Across the country, approximately 8% of the workforce is unionized. Speculation is that if the Employee Free Choice Act (“EFCA”), the union-backed legislation making its way through the Democratic-controlled Congress, passes, that number could double.
This is causing concern for many employers, who fear that a unionized workforce makes the company less flexible, innovative and responsive to a rapidly-changing global economy, in which customers only care if your product is feature-packed and low-priced. Union contracts and the rigid rules they impose can possibly turn a company into a slow-moving and out-of-date giant like GM or Chrysler.
How would the EFCA increase your chances that your workers would be unionized? The bill would allow workers to sign cards with a check-off box saying that they want to be represented by a union. If 51% check off the “yes” box, then you will have a union in your workplace. This method is currently allowed, but employers don’t have to recognize the check-cards and can demand a secret ballot election, which provides the employer time to counter the unionization attempt. Requiring an employer to recognize the check-card election alone as controlling does increase the chance that a union will start representing your workers in negotiating all terms and conditions of employment.
The EFCA would also require the company and the union to submit to binding arbitration if a union contract could not be negotiated in 90 days. This provision could increase the chance that a National Labor Relations Board arbitrator will be determining your wages, vacation policies, attendance policies, etc., instead of you as the owner or manager of the business.
The chance of passage of the EFCA in the Senate decreased in late March when moderate Republican Sen. Arlan Spector announced that he would not support the legislation with his swing vote in these difficult economic times. However, there will probably be some sort of compromise bill that passes, so you can’t totally ignore the possibility that a union may soon be coming to a workforce near you.
If you want to decrease your chances of ever facing a union election in your business, here are some proactive steps that you can and should take right now:
- Unions thrive whenever employees perceive that they are not being listened to or taken seriously. Employee complaint processes, listening sessions, surveys and other requests for feedback that result in visible changes for the better can prevent a lot of the discontent that leads to unionization.
- Clear communication of the company’s financial picture, the decision-making and achievable goals can help the employees understand why you made seemingly unreasonable management decisions that directly affect them.
- Your human resources staff and your first-line supervisors have the biggest impact on your hourly employees. Are these people likable, credible, even-handed and trustworthy from an employee’s point of view? I’ve known business owners who couldn’t stand their own management staff. If you can’t, then their subordinates probably can’t either and this could lead to the kind of dissatisfaction on which unions feed. Make sure you have a healthy management team if you want to prevent unionization.
- “Share the wealth”. I know that conservatives hate that term, but it is popular right now and is penetrating the consciousness of your employees. If your business is thriving, then your employees ought to be seeing a reward from your profits. You can provide better benefits, profit-sharing, bonuses or increased pay, but however you do it, make sure your employees understand that you are grateful for the part they play in your company’s success.