With the card check provision of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) eliminated, Congress is sure to pass this pro-union bill and that means the unions are back in business. Employers have reason to celebrate the demise of card check. Elections will remain the determining factor. But before you begin celebrating, this bill still has teeth. Union elections will be sped up, first year contracts will be fast tracked and penalties against employers for labor violations will be severe. Rather than bemoaning the likely passage, while castigating the very existence of unions, attention should be focused on making unions unnecessary in your organization.
Companies often get unions because they deserve them. When employees feel disengaged, treated poorly, or when their wages and jobs are threatened, they reach out to anyone who offers a lifeline. The union’s promise of job protection, improved wages and benefits, along with workplace due process plays well in this depressed economy. Who wouldn’t listen when their pay has been cut and they’re facing job elimination? Whether unions can ever deliver on their promises is not relevant. Fighting a union drive or worse, negotiating their first contract is hugely expensive and derails all attention needed to effectively run your business.
Now is the time to make sure your house is in order. Waiting for the first sign of a union sniffing around is just plain foolish. Immediately putting up a “not welcome sign” is good for you, your employees, and the long-term viability of your company.
So how do you eliminate the potential wedge unions will surely drive between you and your employees? What union arguments will resonate with your workforce? The easy response is to simply ask your employees. Employee satisfaction surveys are a great tool to determine what your employees are thinking and an accurate predictor of your vulnerability to unions. Rarely are employees not willing to talk. You just have to listen.
Bashing employees is not a solution. It simply creates a gap between employees and management. When management conducts business in a manner that makes unions unnecessary, employees have no need to look outside for assistance.
A simple, uncomplicated strategy focused on your employees will not only make unions unnecessary, it will also increase the productivity and performance of your workforce. This strategy should contain five key elements:
1. Communication–talk to your people—frequently. Make sure they know what it means to be unionized. Be clear about your position—tell them and put it in your policies. Let them know they can always talk to you and that there should never be a need to turn to a third party. At the same time, employees also want to know about what’s happening with the business. When the boss talks to his/her employees, rumors disappear. Keep them informed.
2. Provide an outlet for problem resolution— Things happen and employees need a safe, comfortable vehicle to address concerns and get issues resolved. When problems fester, they often grow until they blow. Early correction means employees stay focused. Unions will guarantee your employees due process. Why cede that right to the union?
3. Develop your supervisors–they are the foundation of your business. They should be your eyes and ears, employee problem-solvers, and the go-to person to get things communicated and done. And when it comes to unions, they will be your first line of defense in preventing or fighting a drive. Invest in them.
4. Pay fairly—in a tough economy when survival is an issue, it is difficult to talk about pay. Two things, however, are important to keep in mind: 1) employees expect to be paid fairly for the work they do and, 2) employees understand the times. Nothing fires up talk about unionization more than a workforce that believes it is being treated unfairly. Market survey your wages annually. Correct inequities and communicate what you’re doing with your workforce. At the same time, affordability is always an issue. You can’t pay what you don’t have. Again, tell your employees. If you’ve always been straight with them, they’ll understand. But, when the good times return, remember those who stood by you.
5. Take care of your employees-setting clear expectations and holding your employees accountable for good performance is a must. When employees do their part, employers must do the same. Make your place a great place to work. That means tools to do their job, supervision that cares, a clean, safe place to work, and people who are respectful.
It doesn’t take a lot to make your place a great place to work. And when you do it, union organizers will by-pass you for the other guy. Your workplace will hum and the fate of EFCA will not be a concern for you.