The Worst-Ever Union Avoidance Strategies

Looking for great ideas on union avoidance? You won’t find them here – these are the worst union avoidance strategies we’ve heard. With well over 30 years in the business of helping companies stay union-free, we’ve heard some of the best – and worst – advice out there. So, we thought we’d share some of the most memorable nuggets we’ve heard over the years… because we can learn something even from the worst advice.Union Avoidance Advice (And we’ve included a few links to some resources you may want to include in your strategy!)

“Don’t Use the “U” Word.”
So have you heard that employees are more likely to seek out unions if you openly talk about them? Experience has shown that this is the exact opposite of what happens in the real world. Any company afraid to talk about the subject becomes the unions’ easiest target. The very fact that today less than 7% of private sector workers are unionized means your employees have very little first-hand knowledge of organized labor. You, as the employer should be the one providing the information- otherwise, the union will do it for you, and the truth may not come to light in the way you want it to. Remember, there is nothing wrong or illegal about explaining why your company wants to maintain its union-free status.


“Find a boxed solution to have on the shelf…”
Life would be a lot easier if there was some “one-size-fits-all” solution to remaining union free. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works. A handful of videos showing how a union deceived employees back in 1998 may look good to your labor attorney, but it won’t connect with your workforce. Know your people – the ways in which companies communicated in the past won’t always be effective. Times and issues change and companies need to evolve with them. Similarly, don’t put your “just in case” campaign strategy on the shelf and think you’re prepared. You won’t be. Look for a current, flexible, online solution that gives you the ability to address employee issues now.


“Stick to what worked in the past!”
Break room postings, cold “dear employee” letters, union-bashing flyers… Once upon a time, these were the trusted staples of union avoidance campaigns. But in a 24/7, Internet driven society, employers need to adopt communication formats that are valued by today’s employees. This includes social networking, and opt-in email and text messages. Remember: unions have embraced the two-way communication of social media with great success, particularly when it comes to targeting younger workers.


“Hold your powerful stuff until right before the vote”
Everybody knows that the best way to pass that Chemistry exam is to wait until the last minute to cram, right? Hopefully not- and hopefully you understand that you can’t wait until the late minute to decide that you want to remain union free. But, this is when many employers figure it out- after a union representation petition has been filed. A company can still win at that point, but the challenge becomes more difficult- and more expensive. Implementing strong union prevention plan now, that explains your philosophy to new hires on day one and helps put everyone on the same page can be the difference in the time, money and effort it takes to remain union-free.


“Go Around Your Supervisors – they’re not equipped to deal”
There is an old saying that supervisors are a company’s “first line of defense” against unionization. Supervisors remain the most vital factor in the success or failure of any union organizing drive. And the reasons why make sense: Employees will have the most interaction with their direct supervisor – to them, that manager IS the company. It is imperative that supervisors are on board with the company’s union-free message, and that they know how to handle it and answer questions. Supervisors and managers need to promote the philosophy, while being able to answer questions, and they need to do it in a way that is legal.


“Focus your resources on your primary union adversary.”
Why does the United AUTO Workers union represent nurses, casino workers, and state employees? Because they need members to fill their bank account, no matter where those members work. On that note, it is important to realize that a union’s historical ties (or name) have little to do with organizing targets of today. Today’s unions aren’t picky – they will look for any viable company in any viable industry. Employers must pay attention to the locals in their area, and should have a good idea of who is interested in organizing their workforce, but a powerful preventive strategy addresses the concept of unionization without bashing any particular organization.


“A few employee complaints aren’t as important as your overall campaign”
One of the things that unions are best at is identifying individual employee concerns and building them up until they are huge, to convince workers that a union is the only the solution to their terrible injustice problem. Companies should factually and accurately address items of concern and take everything – and everyone- seriously. A good general rule of thumb is that happy workforces don’t look for third-party representation. Smart companies will conduct regular union vulnerability assessments and gauge what are the key issues, and what are not.


“Rumors don’t matter; employees are smarter than that”
One of the worst things that can happen for a company is for the rumor mill to kick in to high gear and employees begin believing everything they are hearing: including union promises,. Your job is to pay attention to those rumors, and firmly rebut them in a timely manner, via channels employees trust such as a dedicated employee website. Without excellent communication, rumors can spiral out of control and lead to even bigger internal PR problems.


“It’s “to hell and back” and then you’re done – just get through a campaign and it’s over.”
Here’s a situation we’ve encountered many times: A company wins an election and the union can’t force another vote for 366 days. When an employer thinks the issue is over and done with and returns to the way things were before the union came calling, they are on dangerous (and expensive) ground. It’s far better to think of it as a second chance to continue promoting positive employee communications and making sure employees remain happy with their union-free choice. Labor relations education isn’t a one time deal – its an ongoing process that begins on every employee’s first day with the company.


“Families? Just focus on your employees.”
One of the most powerful secrets in connecting with employees is drawing in that secondary audience at home. Families have a major impact on how an employee will approach the issue of unionization. This is – and should be – a family decision, as it will affect the entire family. Makes sense doesn’t it? Make sure that spouses, partners, and significant others have the information available on what unionization means. Online communications, sending videos to the homes and addressing the concerns of non-employee influencers can be vital.


“Consistency is key – pick something and stick with it.”
I know it can be hard when put a lot of time and effort into a plan that doesn’t go off exactly as you had envisioned. Unfortunately, that may happen with your union prevention strategy. That is why employers must remain flexible, and not fear changing paddles mid-stream. Maintain the ability to react, answer false claims, and handle tactics such as home visits or the filing of ULP’s. Your strategies must be adaptable to accommodate any union attacks. And all communication channels- video, web, eLearning, social media- must be analyzed and adjusted as necessary. The development of a union avoidance strategy is the beginning, not the end.

Projections Award WallAll kidding aside, a strong union avoidance strategy begins with educating employees on day one and making sure supervisors are ready to support your company’s union-free position. The UnionProof team at Projections has been helping companies develop these plans for more than 30 years, and we can help you connect with employees now – making unions unnecessary.

About the author

Walter Orechwa

Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.