Unions are experiencing a surge of new interest, as they promise security and safety to workers shaken by the uncertainty of today’s economy. Is your company at risk of unionization, and if so, would you even know it? Today, we’ve got 7 simple steps to keep your company union free. Being aware that trouble could be looming is the first step, but – it’s what you do next that matters.
It’s within your ability to maintain a workplace that is not vulnerable to unionization. The key is making your employees feel as though they have a voice — after all, who wants to work for a company when they feel as though they’re an outsider? In fact, many employees rate feeling ‘in on things’ as their #1 factor for job satisfaction.
Whether you become more accountable or implement a grievance procedure plan before any issues arise, the actions you take today could significantly influence your company’s vulnerability to unionization. Always keep this in the back of your mind: proactive, not reactive.
There’s no better time than today to take these seven steps to keep your company union free.
Step #1: Train Your Leaders
The first of the steps to keep your company union free is to provide your frontline leaders with the skills and knowledge they need to maintain a direct connection with your employees and take action when necessary. Trained supervisors are more confident and able to address questions about union organizing. When employees trust that leaders have their best interests in mind, and trust the factual information their supervisor provides, they’re less likely to turn to a union to get the information they need.
Don’t expect your leaders to become labor relations experts, but training them on the basics of positive employee relations and what to do in a campaign situation provides everyone with peace of mind. Be sure to include the TIPS and FOE rules in any training you provide.
Consider an ongoing training resource specifically for the purpose of connecting with leaders who have daily employee contact. An online toolkit can provide consistency and the information your leaders need to keep YOU informed as well. This leader-facing website can help your teams recognize, respond to and discuss any signs of employee disengagement or union activity before it’s too late.
Step #2: Communicate Regularly
When you’re informed, you’re at an advantage. In many cases, small unresolved issues create a negative snowball effect. What may have been resolved easily at first can spiral out of control based on employee frustration. After all, one of the greatest supervisor-controlled conditions that influence unionization is a lack of awareness.
As an employer or manager, understanding employees’ concerns before they arise is the second of the steps to keep your company union free. If individuals have already come to you expressing their concerns, listen to them and respond accordingly. The worst thing you can do is fail to acknowledge their concerns. The best thing you can do is strengthen the relationship you have with your employees.
If you’re not aware of any ongoing issues, seek the opinions of your employees. You can speak with them directly or offer an anonymous survey. At the end of the day, if you’re rigid and disregard any new ideas suggested by your employees, you will likely see a change not only in their attitude, but work ethic.
Step #3: Maintain a Safe & Socially Responsible Working Environment
The reality of the situation is that, in order to organize workers, unions can and do exploit certain types of employees and companies — so don’t give them a reason to. The third of the steps to keep your company union free starts with how you run your company in terms of safety. This is a factor that’s directly in your control, and can be addressed proactively and visibly in order to optimize your employees’ work environment.
If employees stress the fact that they do not feel safe under certain conditions, it’s the Company’s responsibility to address these concerns. In addition, in order to go above and beyond, seek awards and training programs that reinforce the importance of safety in the workplace. Show your staff that they have the right to work in a safe, fair and secure environment.
Addressing employee safety is closely tied to corporate social responsibility. Be sure that you’re communicating the ways in which your company is caring for the needs of the community as well as the needs of employees and don’t give unions any reason to call your company’s integrity into question.
Step #4: Be Pro-Worker
Many employers and managers approach the issue of unionization reactively. But the next item in your steps to keep your company union free is to always keep your employees’ needs in mind. In the face of a union organizing effort, instead of creating a positive work environment and highlighting the needs of employees, many companies immediately begin to attack the opposition — in this case, the union — often alienating workers in the process.
Without realizing it, you may inspire unionization through your own actions. If you hear “union talk” during working hours, this will be your first red flag. How you approach this information could make or break your desired outcome. Don’t start making demands because you’re the boss and fear change — request the attention of your workers to speak in a constructive manner.
Of course, you need to take a stand and remain authoritative, but you’ll also want your leaders to focus on a respectful and supportive approach. Show your workers that you appreciate the work they do. This can be as simple as giving recognition where it’s due and celebrating achievements.
Step #5: Educate Your Employees Based On Your Experiences
You and your leaders can legally inform your employees based on any prior experience you have had. It’s important for your employees to hear both sides of the issues — so that they are not making decisions with half the information they need. After all, it’s important that they know that union promises are no guarantee of improved wages or working conditions.
If at any point a union representative has approached your employees and you’ve become aware of untrue statements, take a stand. Call a meeting and address any misleading facts, setting the record straight. Be open to questions and remain calm. You want to show your employees that you’re on their side. Also, highlight the fact that union dues could be deducted from their pay — especially if wages are an ongoing issue.
Step #6: Know How to Recognize The Signs
If you notice that there are early warning signs of possible union-organizing, this is the time to step in. Do not wait until the union gets involved before speaking to those involved. Knowing is half the battle, so be aware of the following:
- More activity than usual during employees breaks or lunches.
- Increased employee gatherings that tend to break up when supervisors or manager approach them.
- An increase in employee after-hour gathering.
- Changes in employee complaints — whether in terms of the nature of their complaints or the frequency.
- Complaints being made by employee representatives.
- Former employees hanging around the premises, especially those who were discharged.
- Signs that the union has been speaking with employees — for example, cards or leaflets left on the premises.
Of course, the ultimate goal is to be proactive, before any serious complaints arise. With that being said, in the event that you notice any of the early warning signs listed above, a rapid reactive approach is recommended. Immediately publicize an open-door policy, encouraging employees to speak with you.
Step #7: Make It Part of Your Culture
It’s not enough to “inoculate” employees during their new hire orientation. It’s a great start but it’s vital to frame your UnionProof Culture as part of who you are as a company. Encourage regular communication. Educate your HR Team on what it takes to support employees. Make sure your UnionProof Culture is woven into every step of your Employee Engagement Journey.
Creating this kind of involved, focused and positive environment can seem daunting. But with the right communication resources and a focus on taking excellent care of your team members, you can keep your company union-free.