Most employers simply want to create a good working environment and strive to establish relationships with employees based on mutual respect. But over the last eight years, the US government has been particularly labor-friendly, especially since unemployment is down and union popularity is up. As a result, even the best companies now have to focus on following the laws while trying to keep their employees happy and invested.
In a time when the nation is still recovering from economic hardship, the cost of unionized workers can put quite a strain on a company that is trying to remain competitive with their competition. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ September 2016 study shows union-free companies paid their workers $19.06 per hour on average. Comparable union companies were obligated to $22.76. Non-union employers provided an average of $7.33 per hour in benefits, while union employers had to provide $13.82. While you want to attract and retain great employees by providing competitive wages & benefits, that can only happen if your company is able to maintain a healthy bottom-line, and being contractually obligated to higher costs can be a true challenge. Businesses must remain flexible -and profitable – or everyone suffers. If your company becomes unionized, there is a real chance that you can eventually be forced to sell out, close down or move overseas.
One recent example of the bent toward unions came last summer when the NLRB overturned a long-standing precedent by determining that a company can be found in violation of a labor law without a specific labor practice complaint being lodged against it. That decision puts the onus on management to be proactive and inform unions of action or inaction that could potentially violate NLRB rules. In these situations, an innocent oversight on the part of a manager at a unionized company can lead to legal action by the union and the government, sometimes leading to government fines and even more onerous employment procedures. Your company’s management can have excellent intentions but still end up in hot water.
The NLRB issued another recent decision that made unionizing easier than ever before. Now your direct employees and the temporary employees you have hired through another party can be part of one bargaining unit. This is known as “joint employement” and if your company routinely hires temp workers during tax season or the pre-holiday rush, those employees can help bring a union to your company. If you depend on this type of temp-hire, the desire of your direct hires to stay union-free can be overturned.
In the face of these difficulties, maintaining positive employee relations for union-free companies requires thought, strategy and intention. With a lower unemployment rate, your employees have more employment choices. Cultivating a sense of loyalty among your staff or employees is more important than ever before. Part of the process must include transparency about financial growth and future outlook. Continual employee input is necessary to “union-proof” your company, as are methods by which employees can resolve issues. Although you may not be able to financially match union benefits, you can provide a friendly, open workplace that is receptive to worker feedback and suggestions.
Businesses with a union-free operating philosophy can face unique challenges in this economic and political climate. You can fight to keep your employees satisfied by allowing them to participate in plans for the business, offering them flexible work situations and allowing them to voice their concerns. Positive employee relations can overcome the threat you face from a union-friendly government.