Your Union Free Strategy: Becoming An Employer of Choice

The key word in “Positive Employee Relations” (PERS) is the word “positive.” You can have negative relations between managers and staff, but negative relations lead to low employee engagement, leading to a union organizing campaign. One of the most important strategies for preventing a union organizing campaign is to become an employer of choice. The term is bandied about, but the nitty-gritty is that an employer of choice is an organization that has a brand for being a great place to work. It is a place prospective employees are attracted to because they believe they will have an excellent employee experience. Additionally, it is a place with high employee retention because they enjoy a supportive organizational culture, good relations with management, work, and career opportunities. It is also more likely to remain a union-free company that never has to deal with a union organizing campaign

Employer of Choice, or Union of Choice?

In many ways, a labor union uses an approach similar to becoming an employer of choice. The labor union strives to build trusting relationships with your employees on the premise the union will improve their work lives and even their personal lives by negotiating higher wages, better benefits, safer working conditions, and so on. Also, the union represents all employees without bias, meaning they welcome any employee. The union works hard to present itself as a union of choice, convincing employees they will have good relations with union representatives, better career opportunities through fairer promotion policies, and plenty of support in getting what they need to succeed, like training. 

Looking at becoming an employer of choice from this perspective, you are working to create an organization that is far superior to anything the union might offer. Your focus is always on the positive in direct contrast to union negativity. And by staying union-free by offering and delivering a great employee experience, you attract prospective employees who have no interest in joining a union. 

You are not just competing for labor in a tight labor market. You are competing for the most qualified labor that does not want to join a union and will stay with your organization after hiring. Too often, the concept of becoming an employer of choice is limited to recruitment of job candidates, but it applies to attracting and retaining talent. 

Treating People “Greatly”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Trust men, and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.” Of course, he wrote that in 1841, and if writing today, it would say “people” instead of men, but the thought is just as applicable today. Treat your prospective and current employees greatly, and get great responses in return. 

Many factors go into building a positive employer brand and becoming an employer of choice. Following are seven of the most important ways you can treat people greatly and stay union-free.

Develop Leadership Based on Sharing a Vision

Leadership is a top factor in becoming an employer of choice. Gallup research found the manager accounts for 70 percent of the variance in team engagement. Your leaders determine the tone in the workplace, setting a vision for your organization that they regularly communicate internally and externally. This ability to communicate effectively becomes the linkage between what an employee thinks he or she can accomplish and what is possible in the organization.

Your recruiters who convey the vision with passion will attract the desired talent. Once onboard, your managers and frontline supervisors will consistently keep the compelling vision alive because people understand the business goals and how their work helps them thrive. This is crucial to developing positive employee relations and making a union organizing campaign or a physical or virtual employee protest unlikely.

Identify the Desired Employee

Just filling a vacant position is not enough. You want to fill your positions with people who buy into your mission, are good fits within a UnionProof culture without stifling creativity and innovation, and can see a future with the company by doing meaningful work. Hire right, and you will retain people who are collaborative and productive, pursue excellence in their work, strive to advance, pursue learning and take advantage of company training opportunities and want to work for a union-free company. You must define the skills and requirements for the job, but you must also identify the desired behaviors. As an element of the union-free strategy, the desired employee does not want to join a union because he or she believes in your organization’s leadership skills and open-door policy.

Meet the Needs of the Desired Employee

Prospective and current employees have needs and expectations. The needs may include things like a flexible work schedule, remote work, family benefits, collaborative culture, access to state-of-the-art technology, open-door policy, and so the list goes on. Meeting people’s needs, beginning with a great onboarding experience, leads to higher retention after hiring. The human-centered design puts the needs of people first and can become a key strategy for staying union-free.

One of the reasons employees turn to unions is because their employer doesn’t fulfill promises. One of the major complaints of Amazon employees who tried to unionize a Bessemer, AL distribution center in early 2020 was that they said they were told there would be advancement opportunities. Once hired, they discovered there weren’t many opportunities to move into higher positions because the distribution systems are so tech-based that fewer managers are needed. 

On the other hand, an employee at the Amazon distribution center in Bessemer, AL, said she voted against unionizing because of her relationship with her manager, the company benefits, and the free time by working four days a week. Managers who meet employee needs develop an engaged workforce and are very unlikely to be taken by surprise by finding a union authorization card.

