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Employee Lawsuits: How to Stay Union-Free

Attentiveness to employee needs is the key.

Union avoidance can be achieved only through diligence along with attention to the desires and sentiments of employees. Employers should periodically audit their work force to determine whether management's relationship with its employees remains strong or whether problems exist that may make the employees receptive to union organizing. Management must take a very critical look at employment conditions to see whether there are areas that can be improved so that they can blunt any possible chance of a union organizing drive. The following list of factors can be used as a guide to determine whether employment conditions are conducive to union avoidance or union acceptance:

  • Do employees feel ignored? Have they received only a minimum amount of information about the company's business health, its goals and achievements?
  • Have management's rules and policies been consistently enforced?
  • Are employee gripes, complaints, and grievances being discussed and cleared up promptly by management? Is there a grievance procedure in place for dealing with employee complaints?
  • Have there been recent incidents of discipline or discharge that may have been implemented without a thorough and impartial investigation?
  • Do employees believe their wages and other benefits are competitive with industry standards?
  • Are there any unsatisfactory working conditions that might be improved by management? For example, are employees working long hours without sufficient breaks?
  • Do employees feel stymied with regard to their future opportunities with the company?
  • Can management be perceived in any manner as having played favorites with respect to promotions and increases in wages?
  • Are there any employees who have been demoted or for some other reason may be bitter against the company and thus likely to promote the union to other employees?
  • Have there been increases in employee contribution payments for group insurance or pension benefits?
  • Have jobs been combined or functions added to various positions so that employees are now doing more work for the same rate of pay?
  • Have changes in work policies or procedures been introduced without advance notice or explanation to employees?
  • Are any procedures in place, whether informal or formal, that facilitate the communication of employee sentiments to management?
  • Are there any supervisors who are using pressure tactics rather than leadership to secure productivity?
  • Have there been any unkept promises on important issues such as raises, bonuses, extra holidays, increased vacation, or other benefits?

The foregoing factors may be used as a device to gauge an employer's vulnerability to union organizing. In general, employee attitudes toward job security, fair pay, opportunity for advancement, ability to talk to management, fairness by management in administering policies, and pride in the company are the best indicators for gauging union vulnerability.

Summary of Union Avoidance Strategies

While no one can guarantee that a particular company will not become the target of an organizing effort, there are some basic strategies that employers should follow to minimize the likelihood that union representation will be viewed as an attractive option by employees.

Consistency in the application of policies. A frequent tactic used by union organizers to foment employee interest is to cite instances where employment policies were applied in an inconsistent or arbitrary manner. Therefore, it is important that personnel policies and procedures be consistently and uniformly enforced by all supervisory personnel.

Communication. Open and clear lines of communication between management and employees need to exist. An employer's stated "Open Door" policy is meaningless if an employer fails to respond to employee questions and fails to elicit employee input and suggestions. Even if the response to a question or suggestion is "No," the employees are at least kept in the loop.

Because of a lack of communication, employers often fail to comprehend the real reasons behind a union organizing campaign. For example, a desire for increased wages is seldom the reason that employees seek union representation. One way for employers to assess employee concerns is through the use of employee attitude surveys. These surveys reveal employees' sentiment about their jobs, their supervisors, and the company. The surveys allow employers to recognize potential problem areas that could become a source of discontent among employees. By addressing or correcting problems, the employer will demonstrate responsiveness to employees' concerns and can possibly forestall a potential organizing drive.

Finally, employers are often reluctant to communicate to employees their desire for a union-free workplace. That is a mistake. Instead, employers should clearly articulate their beliefs regarding the negative effect that unions have in the workplace. A statement clearly explaining the employer's position on unions should be included in employee handbooks.

Supervisory training. The earlier stages of a union organizing effort are usually conducted covertly. During this time, a union organizer will try to gather support among employees by meeting privately with small groups of employees after work hours or by telephoning individual employees at home. Although unions naturally want to keep their organizing activities secret for as long as possible, supervisory personnel need to be aware of the early signs of union organizing so that pro-active, counter-union steps can be quickly initiated by management. In addition, supervisory personnel need to be familiar with the legal parameters within which they can operate and still avoid unfair labor practice charges and objections filed by disgruntled union organizers.

Excerpted from Slam the Door on Employee Lawsuits: Keep Your Business Out of Court. Copyright 1998 by Paul M. Lusky. Published by arrangement with Career Press.
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