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Buyer Beware! Avoid these 5 Pitfalls in Addressing Union Organizing

avoid these pitfalls when addressing union organizing

It can be an overwhelming situation. You tried to address employee concerns, but perhaps because you didn’t understand the pitfalls in addressing union organizing, a union has filed a petition for an election. The idea that your employees might no longer talk directly to the company but instead go through a third party can be disheartening.

Not to mention that employees would then have to turn over part of their paycheck to the union. You know that if your employees had all the facts, they could make an informed decision. But now, you’ve got roughly 23 days to educate your employees about the risks of unionization.

At Projections, we’ve been helping companies educate and inform employees on unions for over 4 decades; and we know that there are pitfalls in addressing union organizing that can take a company by surprise. Especially when things start to gain momentum toward an election. So today, I’m sharing our top five “buyer beware” tips to save you from the missteps others have made.

cost to stop union organizing

5 Ways to Avoid Losing an Election before the Vote

Yep, your election is won or lost way before your employees cast their ballot. Companies like yours hire attorneys, consultants, employee communications experts (that’s me), and unions are still winning 71% of all elections. If you want better odds, start here with understanding the motivation behind the campaign.

1. Understand How You Got Here

For most companies, prior to the organizing drive, things seem to be going fine. Sales may be up, internal improvements may have been made and you might even be hiring. But unions target companies that are doing well – there’s no money in organizing employees at a struggling company.

So often, the petition is filed (on a Friday afternoon -what the hell?) and somehow, something no one saw coming has blown up. How did you miss it? Did you change a benefit but announce it poorly? Is there a problem with a supervisor that is running unchecked? Could there be harassment or bullying going on? Even if it’s just a union organizer stirring up chaos, you’ve got to understand the origins of the problem.

So the first in our pitfalls in addressing union organizing not understanding (REALLY understanding) how you got here. Go back to your most recent employee survey. Take a look at your exit interviews. Talk to your trusted leaders. Understanding your company’s unique issues is the first step in educating employees and helping them understand that union-free is the best way to operate successfully.

RELATED: Seven Helpful Tips To Prevent A Union From Organizing

2. Shut Up And Listen

Sounds simple right? But the second of our pitfalls in addressing union organizing is over-explaining. Many companies think that if they just talk to employees, if they explain why those changes were needed, and how the company is moving forward, those employees will understand. This leads to talking more than we listen, when really, what your employees want is to be heard.

Your employees want to be in on what’s happening and have a feeling of some control. It’s not rocket science, but man, it can be challenging to monitor. The first step is to teach your leaders and supervisors to be better listeners and, thus, better leaders. Then, make sure you’re providing employees with a way to be heard. A custom website with an anonymous submission form can provide an outstanding way to demonstrate that you’re listening.

3. Know Your Resources – And the Strengths of Each

With today’s shortened petition-to-election timeframe, the vote can be upon you in the blink of an eye. Right now, gather your resources and be prepared. The third of my pitfalls in addressing union organizing is not asking for help when you need it.

You’ll absolutely want an excellent labor & employment attorney ready to make sure you operate legally and don’t provide the union with an opportunity to file charges against the company. If you don’t have one in place, now is the time to research and find a firm that reflects your company’s culture and style.

Other resources may include consultants and even persuaders – but make sure you know what you’re getting into! Hiring persuaders (who actually come in and talk directly to your employees) necessitate filing two forms with the Department of Labor, an LM-10 and an LM-20. These reports basically disclose who you paid, how much you paid them and what they did for those fees.

I have seen these disclosures backfire, even after the vote is over, when a union can use the information to convince employees the company was more invested in stopping the union than raising wages (or improving working conditions, etc.).

One resource you can absolutely use to your advantage is a provider of powerful and effective employee communications, like the UnionProof team at Projections. These tools can help you connect via video, websites and even interactive eLearning for your leaders and HR Team.

Union campaign consultants

4. Don’t DIY

Sadly, I see many companies who simply say, “we’ve got it all taken care of.” or “we’re handling this situation on our own, internally.” The fourth pitfall in addressing union organizing is DIY’ing your campaign. It can be tempting to think you’ve got it all under control, but first, go back to Pitfall #1 and realize that what got you here – won’t get you there. If you want to come out on the other side of this campaign with your employee relationships intact, you’re going to have to take a different approach. (Otherwise, please go ahead and read this article on decertification now.)

Yep, your in-house marketing team can create a website for employees to address what’s going on during the campaign. But is that really the approach that’s going to turn this relationship around? I’ve seen companies succeed since 1999 with custom, union-specific, and more importantly company-specific websites. Knowing the vital elements of a campaign website and better still, how to communicate them makes all the difference.

Similarly, video producers are everywhere these days (heck, my 16-year-old can have your video on tictoc in about 3 minutes!), but choosing a production company with team members who understand the subtleties of engaging employees around a union campaign can be the difference between success and failure.

5. Realize that You Know Best

Getting great advice can be vital to reconnecting with employees and creating your UnionProof culture. That said, never forget that your company’s Mission, Vision, and Core Values are the foundation of your company’s authentic self with employees. These things are how your company makes decisions, and supports the success of the team.

The final pitfall in addressing union organizing is neglecting to give your employees a foundation to believe in. It’s easy to forget to communicate your values when you’re in the throes of a union campaign. We get going, lots to do, and we drift into auto-pilot. Everybody is just doing their respective jobs, and everything is coming up roses until it’s not. 

Learn to recognize this pattern. It takes work, sometimes extra work, to be a people person, a better leader, an educator, and inspiration to others. Yes, in addition to keeping the wheels on the bus, keeping everyone safe, writing up reports, and making widgets at a profit in a competitive global marketplace — deep breath —you have to give, give, and then give some more. Trust me. The employees will see it, feel it, and pay it back ten-fold.

LaborWise Leadership

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.