As an employer, you want to have the resources in place to take immediate action if you detect authorization card-signing or other signs of union organizing. Those resources may include relevant video messages and even launching a website, but those are just vehicles. What’s actually most important is the content of your communications. Although you may need to tread lightly, know that your decisions and the approach you take to connecting with employees can greatly influence the outcome of any union organizing drive.
Before you begin to express your opinion, be sure that you thoroughly understand employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act. As long as you – and in turn, your leaders – take the right steps, you can effectively express your opinion without coercion.
1. Voice Your Opinion
You have the right to tell your employees that you would prefer to maintain your direct connection with them. This may sound like dangerous ground, but your opinion matters, and at a time like this, the worst thing you can do be silent. Your silence can easily be interpreted as implied consent, and employees might not even know that you care. Get involved, and communicate your concerns in an organized, forward-thinking manner.
Be direct and honest, addressing the fact that you do not believe your team would benefit from union representation. Remember to focus on the key disadvantages that matter to your company, including things like dues checkoff, work rules that favor seniority over merit and the ever-present possibility of a strike. Back up your opinions with facts. For example, cite cases where a union has stunted an employee’s professional growth based on seniority. Help employees understand that you have the best interests of the company and the future of every employee in mind.
2. Correct Politically-Motivated Misstatements
Because your employees could sign a union authorization card based on a union organizer’s promise of higher wages, you must make sure to address the “promises” made. Your leaders should explain that promises are just that – and that in collective bargaining, employees could get more, but it’s just as possible they’ll have the same or even less when the union makes it’s own demands at the negotiating table. If the union is presenting other misleading information, it’s vital you communicate that the NLRA assumes employees know the difference between promises a union makes (because they don’t have the power to keep them) and promises an employer makes.
You can legally address union promises, highlighting the fact that a union organizing drive is essentially a political campaign. The union can always “out-promise” an employer, but after the election, nothing is guaranteed.
For those employees who have already signed a union card (which, of course, you can’t ask), let them know if the campaign comes to a vote, they can still vote any way they like, regardless of the card they signed initially.
3. Welcome Feedback
If your employees want to become part of the union, focus on why they’re thinking that way. Open up two-way communication – in person, or even better, online – so your employees feel as though they have a voice. Offering an element of your website that provides a means for anonymous feedback can provide you with powerful feedback.
Be sure to address the feedback you receive in a constructive way – again, silence here is not an option. It’s also not productive to get upset about things that employees may say – use it to your advantage! After all, there’s a reason this organizing drive took root, and if you can address the heart of that reason, you’re far more likely to avoid the cost of unionization.
4. Compare The Benefits of Staying Union-Free
Sure, there are some perceived perks when joining the union, but how do you currently measure up? Remind your employees about the benefits they currently enjoy, in comparison to companies that have been unionized.
For instance, if employees currently have a fair, well-liked supervisor, one with whom they interact successfully, remind them that they might no longer have this option. After unionization, they will need to bring any issues to a union representative. In other words, like it or not, employees lose their “one-on-one” connection to management.
5. Use Personal Experiences and Transparency to Your Advantage
As an employer, you may have had experiences with a union in your work life. Both you and your managers and supervisors can legally relate your personal experiences. Be honest and transparent, telling employees about what you’ve learned, highlighting negative changes that you’ve seen occur after unionization. Employees may believe they will receive a pay raise, even though it isn’t necessarily true; if you’ve been involved in a situation where wages actually dropped, use that personal knowledge to your advantage.
Educate yourself and your employees if you are currently facing a union-organizing drive. Begin by contacting your labor attorney and be sure to source accurate information. Try to be as proactive as possible, reducing your reliance on reactive decisions and actions.
Union drives can be a confusing and highly stressful time, but effective communication makes all the difference. Also, don’t shy away from communication well and often, especially when you believe the union will be a disservice to your employees.
Now that you’re confident in what you intend to say, be sure to address how you’ll communicate. Realize that there are a variety of options available, including not just personal meetings but also video, websites, and eLearning. Be sure to speak to employees with respect and welcome their response based on their current concerns. After all, you catch more flies with honey — and in this case, you’ll want your employees to see that staying union-free is clearly the sweeter choice.