In recent years, there have been huge changes in workplace legislation, related to organized labor and union organizing. However, many human resource professionals at union-free companies aren’t aware of these shifts or even how organized labor can pose a threat to their companies.
This article provides background information on organized labor and how it can impact your organization, recent legislative developments, and information on why HR professionals need labor relations knowledge to succeed in today’s workplace. HR professionals must be proactive in learning this information before their company is blind-sided by a labor relations struggle.
Labor Unions, Defined
A labor union is an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests with respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions. Workers in the private sector are granted the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), passed in 1935.
Back in the early 1930’s, unions led a reform movement in America. Working conditions and the exploitation of workers was a real problem, and began to be addressed by governmental regulations. Attention was brought to the quality of life for workers, particularly immigrants, in the cities and factories. Over the years, government agencies such as OSHA were formed, and EEOC laws were instituted to protect workers. As the government addressed concerns unions once fought for, those unions had to fight to survive. In doing so, they became the very thing they were fighting – big businesses. By the 1970’s, unions found that many workers no longer believed in the system that had once fought for them.
Today, the need for unions in the American workplace has all but disappeared. This leaves unions in a precarious position – one that literally has them fighting for their own existence.
“Ambush” or “Quickie” elections recently became law, shortening the petition-to-election timeframe considerably. For employers, this means they have precious little time to educate their workers on what unions are, what they do, and why they need employees’ dues money. Additionally, other legislation that allows unions access to employees’ email and personal information, rules that allow organizing of “micro-units,” and a host of other new rules are now keeping HR professionals on their toes.
Under the NLRA, unions can organize workers through a majority of votes obtained by secret ballots. Union organization can also proceed simply with a majority (50% +1) of publicly signed “union authorization cards.” Without secret ballots, employees become vulnerable to intimidation and peer pressure in favor of organized labor.
In addition to legislative changes, the advent of technology is changing the way unions organize and communicate with employees. One tactic union organizers use is convincing their in-house Volunteer Organizing Committee to e-mail union materials through the company’s e-mail system. This means that every employee in the company could receive union solicitation e-mails. Unfortunately, this is hard to stop; federal appeals courts on several occasions have ruled that employers cannot bar employees from using the corporate e-mail system for union business, unless they enforce an across- the-board “non-solicitation policy,” barring workers from sending e-mails about their personal lives, invitations to social events, or asking coworkers for charitable donations.
The best way HR professionals can help their companies avoid a costly labor struggle is to get educated themselves, and stay proactive. Millennials in today’s workforce believe in “doing it for themselves,” and unions can seem more attractive to these younger employees. If you, as a true HR professional, are well trained about organized labor, you can prevent union organization even before it happens, by creating a UnionProof culture.
Where to Find Help
Many labor and employment attorneys offer local seminars for clients, so be on the lookout for those. These seminars are a great place to start to learn more about unions and their legislative agenda. It’s a great place for HR professionals to find information about labor laws specific to their state.
HR professionals should also look for other resources and mentors in their communities. Local and industry associations, including the local chamber of commerce, provide a great network for sharing ideas and advice about how to encourage communication between employees and employers.
Projections, Inc., a company dedicated to employee communications, provides several tools that can teach HR professionals how to keep their company union-free through practicing positive employee relations. Informative articles, whitepapers, case studies and more are all available in the UnionProof Toolbox, free of charge. Human Resources professionals need to stay informed of the latest labor news, connect with thousands of other people like them, and find out about seminars and events – the UnionProof team at Projections offers a free Monday morning newsletter, Join The Conversation.
Another great resource is the book Proof Positive by Walter Orechwa. The book provides an incredibly in-depth foundation on organized labor, aimed specifically at helping HR practitioners add labor relations to their skill set. The book also discusses how to create a union-free strategy for your company, including best practices and advice. This book is available through online retailers, such as Amazon, or can be downloaded for free from UnionProof.
What Human Resources professionals need to remember is that there is no “one solution fits all” when it comes to remaining union-free. It’s an ongoing process that requires constant communication and continuing education for employees, supervisors and managers. However, if HR professionals and upper management stay up to date on current labor trends, news, and best practices, they will ensure a strong defense against organized labor, and a foundation for overall company success.