Uh-oh! You just got notice the union has filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The first reaction is usually a sense of being overwhelmed. The union organizing campaign is filled with legalities and plenty of opportunities for missteps on leadership. Having worked with thousands of employers of all sizes, UnionProof understands the natural panic response. We are here to help, so suggest you take the following first four steps to get on the right track immediately.
Consult with a Labor Attorney
First, stop a moment and realize that you are not alone in your struggle to remain union-free. Contacting your labor attorney right away is the first step to getting help and making sure you start down the right path towards the union vote. It’s very easy to break the law today by saying, much less doing, something not allowed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and NLRB decisions.
Hire a Consultant Specializing in Staying Union-Free
A union-free consultant is there every step of the way, beginning with developing a strategy and actions to respond once a union has filed a petition. The consultant advises senior management and Human Resources and is a partner to leadership. The consultant(s) is an employee advocate who knows how to communicate with the workforce about staying union-free in a way that makes sense and is convincing without breaking the law. An expert consultant also knows about the many resources and tools available for employers and which ones will work best for a particular company.
The consultant will help develop a campaign calendar to ensure no time is lost because there are approximately three weeks for the entire union organizing campaign to occur. The consultant will also regularly assess the campaign’s status, recommend adjustments to strategy or actions as necessary, and assist with determining the best communication plan.
Invest in the Right Materials and Tools
There is a wealth of resources, like those developed by UnionProof, that can be quickly implemented and used as strategic guides, be adapted to the specific union involved, train leaders, and support communication with employees. They include:
- Union campaign employee engagement materials – A variety of materials are available, including wallet cards, digital signage, employee information sheets, posters, letters, email, social media swipe files, and training videos like the new NLRB mail-in voting process, to name a few.
- A union-free website – Some companies have a dark website that remains inactive until a union campaign starts while other companies keep the website active. The website can be custom created to meet the company’s needs, especially if kept active, and then updated for the specific union should a campaign start. Another option is to purchase a union-specific ready-made website that can quickly go live.
- Establishing a means for employees to anonymously ask questions and get responses – Some companies add a Frequently-Asked-Questions webpage to their union campaign website. That is the most efficient approach, but you can keep it separate and perhaps use an existing system you have in place. The important point is that it must enable anonymous employees submissions to avoid charges of intimidation.
- Other resources – You should identify and utilize other effective employee communication resources. Each business has a communication system that works best with their employees. It could be emails, internal social media, texts, mobile app, or an enterprise communication system. Develop a strategy for a coordinated communication process to keep your leaders and your employees informed as events unfold. Communication transparency is a critical strategy for staying union-free.
- Leadership training resources – Ideally, you regularly train managers and supervisors on union avoidance best practices and keep them informed about identifying union activity. In those cases, a union petition is likely not a surprise. Even if you have not provided the training tools in the past to keep your first line of defense informed, you can quickly train your leaders on typical tactics of the union involved and the appropriate responses and behaviors that will help the company avoid charges of Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs). You need to move rapidly, though, if a petition has already been filed. The fastest training route is purchasing pre-prepared training materials for addressing organizing.
A union consultant can help you decide which communication forms are most effective for your particular workforce and workplace culture.
Assemble a Rapid Response Team
Once again, some companies have a rapid response team in place all the time, while others wait until unions are active or a union has filed a petition. If you don’t have a rapid response team, then you likely need some type of response team that can serve as ambassadors throughout the company and responds appropriately to a union organizing campaign in progress. The response team members partner with the labor attorney and the union-free consultant to stay on top of the union campaign.
“Do I have to spend a small fortune to stay union-free?”
This is a common question that employers ask. One of the most difficult points to keep in mind is that the cost of unionization is high for employees and the company. Studies have found that a newly organized company can expect their operating costs to increase by more than 25 percent of their payroll costs. That’s the minimum cost increase because you will have to hire or assign people to spend all their time dealing with the increased reporting, grievances, and negotiating over issues like layoffs or promotions that unions always cause. Your managers will be dealing with union issues instead of their job responsibilities so important to business success.
