Unions are hurting, and have been for decades. They represent a small fraction of workers and organizing has been slow and difficult.
All that may be changing. Concerns about jobs and job security, concerns about workplace health and safety, and the most pro union administration in U.S. history may work together to reenergize the labor movement. Democrats have made pro-union pro-organizing legislation a priority.
So smart employers will act now – before a union resurgence begins – to take steps necessary to help keep their workplaces union free.
Of course, it’s important for wages and fringes to be competitive in the industry and in the region, but our experience is that those are rarely the primary motivating factors which lead to interest in unionization.
Right now, safety will be a priority everywhere. Not only must employers see to it that all steps have been implemented and enforced so that employees are safe and feel safe, but employers must make sure employees understand the steps which have been taken, the reason for them, the consequences if they are not adhered to, and that there is an effective way for employees to raise and express safety concerns and to receive timely, substantive responses.
In addition, the historic factors which motivate organization drives still must be recognized, evaluated and acted upon.
Those include favoritism, or the appearance of favoritism, as well as actions which deprive an employee of dignity in the workplace.
Audits need to be performed to confirm that business decisions – work assignments, promotions, lay-offs, job and training opportunities, and discipline, for example, are predictable and consistent. They must be determined by business priorities and transparent both within and among departments. Employees want to be engaged and included in decisions that affect them.
Management style also plays an enormous role in maintaining a union free environment. Treating employees with respect and dignity – even during stressful circumstances and even when imposing discipline is necessary – goes a long way in obviating any thoughts of the necessity of seeking outside assistance. Managers and supervisors must be trained in the skills that will make them successful while maintaining a professional and appropriate business atmosphere. Employees won’t forget if they (or if they see others) are treated or spoken to in a demeaning way or if anyone is humiliated in front of others.
And managers who are trusted and respected build loyal teams who will return respectful treatment and who won’t seek revenge or protection from an outside organization.
All this leads to an emphasis on how crucial effective two-way communication is to achieve a quality work environment.
Nothing is more powerful to help prevent and defeat destructive rumors and dangerous workplace fears than regular, reliable, substantive information about the company and its directions and priorities. Good managers are alert to and anticipate problems or discontent so that they can be addressed before they fester and grow. The best managers and supervisors make sure that employees have an opportunity to express themselves, and understand that it is their responsibility to provide timely, meaningful responses – the burden to “get back to you” is the manager’s not the employee’s.
Companies should have a procedure in place to encourage anonymous communication and provide responses available to all through a question box and a newsletter, for example.
The bottom line is that if employees can’t express themselves and receive meaningful attention, they may look for someone else who can do it for them.
There are other audits companies can do before a union appears on the scene to provide the best opportunity to remain union free. Employers should review the company chain of command to ensure that the people they rely upon to express the company message will be found to be supervisors under the law so they are excluded from the bargaining unit.
Finally, unions will often attempt to make inroads by organizing a small section of a company that has expressed interest. By structuring the company’s workflow and procedures appropriately, it can be more difficult for the union to separate a group they see as favorably inclined to support an organizing attempt from a larger segment of the workplace.
PMP is happy to answer your questions, help conduct an audit, and train your managers and supervisors in best practices skills and in union avoidance strategy.