The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was carefully crafted to ensure that employees can exercise their right to organize – or stay union-free – without inappropriate interference. Over decades, case law has determined exactly where the right to organize ends and employers’ rights begin. For example, employers can create and enforce a non-solicitation policy in the workplace, which prevents unions from coming on-site. However, such policies cannot specifically target unions – they must apply to all forms of solicitation, including fundraisers or charitable requests not sponsored by the business. But of course, union organizers have a remarkably effective method of circumventing non-solicitation policies: visiting employees in their homes.
The Home Visit Strategy
The technical intention of the NLRA is to create a fair, balanced playing field so that workers who wish to organize can do so. However, lawmakers had no interest in requiring employers to permit union organizers on-site. Unions complained that their inability to contact employees put them at an unfair disadvantage, since employers have a “captive audience” in the workplace.
The Home Visit Doctrine was an attempt to return balance. Under NLRB case law, employers cannot visit workers in their homes, but union organizers can. Union organizers usually begin to make home visits after a petition for an election has been filed with the NLRB. At this point, employers are required to provide the union with an Excelsior List, which includes the personal contact information for all employees in the bargaining unit.
Home Visit Tactics
Typically, visits from a union organizer are carefully staged as social calls. Organizers bring along sympathetic co-workers, and perhaps they offer a gift of food or flowers for the home. Under these circumstances, the targeted employees are more likely to allow organizers into their homes for conversation. These “casual” visits can have a powerful influence on employees. Unions gain a captive audience of their own, as the employees don’t want to appear rude by turning their “guests” away.
Organizers use this opportunity to their best advantage, gathering insight into individual concerns with the work environment and making promises to resolve these issues once the union is certified. They mirror any perceived problems in the workplace, and they turn the discussion into a miniature rally, stirring the pot and agitating issues that employers may already be in the process of addressing. As an employer, you have good reason to be nervous about home visits, but there are steps you can take to mitigate this risk.
Home Visits: Steps You Can Take
While the NLRA protects workers’ right to organize, it also protects their right not to organize – and it does give employers explicit permission to communicate with their staff. These are a few of the points you can and should make during an organizing campaign:
- Employees who do not wish to receive home visits can put a “no solicitation” or “do not disturb” sign on their doors. This removes some of the pressure to allow “visitors” from the union into their homes. As one Senior HR Manager of Operations at a packaging company told us, “During a recent USW campaign, our employees were receiving home visits and they were very unhappy about it. Their time away from work is their personal time and they do not appreciate unwanted solicitors. The employees were coming to us (HR) and asking for assistance. The UnionProof team at Projections was able to provide us with a door hanger which we made available to our employees for their homes. It allowed them a chance to tell the union “no thank you” in a polite manner while maintaining their privacy. The employees were very appreciative of this.”
- Remind employees that unions are legally permitted to make any promise they please – whether or not they can legitimately deliver on it. Employers are not permitted this same sort of flexibility with the truth. Let employees know that they can trust the information that you provide.
- Mention that in today’s digitally-driven culture, home visits aren’t necessarily in-person. Websites like Coworker.org and apps like WorkIt are designed to fan the flames of worker discontent, encouraging employees to organize rather than work with their employers to resolve issues.
The most important point to remember if faced with the possibility of employee home visits is that you can communicate with your staff members about this practice – and you can tell your staff members they have the right to deny union organizers into their homes. Employers who are not proactive in communicating with team members about home visits often find themselves at risk of a successful union campaign.