Many employers don’t know how to address the topic of unions in the workplace. The National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from a few items. Remember the acronym of TIPS of what you cannot do:
- Threaten – Employers cannot threaten employees with adverse actions if they support a union. An example would be telling employees that the company would close a location or lay people off if a union were supported or elected by the employees.
- Interrogate – Employers can discuss unions with their employees but they may not Interrogate, or question, their employees about their union activities, whether they support the union or if they signed a union authorization card.
- Promise – Employers may not promise benefits (raises, for example) to employees if they don’t vote for the union or if they campaign against the union.
- Spy – employers may not spy or place employees under surveillance to identify union activities.
Beyond these specific limitations, employers and company managers may discuss facts, experiences and opinions about unions.
You or your management team can inform employees of the process of a union campaign, that they may be forced to pay union dues and initiation fees, that a union contract would limit or eliminate employees coordinating their hours, wages, benefits and working conditions with individual managers. Share that the union cannot promise anything to your employees since everything would be negotiable. You can discuss your past experiences with unions, facts about union strikes and other similar issues.
That said, employers should note that most union campaigns are no longer about economics. Employees that do not have a voice in the workplace, that don’t feel respected and appreciated or feel that they are not treated are more likely to gravitate to a union. These emotional issues are the forces that drive many to join unions today. If you and your management team keep your employees engaged, seek their thoughts and input in ways to improve business and make the employee feel valued, you have a taken a huge step in preventing union activity in your workplace.
Here is a common-sense approach:
- Be pro-employee, not anti-union!
- Treat employees fairly.
- Maintain open lines of communication with your employees.
- Survey employees, formally or informally, to ask whether they are being treated respectfully and fairly.
- Explain unpopular company decisions. Employees may not like something, but understanding your reasons for actions will earn the employees respect.
- Maintain an open door policy and listen to employees that have complaints or concerns. Ensure that employees understand that their concerns are taken seriously.
- Maintain competitive wages and benefits within your industry and market.
- Beginning with the orientation of new employees, make it clear to your employees that you prefer to deal directly with your employees. A position statement regarding unions can be included in the company handbook, if desired.
Should you discover that your employees are exploring a union, the National Labor Relations Act limits your actions during a union campaign. For example, if you discover employees are signing or being asked to sign union authorization cards and you offer raises during that time, you might face an Unfair Labor Practice charge. If you need help with this topic or other employment issues, contact BCN for further discussion and guidance.
Jeff Walsh, Partnership Manager