Unions now represent less than 7% of the private industry workforce in the United States. It is imperative that unions take immediate action to rebuild their membership. That is exactly what unions are doing.
Consider the following:
* Last fall, President Obama told a gathering of AFL-CIO leaders that while proposed labor legislation designed to benefit union organizing was not likely, he had appointed people in the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Department of Labor who could get the job done without going through Congress.
* A majority of the NLRB’s Washington board members have union backgrounds and that majority is committed to changing the rules of the game to make it easier for unions to get new dues paying members.
* Various Department of Labor agencies have added staff who are taking a much more aggressive approach to enforcing government regulations. Unions will use agency enforcement tactics to cause pain for their organizing targets.
* The Service Employee International Union (SEIU) reportedly budgeted $250,000,000 for organizing in 2011.
* The National Nurses Union is very aggressively targeting healthcare organizations across the country.
Where is that “Easy” button when you need it?
A union organizing campaign has a high difficulty factor when a company is not prepared. With tight budgets and limited resources, getting out in front of this issue is tough to do in many organizations. However, being proactive is much less costly than running a successful union organizing campaign. The fact is that you can be proactive and cost effective when you set a plan and execute it ahead of a union showing up at your doorstep.
Some key things to consider:
* The quality of your leadership team: Unions look for target companies that have people in leadership positions who don’t act like leaders. Assess your leadership team and work with them to improve. If they can’t make a positive change, replace them. Show your company that you will not tolerate poor leadership – you can only demonstrate this by your actions.
* Give employees what they want: In surveys over the past 40 years, employees have consistently said that they want respect, to be treated with dignity, and to be treated fairly. The majority of union campaigns do not begin with pay or benefit issues. They most often are a result of one of the issues above. These three things don’t require a big investment. They require leadership.
* Communicate your company’s union philosophy. If you want to remain union free, say it and explain your position. More than 93% of private industry employees go to work every day without paying union dues. You have a good story to tell. Let employees know where you stand.
* Train your leadership team about unions and what they want. They need information to act in accordance with company policy and should understand the things that they need to do under the rules of the game. Let them know what you expect from them as leaders and what they are accountable for. Get the entire leadership team on board.
What if it’s too late to be proactive?
There are processes and tools to help you if you are caught by surprise. Very few companies have expertise within the organization that can successfully navigate a short union campaign. Engage the best support you can as soon as possible and work with your leadership team to focus on turning the union away.
Begin to inform your employees about the union campaign as soon as possible. Union representatives will likely have the jump on you and they will provide their story, not yours. It’s important that employees understand what the union is doing, and why they are doing it.
If you can convince your employees not to sign a union card, you will have a better chance of avoiding an election. You can’t lose an election you never have.
Tom Zigray is a partner with The Alignment Group, a labor relations consulting firm.