distressing, leading managers and supervisors to say or do things in anger, shock, or retribution. There are hundreds of NLRB cases in which employers spoke thoughtlessly, which violated labor law and influenced the outcome of the union vote. A labor relations specialist is prepared to help you maintain your relationships, and avert disruptive business events like labor strikes, pickets, or protests.

9. A Labor Relations Specialist Can Help You Formulate Your Strategy

When confronted with active union organizing, most employers don't know how to formulate a response strategy. They need the assistance of someone who can provide guidance and suggest  high-quality resources. Savvy organizations also help HR teams get up to speed with  proper training that provides the opportunity for every member of the HR team to become a Certified labor relations expert.

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10. Labor Relations Experts Provide Proper Consulting on Seemingly Innocent Actions

Reasonable employer actions can easily run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act and its many interpretations made through the NLRB and the courts. The potential gets much worse during union organizing. Employers need to pay careful attention to avoid an unfair labor practice charge, and a labor relations specialist help convey complex information in a simple way to assist you.

For example, telling employees to stop standing around talking about their work schedules and to get back to work may violate the right of workers to protected concerted activity, depending on the circumstances. In the case example presented, a reasonable employer action – auditing driver fare collections – turned into anti-union behavior. These kinds of situations make it easy for the NLRB or courts to find an employer violated employee rights. The experienced labor relations specialist will help ensure compliance with labor law.

11. Labor Relations Specialists Provide An Impartial Perspective

A labor relations specialist can assist with identifying potential problems that could inadvertently support union organizing. These could include things like policies and planned schedule changes. Getting an impartial perspective helps to keep the business union-free.

12. Union Organizers Often Have Legal Knowledge On Their Side

Labor unions have experienced labor attorneys on staff. Therefore, they begin a union organizing campaign with an immediate advantage over employers who don't utilize a labor relations specialist. 

13. Labor Relations Specialists Know Your Rights

A lot has been said about employee rights during union organizing, and indeed, the law does protect employees. But as an employer, you also have certain rights. Experienced labor law specialists are familiar with the tactics organizers use to make companies feel powerless. But a professional labor relations specialist also knows the correct way to respond when union representatives violate NLRA protected employer rights. By enlisting a knowledgeable labor professional, you're trusting someone who knows the rights of employers during union organizing.

14. A Labor Relations Specialist Offers A Fresh Pair of Eyes

Labor relations specialists bring new perspectives. It's easy for busy employers to get complacent about employee engagement, fail to keep current on labor laws, and fail to modify policies and procedures that reflect new legal requirements. You may also not fully understand the attitude of the younger generations, especially millennials, concerning unions. Today, union organizers are using new strategies to organize groups of employees, including online groups, chat, platforms like TikTok and Clubhouse, texting, and so much more.

15. Your Labor Relations Specialist Is Not Emotionally Involved

Finally, a union organizing campaign is an event filled with emotions. It can make it difficult for employers to make decisions or to act rationally in terms of religiously adhering to the NLRA. A professional labor consultant is not emotional about unionizing efforts and brings a level-headed approach in an emotionally charged time.

Advance Preparation

Benjamin Franklin once said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." These are still relevant words of advice from a man who served as a consultant in one of his roles during the birth of a nation. As an employer, your best course of action is to prepare in advance for a potential union organizing effort

Advance preparation includes making sure your managers and supervisors are trained on the NLRA and how to recognize the signs of union organizing, using the web, eLearning solutions, and custom on-demand videos. You should develop a webpage that communicates the company culture and values. Your webpage should outline the advantages of working for the company and the corporate viewpoint on unions. You can also maintain a campaign-ready website that can go active as soon as union organizing starts. This allows you to quickly connect with employees.

Proactive, Not Reactive

First and foremost, your organization should prioritize building a culture that keeps the employee first, champions employees from different backgrounds, and makes sure everyone's voice is heard. This is the type of environment that simply renders unions unnecessary. When labor grievances are addressed quickly, it's less likely employees will turn to a union. Preparing ahead also includes regularly seeking the advice of labor relations specialists who can help you stop union organizing before it ever starts. It's the ideal strategy for staying union-free. Begin by communicating with employees regularly and utilizing custom communication wherever possible.

Our UnionProof Certification can provide your leaders with the training they need to be prepared in any labor relations situation or discussion. With easy accessibility to this online course, a UnionProof certification allows you to become the labor relations professional in your workplace, and build an organizational culture where unions simply aren't necessary. Click here to learn more!

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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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