Become an Employer of Choice for a Remote Workforce

If you want to maintain a connected and engaged remote workforce or a hybrid workforce consisting of remote and onsite employees, your union-free strategy involving becoming an employer of choice will need to meet the needs of remote workers too. Many of the same requirements that apply to the onsite workforce will, of course, apply to the remote workforce, i.e., shared vision and values, work culture, good communication systems, etc. 

In addition, you may need to strengthen your positive online branding. Remote tech-savvy workers are normally heavy users of social media, apps, videos on YouTube, online company reviews on sites like Indeed and other sources. If potential employees go online and see many negative reviews about your workplace culture, management, performance expectations, and career opportunities, it indicates two things. One, you are vulnerable to union organizing. Two, you’ll likely be unable to attract the desired employees. You may even attract the wrong ones – activists who want to enter your workforce as employee salts and start a union organizing campaign.

Make Fairness and Recognition Basic Values

Another employee who was once a coal miner and in a union said he voted against unionizing at Amazon because they make “decent pay and benefits” for what they do, and unions made him believe they didn’t really believe a good work ethic mattered. Seniority is what he saw mattered most to the union. 

People aren’t attracted to an employer (or a union) they perceive as unfair in any way or an employer who doesn’t appreciate its workforce members. Your leaders must be fair to employees and give employees a voice. They must understand the importance of and follow through with employee recognition. Employees need regular feedback about their performance and future career opportunities. They need recognition for accomplishments and ideas that contribute to business success. Rewards should reflect employee values and needs, which may mean meeting generational differences. For example, Baby Boomers may focus on retirement plans while millennials look for feedback and a collaborative work environment. A survey conducted by Robert Walters found that 53 percent of millennials have experienced disappointment due to a lack of personal development training when starting a new job.

Create a Diverse, Inclusive, and Belonging Workplace

An organization’s policies must be bias-free and discrimination not tolerated in recruitment and retention practices. Diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging cannot be “just a policy.” These are principles that are embedded in everything from operational systems to people interactions. A company that develops a social media reputation for being discriminatory or failing to recognize systemic racism or genderism in their systems will not attract top talent but will attract unions. Labor unions are addressing the social issue of racism in public ways, like the multi-union calling for a “Strike for Black Lives” July 2020 in 25 cities in which tens of thousands of workers walked off their jobs to call for better benefits, wages, and an end to systemic racism. 

Adhere to Truthfulness and Transparency

Transparency and truthfulness go hand-in-hand. Your organization should operate on a policy of engaging employees with honesty and openness. Though you don’t want to reveal certain information, your employees want inclusion in decision-making. They want to know things like the company plans for growth and anticipated changes, and your union-free philosophy. Your company’s perspective on unions should be transparent during recruitment and hiring processes because transparency and staying union-free are directly connected.

Rob De Luca, BambooHR defines workplace transparency as a “philosophy of sharing information freely in an effort to benefit the organization and its people.” He explains, though, that creating a culture and workplace of transparency requires defining the intent of the transparency so that employees have a clear understanding of expectations. For BabooHR, De Luca says, “Our belief in transparency lives in the value Be Open, but that value exists within a framework of others like Assume the Best, Lead from Where You Are, and Do the Right Thing.” The intent is expressed during onboarding and constantly reinforced after someone is hired. 

Unions like to tell employees their managers lie to them. This is an intentional strategy because it creates a wedge between managers and employees. If the union is successful, the brand is damaged, making it more difficult to hire talent and stay union-free. Management transparency used in the right way exposes union lies

Becoming an Employer of Choice is a Thoughtful Integrated Process

Trust, attitude, management skills, leadership training, employee communication, fair and competitive compensation, scheduling, and so much more are all factors that go into becoming an employer of choice. It’s the big picture and not one thing that attracts the ideal job candidates and retains the best employees. Rather than letting unions become the “union of choice,” concentrate on the “positive” in Positive Employee Relations in your recruiting practices and for your management of in-house and remote workers.

Becoming an employer of choice delivers two major advantages. First, you create a competitive advantage when recruiting job candidates and through higher workforce productivity and performance. Second, you reduce your vulnerability to unionization and are more likely to stay union-free

Projections, Inc. can help your organization develop its union-free strategy and provide the leadership and employee training that gets everyone on board and headed in the right direction from the get-go. Build a strong positive culture supported by leadership and the right tools and resources, and prospective employees will discover you are an employer of choice, and current employees will share that knowledge through a variety of communication channels. 

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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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