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The Manager’s Guide to a Union’s Demand for Recognition

union demand for recognition

Companies without unions usually want to stay that way, but union avoidance is a balancing act. It is critical to handle union organizing efforts within the law while still taking advantage of every opportunity to maintain a union-free environment. One of the trickiest situations lands small and medium-sized businesses in hot water on a regular basis: the mishandling of a union’s demand for recognition.

Demand for Recognition Defined

Business leaders often lack in-depth training on the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which puts them in a precarious position when unions start a campaign to organize. The first step that labor organizations take is gathering employee signatures on membership cards. When a majority of employees have signed, union representatives bring the cards to a manager of the business. The union makes a “demand for recognition,” essentially asking management to voluntarily recognize the union based solely on the signed membership cards. The catch is that these representatives don’t phrase their comments in the form of a request. Instead, they make a demand, which can be hard for untrained managers to turn down. After all, a large stack of signed membership cards can indicate many employees want union representation.

Little Card, Big Trouble

Following the Secret Ballot Process

Businesses that prefer to maintain a union-free environment must always decline a demand for recognition. Remember that union card signing is not at all confidential, and it is quite possible that some individuals felt pressured by their peers to support organization efforts. Instead, require the union to file a representation petition with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. This triggers a secret-ballot election. In the time that passes between awareness of union activity and the election, business leaders have an opportunity to make their case to keep the workplace union-free. Remember, the outcome of a secret-ballot election with confidential voting can demonstrate a very different level of support for union representation among employees who might otherwise be indicated by a stack of signed cards.

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Pitfalls in the Demand for Recognition Meeting

There are three important points to be cautious of when approached with a demand for recognition. First, refuse the representative’s offer to show management the signed union cards. There have been cases where the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that the simple act of looking at the cards was management’s consent to and voluntary recognition of the union.

Second, specifically state that management requires unions to proceed through the entire election process to receive recognition by the business. Insist that the union file a representation petition and take the resulting time gap to put the company’s union-avoidance strategy in place.

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Finally, at no point before, during or after the demand for recognition should managers discuss any terms of employment with union representatives. Even the most casual conversation about pay rates or work hours could be interpreted by the NLRB as voluntary recognition of a union.

If an error occurs and management does voluntarily recognize a union, the NLRB requires that the union be permitted to represent its collective bargaining unit for a reasonable period of time before business leaders challenge its status. Through a series of decisions, “reasonable” in this situation has been defined as at least six months but not more than one year after the first bargaining meeting.


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