How to prevent unions from gaining a foothold in your workplace

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has proposed a rule that would require all private employers to post a notice informing employees of their National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) rights. Simply put, the new workplace poster would communicate to employees their right to unionize under federal law.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Unionization is a hot topic in the news right now, as we witnessed in the recent showdown in Wisconsin. State legislators asserted that the bill was necessary to reduce budget shortfalls, while public workers fought vigorously to preserve their collective bargaining privileges.

Although union membership is on the decline (falling to 11.9 percent of the nation’s workforce in 2010 and representing approximately 14.7 million employees), the events in Wisconsin highlighted the divide between workers, legislators and businesses regarding union activity.

As a responsible employer, what can you do to foster an environment where your employers feel respected and well-treated – and as a result, aren’t as vulnerable to unionization?

Strategy #1: Encourage Honest, Open Communication
Employees typically join unions because they’re dissatisfied with how management treats them, and they believe a union can improve conditions in the workplace. If your company is viewed as unfair or unresponsive to employees’ concerns, you’re opening an unwanted door to possible unionization.

That’s why clear and constructive lines of communication between management and employees are so important. To support an open-door communication policy, you should:

• Use meetings, workshops, bulletin boards and suggestion boxes to learn about employees’ needs and concerns
• Conduct a workplace survey to identify employee views on management, company culture and general working conditions
• Make appropriate information available to employees to avoid unnecessary speculation about the company’s position, financial standing or business objectives
• Allow employees to discuss wages, benefits and other working conditions with their coworkers, which the NLRA considers “concerted protected activity”
• Promote your open-door policy – and encourage employees to voice their concerns directly with management - through emails, distributed materials and even workplace postings, like our attorney-approved “You Have a Voice” poster

Strategy #2: Scrutinize Compensation and Other Benefits
Certainly, the economic recession has created a lot of budgetary belt-tightening for businesses. But no matter how tough the times, denying employees fair wages is a recipe for disaster. Now, more than ever, you want to be confident you’re compensating your workers fairly and setting wages at or above industry levels. Similarly, you want to check that you’re being consistent about the criteria used to determine wages, such as length of service and experience.

This is a good time to track other benefits related to your industry. In addition to decent pay, providing a robust benefits package can lead to more satisfied employees. Consider distributing a statement to each of your employees that summarizes the various benefits (both the obvious and the more subtle) he or she enjoys by working for your company.

Strategy #3: Train Supervisors on Proper Attitudes and Actions
Because your supervisors and managers are on the “front lines” in the workplace, it’s important to train them on how to address employee concerns and support open communication. Guide them on the skills they need to diffuse issues and resolve conflicts in their day-to-day interactions with employees.

At the same time, be careful about enforcing company policies fairly and uniformly. Employees are more likely to form a union if they feel their leaders take sides and treat certain individuals better than others. As an added precaution, carefully document any disciplinary actions to demonstrate compliance and appropriate response to the situation.

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