One of our clients called. One of the first line supervisors noticed that a once-friendly employee was suddenly quiet, hesitant to talk with the supervisor but whispering when talking with another employee. The company never thought that their employees would be interested in organizing a union. The human resource manager previously told us that the employees would be afraid of being terminated in a challenging economy and that the company does not employ the types of employees that belong to unions. However, the manager was concerned, especially now that unions are not spending the dues they collect on political elections, are spending the money on union organizers and are supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (“EFCA”).
All employees have the right to join a union, including secretarial, research and development as well as manufacturing employees. In fact, the Operating Engineers Union, which normally represents operators of heavy, road construction machinery, also represents payroll and financing employees for the Chicago Board of Education.
Therefore, all companies need to know the warning signs as part of their Union Organizing Tool Kit. Warning signs include the obvious – statements by employees; graffiti in washrooms; and union literature. However, the warning signs include less than obvious statements, questions and actions. For example, in one company, an employee complained to the human resource manager about the wages and benefits and compared them to the wages and benefits offered by another company in the same community that happened to be unionized. Whether Congress will pass EFCA or what is being called “EFCA-light”, companies need to respond and one of the most important parts of a company’s Tool Kit is training all managers and supervisors. Training includes recognizing the warning signs as well as knowing other steps companies must take to determine their vulnerability and respond to employees and to the unions. Putting together that Tool Kit is the first step; taking preventative action using the Took Kit is an important role of every human resource professional.