What are you thinking?
So, you are still thinking, “Why should I pay for resources to stay union-free when there’s a chance my company will never be unionized?” The answer is that unions are extremely active, gaining widespread support across industries and groups of employees who never unionized in the past. Once voted in, unions will negotiate a 3-5 year contract. You’ll have to invest in the expenses just mentioned plus invest in higher quality employee engagement training resources in the hopes the employees will decertify the union at the end of the contract period. If the contract renews, you are locked in again for years.
You may be an employer who is thinking, “Why should I pay for resources to stay union-free when I’m not in a blue-collar or public service industry?” Unions are actively seeking new sources of members. Not long ago, the New York Times published an article, “How a New Breed of Union Activists is Changing the Rules (and Newsrooms)” (Ben Smith, May 3, 2020). The point of the article is that the younger union organizers have different life experiences and perspectives compared to older union members. They are interested in organizing any workplace, and rather than concentrating on issues like seniority and traditional work rules; they are focused on things like structural inequities, diversity, gender equality, fighting for lower-paid workers at the expense of the higher paid, class warfare, and so on.
These are all issues impacting every employer in every industry and not just the news industry, which was the article’s theme. Unions are unionizing healthcare, tech, knowledge, and service workers, and focusing on the younger generations of workers. Your business and every other business is a possible union target.
Options to fit every circumstance
You have different options to consider as to your investment in staying union-free.
- Buy pre-developed products in response to organizing activities like a union-free dark website; union-specific videos showing real-world tactics of the particular union; explanatory videos on topics like the TIPS Rule and FOE Rule and responding to a union petition; union avoidance best practices; understanding union tactics around activities like card signing; and so much more.
- Have a company like UnionProof develop all customized solutions like a dark website and leader and employee training programs based on company needs. However, remember that once a union petition is filed, your company must begin responding immediately. It takes more time to develop customized campaign solutions than buying pre-developed products, so most customized solutions are best prepared before there is a petition.
- Buy pre-developed products and add customized information, as necessary.
- Invest in an ongoing consulting service that offers products and services, like a monthly eLearning newsletter on employee engagement; on-demand eLearning leadership training programs; regular videos and information updates on union activities around the country and NLRB decisions; training on union behaviors; assistance with employee communications about unions; harassment prevention training; and a host of other products and services designed to prevent unionization or efficiently respond to union organizing.
- Do your own union opposition research, or pay a consulting company to research your company. It takes time and knowledge to sort through the massive amount of information available on unions, so there is a cost to doing your research. There is a cost whether you do it yourself or let a union consulting company do the research. You must compare the cost of paying someone to research paying an external union expert who has much of the research already done on dozens of unions.
Better Late than Never? Not So Fast!
There is no doubt that staying union-free, even after a petition is filed, is much easier when a company has staying-union-free resources, like a preventive union organizing website, in place, and a leadership group that is effective at employee engagement.
When unions are aggressively recruiting your employees, even the most well-prepared employer can still have to deal with a union election at some point. Unions are good at fomenting dissent by starting with a handful of disengaged employees who are dissatisfied with some aspects of the workplace.
It’s easier to respond quickly and efficiently to a union election when the support system and structure are already in place. Being late to the organizing effort can easily lead to unionization because you don’t have enough time to fully train your managers and supervisors and fully educate your employees on unions’ truth. Instead, your leadership time will likely be spent responding to ULPs, dealing with irate employees, trying to keep productivity level, preparing communication resources, and trying to figure out how to not panic.
But if you are late to the organizing event (meaning you’ve done almost nothing to prepare in advance for possible organizing), hire a union-free consultant right away. You need to gain access to the right tools immediately and develop an effective strategy.
Don’t Be Caught by Surprise
UnionProof and its partnering companies, Projections, Inc. and A Better Leader, can provide everything your business needs to respond if a union has filed a petition. Just as importantly, we can provide the workforce training and communication tools you need to never reach a petition filing point. No one likes feeling overwhelmed!