Although companies are rightfully concerned about reforms pending in Congress to help unions organize employees more easily, companies are overreacting and not thinking through the training programs they are receiving from lawyers, consultants and other businesses. Rather than requiring a secret ballot election after, usually, a six-week campaign by the union and company, the amendments allow a union to represent employees without a secret ballot election and without giving the company an opportunity to talk with the employees about such information as the advantages and disadvantages of union membership, the cost of union dues and other information about the union that seeks to represent the employees.
To pre-empt the unions’ efforts to organize the workers, a company should implement a union avoidance program before the company becomes aware that the employees are seeking to be represented by a union. However, the question has become the content of these programs. In what we believe to be an overreaction, many companies are being advised to present anti-union training programs to its employees. These programs include detailed information about how unions organize workers. For example, in one program we saw, employees are told that, currently, only 30% + 1 of the employees need to join a union before the union asks the federal government to hold an election. Other programs include negative information about unions.
We question whether companies should present such information to non-unionized employees when those employees have never even considered union representation. Companies do not need to tell employees about their federally protected rights and the methods of organizing into a union. Moreover, employees are smart and cynical enough to wonder why a company is suddenly presenting negative information about unions to them. These employees may think that a pro-union campaign may be underway in the company. Thus, providing the information may be the impetus for employees to seek out other employees who are interested in organizing and to talk about unions among themselves.
Instead of presenting these programs willy nilly, companies need to plan and implement an entire union-free program after analyzing their employees’ attitudes, needs and philosophies. Presentations to employees are important, but the content should be more subtle. In our view, most union-organizing attempts are a contest involving the issue of trust. If the employees do not trust their managers, they will seek outside assistance to help them resolve problems in the workplace. Therefore, management should communicate with employees in an organized and on-going basis. Rather than hiding in their offices, managers should walk around the office, production floor and warehouse, hold regularly-scheduled shift and plant meetings, communicate the company’s goals, successes and challenges and solve problems before they fester and grow. Before presenting one of these programs, the company should make sure that the training does not scare the employees and supervisors and spur action but maintain or change the company into an issue-free workplace and a culture of mutual respect and trust.