When unions are on your company’s property, passing out flyers, trying to get authorization cards signed, or contract negotiations go awry, you need to know how to respond. Unionized or union-free, your business can face union-specific challenges, including strikes and negative publicity in the form of corporate campaigns. However, you can take the right steps to keep these issues at bay. Prevent an action from becoming a crisis with these four ways to respond to a labor union “event.”
1. Establish a Crisis Management Team
Labor crises – strikes in particular – can be unpredictable and can damage a company’s reputation. Before a labor union event gets out of hand, it’s ideal to have a team of leaders in place that are trained to handle an action such as a picket, demonstration or even online campaign. This designated leadership team needs training and education on how to respond to various labor union crises, such as outspoken demands during a strike or organizing practices that stretch the boundaries of legality. This management unit can include members from the company’s executive team, senior management and supervisors, as well as in-house counsel or a labor attorney and any number of labor consultants that can help manage and develop your communication strategy.
The crisis management team can create worst-case scenarios, such as a strike, to prepare for real adverse labor union events. The crisis management team should also establish a protocol to follow in the event a crisis halts normal operations.
2. Provide Professional Presentations to the Public to Address Demands
When contract negotiations stall due to disagreements between the union and a company, demonstrations can shortly follow that can quickly turn into a public circus involving the media. That’s why it’s important to conduct damage control by presenting a professional demeanor when facing the public. This can include inviting media outlets to a formal press conference delivered by the company’s official spokesperson or by providing an interview. These options provide the business an opportunity to calmly answer questions even when angry employees or cynical journalists murmur or ask inappropriate questions. Addressing employee demands via the media also helps rationalize the company’s premise for honoring (or not honoring) specific requests, such as an unreasonable or unfair payment increases that could financially ruin the company. This helps to improve the public’s perception of the company for better crisis control.
3. Use Technology for Agile Communication
Consider using technology to deliver your message with speed and to avoid any miscommunication. Verizon accomplished this with the help of social media, for example. When Verizon’s landline division recently went on strike, the union worked hard on public relations, painting an unflattering picture, and vilifying the company in the public’s eyes. The perception was that Verizon was not paying its employees a fair compensation and that it also mistreated the employees of the landline division. Rather than just sending out leaflets or fliers, Verizon used social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook to address employees, partners and the public regarding the reason for the strike. This helped Verizon to quickly communicate information before other media outlets gave incorrect reports. Their quick response meant improving the company’s reputation because the public was able to not only identify the issue as concerning one division rather than a company-wide problem but also that the picture the union was painting was not quite the whole truth.
4. Communicate Frequently and Consistently
Communication that’s frequent and consistent is vital to settling disagreements. Employees upset with pay or the lack of a particular benefit can and do reach out to unions, and sometimes this can involve miscommunication. This happened in the recent Verizon landline division strike.
However, Verizon quickly updated its employees on a weekly manner on the state of negotiations. The company also provided frequent and consistent communication to the public regarding its plans to maintain service with replacement workers. As a result, Verizon came to terms with employees, who shortly returned to work.
Regardless of the labor union event issues you face, you want to stay prepared with a plan. Avoid union-event disasters by delegating a crisis team, staying professional, using technology and communicating often and with clarity.