The U.S. has a long and complex history with labor unions. While union membership peaked at 35.5 percent of the private sector workforce nationally in 1945, as of last year, that figure stood at fewer than eight percent. That doesn’t mean, however, that the threat of union organizing is gone.
As an employer, it’s vital that you remain vigilant and develop proactive practices to union-proof your business, according to Peter Bergeron, Vice President of Client Services for Projections, Inc.. This is crucial not only to protect your employee relations interests but also to protect your bottom line since, in most cases, unionization results in marginalized profits.
Now, you might think that as a QSR franchise owner, you’re safe. However Bergeron says you’d be ill-advised to write off the possibility of a union attempting to organize your employees. Unions are already targeting Starbucks workers, and Bergeron anticipates more campaigns aimed at QSRs.
Bergeron was a featured speaker at the most recent DDIFO Members Meeting in Westborough, Massachusetts. His talk addressed union-organizing tactics and warning signs, as well as strategies for preventing the unionization of your shops.
Of union organizers, Bergeron said, “They’ll work any angle they can.” They will pursue businesses based on just one employee citing problems with management. They can exaggerate existing issues and promise better pay, working conditions, benefits and the like. They leaflet outside the target company to arrange local meetings with employees and train these workers to serve as internal organizers. They position their campaign as an issue of dignity and respect and often have no qualms about using deceptive tactics to dupe workers into signing a union petition or authorization card. Once they have signatures from 65 to 70 percent of your staff, they move to hold elections. If half of your staff plus one vote for the union, they win, and you lose the ability to deal directly with your own employees.
Here are some early indications of possible union organizing:
- Employees start talking in groups with new or different employees
- Employee complaints change, become more frequent and are voiced in groups
- Employees begin to question pay and benefits policies more often
- Employees clam up when supervisors near
- Employees report phone calls or visits from unnamed “outsiders” at their homes
- Graffiti directly displays hostility at management
- Articles about union contract settlements appear in the workplace
- Employees begin using union terminology like protected activity, unfair labor practices and recognition demands
- Supervisors report that things have changed at work but they can’t put a finger on it
- Employees begin to wear union hats, buttons or t-shirts
So how do you stay ahead of the curve and prevent a union from assuming control of your employee relations?
“Get proactive now,” Bergeron advised. “Think strategically about how you conduct your business in terms of your employees. How do you communicate with them and treat them, and how can you improve this?” The reality is if you have any employee relations vulnerabilities, you may well be targeted by a union. Bergeron asserted, “Poorly run companies typically get the union they deserve.” Plainly said, if you don’t adapt and invest in positive employee relations, you are putting your business at risk.
Get proactive by:
- Making positive employee relations an integral part of the workplace culture that emphasizes your direct working relationship with employees
- Creating a positive new-employee orientation program that includes a union-free statement and routinely reviewing and adapting it as needed
- Assessing your union vulnerability annually by identifying real and perceived issues and addressing them
- Continually reviewing your policies and procedures to ensure legal compliance
- Constantly communicating with your employees and their families in constructive ways
- Making sure your supervisors and managers are energized, well-trained and committed to following your employee relations guidelines
- Building a culture in which employee involvement is encouraged, recognized and empowered
As part of your communications plan, you might want to consider customized icebreaker or orientation videos for employees, an internal-only Web site for supervisors that emphasizes employee relations and union organizing issues, and a union-free Web site that provides employees and family members with fact-based company and union information.
For more union-proofing information and ideas–including off-the-shelf and customized resources–visit www.projectionsinc.com or contact Peter Bergeron at firstname.lastname@example.org or 877-448-9741, extension 206.