Wow! The union election is finally over after a hard fought campaign on both sides. Your employees chose to be union free. Congratulations! It feels good, and it’s human nature to spend some time patting each other on the back and self-congratulating. However, this is the point where you should be asking yourself some questions. “How did we get to the point where employees agreed to hold a union election in the first place? And how can we prevent a union election from happening again?”
This is a pivotal point in time. You have a huge opportunity to change the things that need changing. You also need to reinforce the good things, significantly improving employee engagement. It’s time to improve communication with your workforce. You need to train your managers and supervisors on developing and maintaining positive employee relations. The company should strive to strengthen a union proof workplace culture that makes you an employer of choice.
The really good news is that you don’t have to start at ground zero. Clearly, the union didn’t offer your employees anything they didn’t believe they could work out with your organization’s management team. Following are some critical actions you should take now to prevent a union election in the future.
Prevent a Union Election by Consulting a Labor Consultant
Unions don’t like losing and are likely to vigorously search for a reason to file an objection to the results with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on the basis of election misconduct on your part. Now is the time to demonstrate that all pre-election and election conduct was permissible and didn’t interfere in any way with the employees’ freedom of choice.
A good example is the Longwood Security Services, Inc. case in which the union lost an election and filed an objection. The NLRB set aside the election because the union was not allowed to use an election observer. Only the employer’s observer was present. The observer was a union official and nonemployee. However, the observer only being associated with the employer interfered with the fairness and validity of the election.
There are hundreds of reasons a union can use as an objection. Realistically speaking, they have nothing to lose by objecting.
Develop a Strategy to Reunify the Workforce
Even though you won the election, it’s important to remember that a group of employees did vote for the union. They will be unhappy that they lost. And you better believe that the union will continue to encourage them to foment unrest. There has likely been public discussion and news reports about the election, too. Many of them with quotes by union representatives and pro-union employees about poor working conditions and employee-employer relationships. For this reason, the reunification strategy needs to consider healing relationships with all current employees. You also need to strengthen your reputation as an employer of choice for future employees. These are good ways to prevent union elections from happening again.
Reunify Current Employees
First, thank your employees for making the choice to remain union-free. Reiterate your commitment to them. Demonstrate that commitment in everything you do, including publicly and on social media. Look at ways to improve terms and conditions of employment.
Prevent union elections from happening in the future by taking action. Address concerns, including implementing an alternative dispute resolution program as appropriate. Communicate your company’s “why” as often as possible and remind employees that everyone is working together toward that why. Custom video is one of the most impactful (and memorable!) ways to connect with employees.
Realize that there are very likely rifts between employee groups that need to be addressed. Your supervisors should be equipped to handle this kind of tension. Provide them with an always-on online reference to help them take action when needed.
Think About Your Future Employees
Now is the time to do a thorough review of the employee engagement journey or total employee experience. The goal is to become an employer of choice, but what does that mean exactly? An employer of choice is an organization that has a positive and engaging workplace culture that attracts and retains great employees who are good fits.
Review what is presented to prospective new hires. The way your company presents itself when recruiting job candidates is the first step in the employee engagement process. But it also has a major influence on the company’s public image and reputation. The recruiting materials present your company’s mission, or the “why” of the company mentioned earlier, and its core values.
Your organization’s values are crucial to staying union free and preventing union elections in the future. They’re the fundamental beliefs which drive business and employee behaviors. This is your chance to present the values that make your business unique. Business brand consultant Denise Lee Yohn suggests developing a values statement that includes more than the values that every company should have as good corporate citizens – like ethics, customer service orientation and teamwork.
Instead, use words that differentiate your business from all others. Yohn offers the example of the Zappos value that says they “deliver WOW through service” because it is unique to Zappos. This makes current and future employees feel like they are partners in something different and important.
Prevent a Union Election by Conducting a HR Audit
After the union election, it is time to review every aspect of the employee journey, both large and small. Review the hiring process, the employee orientation process and the employee training process. However, it is just as important to review all the supporting systems that ensure values and the desired culture are consistently reinforced. Go through the HR policies and procedures on:
- Development and promotions,
- Fair compensation plan and good benefits,
- Effective communication system,
- Career development opportunities,
- Quality of leadership decision-making,
- Conflict resolution process, and so on.
However, becoming an employer of choice goes beyond the schedules and procedures. This is where organizations sometimes make the mistake of stopping. The employee experience is more than initiatives, programs and policies. It is about how people interact each day.
You need to ask yourself if employees have on-demand access to employer information. Do they have a way to give and receive feedback to management and an understanding of the company’s perspective on unions? What is the level of engagement and trust now among employees, and what should it be? Do your employees feel empowered? Are they given opportunities to be involved in decision-making, on innovation teams and in processes affecting their job responsibilities? Is your organization transparent?
Give Employees a Clear Voice to Prevent a Union Election
Ensuring employees have a voice is important today, especially to the younger generations. It is the rallying cry when any kind of organizing takes place – union backed or not. The workers at the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant voted against joining the United Auto Workers in June 2019. The employees who didn’t support the union said they already have a voice in the workplace and didn’t need the union speaking for them. This prevented a union election for them.
Google is another recent case that demonstrates the principle and power of today’s “employee voice” and is a sign of the times. On June 19, Google employees coordinated with many activists and investors to develop proposals for official presentation at a shareholder’s meeting. Employees addressed the handling of sexual harassment complaints, corporate transparency, efforts to build a censored search engine in China, the use of TVCs (temporary, vendor and contract employees) and more.
This was an escalation of the employee protests that have taken place in the past year at Google. Though these are non-union activities, there is a good chance that continued failure to get their demands met will eventually lead to a formal unionizing effort.
Time to Get to Work to Prevent a Union Election
It is imperative to get to work immediately repairing employee relations, improving the culture, training leaders and reviewing all HR processes. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the union will give up and go away. It usually doesn’t work that way, especially if there was a close vote.
The union can begin a new organizing drive and file a petition for a new election as soon as one year passes. During that year, the union will stay in touch with the employees who served as the internal union organizers, working to maintain the rift between the workforce and management. You want to make sure that you are doing all that you can during that year to prevent a union election from taking place.
At Projections, we believe that every company can be an employer of choice. Over 40 years of experience have taught us that connecting with employees is the clear path to creating successful companies that matter. We give our clients the ability to become an employer of choice by providing resources that are highly effective, simple to use, and deliver behavioral change at a cultural level.