You’ve built a successful business. Over the years, you’ve overseen and set the wages, benefits, and all other terms and conditions of employment in your operation. You are in total control! Until that fateful day when you are notified “out of the blue” that your employees are so dissatisfied and disgruntled that they are demanding to join a union and strip you of all the control you’ve enjoyed. How did this happen? Why didn’t you see it coming? Could you have done anything to prevent it? Historically, union organizing efforts are most successful when employers send a message that they don’t care about their employees. The primary reason for employees to seek out unions is because of an employer’s bad practices. With that in mind, let’s look at why employees join unions and steps that you as an employer can take to convince them otherwise.
- Ignore Employees’ Complaints – They’ll Go Away Eventually!: Failing to respond to employee complaints, especially about pay issues, workplace safety, discrimination or other forms of mistreatment is one sure way to let the union walk in. No one likes to be ignored. Employees who feel that their concerns are being genuinely listened to are much more likely to remain loyal to the company. Giving employees orders without explanation or asking them to perform jobs they’re not suited for devalues the employee. One of the large selling points in any union drive is a promise to provide employees a “strong voice on the job.” To the underappreciated or devalued employee, this can be a powerful tool to turn towards a union.
How can an employer protect itself? Ensure that you have an effective complaint handling system in place. Give employees feedback on a regular basis. Some employers have gone as far as setting up independent review boards to handle internal complaints. When this mechanism is in place, it robs a union of one of their most effective bargaining chips – a grievance proceeding.
- Lack of Concern About Safety: Workplace safety has historically been a rich recruiting point for unions. Employees expect to work n a safe environment. One that is free of workplace hazards, with appropriate equipment, training, tools and clear guidelines and procedures for responding to workplace safety incidents. Employers who address workplace safety issues early on are better suited to counter the inevitable union promise to provide a “safer” workplace. Workplace safety is not just about policies and procedures that are filed away in a dusty binder. It is a culture of respect for employees that must come from the top down.
- Lack of Respect: Disrespecting your employees, especially in front of others, assigning blame before fully investigating all the facts and generally playing favorites are all surefire ways to energize employees to run to a union’s arms. Ensure that management is well trained in communicating with employees, especially about sensitive topics like discipline or job performance. While the workplace is not a day care center or a psychologists office, showing care and compassion in how difficult conversations take place and are delivered goes a long way in maintaining an employee’s self-respect and dignity. Once an employee feels stripped of his or her dignity, they often turn to someone else to help get it back. Don’t let that someone else be the union organizer!
- Offer Non-Competitive Pay and Benefits: Surprisingly, pay and benefits are relatively low on the list of why employees feel a need to reach out to a union. However, often times, during a union drive, this area is highlighted with a huge spotlight. The claim will be “we can get you better benefits and wages than your employer is currently offering.” Who wouldn’t want more pay or better benefits? If an employee believes the employer is holding back, being cheap, trying to make greater profits at the expense of wages and benefits, a union organizer will swoop in and make that the battle cry, even if it’s not reality. Employers should participate in wage and benefit surveys to ensure you are competitive in your industry and location. Employers should also stress that “Compensation” includes much more than simply what goes into the bank account of each employee. There are “soft” benefits such as training and additional skills given to employees to make them prepare for the next role in the company; there are employers that offer additional time off or other benefits that don’t necessarily translate into hard dollars. All of these items need to be explained to employees to counter the “low wages/benefits” siren’s song likely to be sung by the union organizer.
- Play Favorites!: The theme throughout this article is that an employee who feels he or she is being disrespected or treated unfairly will look for a new workplace champion to spearhead his or her cause. Nowhere is that more evident than in a situation where management plays favorites with employees. Unequal application of discipline or favoritism in how certain policies or procedures are enforced is a guarantee that an employee will find sympathy with a union organizer. An employer needs to establish clear cut policies and procedures. However, even the best written policies and guidelines are worthless if they are administered unequally. All managers and supervisors need to be trained on how to administer the policies in an even handed manner. Failure to do so will not only engender hard feelings amongst employees, but will also expose the employer to potential liability on account of discrimination. Employers should not be afraid to discipline their management staff for the unequal application of policies o procedures. The alternative is always worse!
The bottom line is that an employer who shows his/her employees that the employer is committed to making the workplace participatory, safe, and respectful will be way ahead of the game when the union organizer comes knocking.
With over 30 years’ experience in advising employers and employees on workplace issues, such as EEOC updates, let Boznos Law work with you to ensure you are ready to meet the challenges posed by union organizing efforts. Call Bill Boznos today at (630) 375-1958 or contact us through our website at www.boznoslawoffice.com