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Does your management team know what they can and cannot say during a union organizing drive?

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You are a potential Target

I often hear employers say that they believe that the union would not be interested in their company because of the small number of employees that they have. Not so! Most of the union petitions file thus far in 2019 have been in units of less that 100 employees!



I.  Why resist unionization?

It is generally asserted that the cost to operate a unionized facility verses a non-union facility will range between 25 and 40 percent per year. Even if this number is somewhat smaller, unless you can pass along these increased costs to your consumer/customer, then these costs will drop directly to the bottom line of the organization. This well-known company operates 30 manufacturing plants; half are union free and half are unionized all or in part. The administrative budgets of the unionized plants were 30% higher due to:

• Larger human resources staffs to deal with grievances, job descriptions, rate negotiations, time and motion measurements, and "over compliance" with government regulations. ("Bird dogs" overseeing workplace statute compliance are less prevalent in union-free facilities.)

• Increased involvement with regulatory agencies, especially those associated with hours and wages, OSHA and the EEOC.

• Expensive indirect costs in the form of outside services, such as the frequent need for a specialized labor attorney to deal with contract negotiations, handle grievances and arbitrations, and review compliance with a collective bargaining agreement.


Other costs may include:

• Added administrative staff for calculating, deducting and documenting employee union dues.

• Payment for employees who are called in to cover for other employees in steward or representative positions when they are attending to union business.

• Contracting with consultants to develop an action plan for a possible work stoppage or strike.

• Wages for short-term replacements if a strike occurs, which can be significantly higher than striking employees wages, especially if replacements are required for highly trained positions. 

Employees also incur costs when a union wins a NLRB election.

• The average annual cost of union dues is $400, or about two hours of pay per month.

• There is a disinclination of unions toward the contingent worker. Unions want full-time dues payers.

• The employee puts it all on the line during a labor dispute. It is the union employee who is not receiving a paycheck or benefits during a strike. 

Intangible cost

In addition to obvious increased costs, there are those that affect morale, creativity and resiliency. Ultimately, an organization's profit margin can decline. Productivity appears to be lower in unionized environments, possibly due to:

• Employee anger or frustration when the collective bargaining process for an initial contract lasts more than a year or does not result in the changes promised by a union during the organizing campaign. (About 75% of initial contracts are still being negotiated a year after the NLRB representation election according to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service [1996], and 50% of initial contract negotiations never achieve an executed agreement.)

• Union strategies and rules that impair the employee-employer relationship by playing on employee emotion and interfering with direct employee-supervisor communication, which cast the employer in the role of "enemy" and result in employee mistrust of all management.

• Diminished employee participation in workplace decision making via power sharing programs when such programs had been in place prior to an election.

• Employees having to cope with the divisiveness, name-calling and, sometimes, terrorizing behavior of union coworkers when they disagree in word or deed.

• Less flexibility-both internally and externally-to move quickly or creatively in response to change due to union rules and related contract language that results in rigid operating guidelines.

• Increased difficulty recruiting and retaining the most creative and effective employees. Union-imposed strictures often limit rewarding an employee based on performance or productivity and union grievance procedures tend to protect low-performing and negative employees.

• Decreased client or vendor satisfaction may occur if unionization affects service or product cost or quality.

• Interruption in service provision or production if a work stoppage or strike occurs. 

Some supervisors take the attitude that their jobs would be about the same under a union contract. Those that do have failed to analyze the restrictive practices that they must live with in a union shop. Here are some of the conditions imposed by unions that confront a


Jurisdictional problems – restricts employment, assignment, and advancement of personnel. Restricts introduction and experimentation with innovations. Restricts team efforts. Discourages customers.

A union will lesson management’s right to make any decisions. Often, supervisors are hindered from making decisions, out of fear of antagonizing employees, union stewards, and union leadership. Management rights clauses in most contracts are fairly restrictive on management.

Union’s demands are often excessive in contract negotiations. This results in added costs to company for attorney fees, management “down-town” away from usual job responsibilities. If excessive demands are met, cost of production rises, cost of product rises, and inflation continues.

Lack of flexibility concerning new equipment and processes – prevents required additional training, changes in skills, revisions of rates, and changes in manning.

Check off of dues is time consuming and expensive to management.

Inexperienced, radical, and selfish leadership in poorly functioning union locals result in lengthy and unproductive negotiations, wasted time in bickering on contract interpretations, grievances, arbitration, slow downs and strikes.

Grievances often are groundless and “nuisance” claims, which frequently result in costly arbitration.

The federal labor laws which are presently interpreted by the National Labor Relations Board to mean that:

Methods and operations cannot be changed without negotiating with the union.

New equipment, new materials, or processes cannot be purchased without first going to the union.

Work cannot be sub-contracted out to outsiders unless the union agrees.

Wages cannot be adjusted: pensions, insurance, hospital plans, holidays, vacations, hours of work, and many other conditions of employment cannot be changed without going through negotiations.

Make-work practices, inefficiencies, and union-ordained restrictive practices are often specified in union contracts.

Arbitration and court decisions favoring a union are often a source of embarrassment to management’s supervisors. Destroys their image of authority.

“Visits” to plant by union representatives frequently interfere with employees’ duties.

Classification of employee work duties often limits productivity of individual, diminishes incentive, and results in lowering of morale. Featherbedding with surplus employees often results.

Seniority and super-seniority found in most contracts also decreases initiative of alert individuals and favor union leaders instead of possibly more productive employees.

Often, the company’s confidential financial data is exposed to union examination.

Strikes are always costly and drive wedges between employees, families and friends.

Company’s discipline policies are always subject to union review and interference. The same is true for hiring, sub-contracting, and promotional policies.

Sabotage to products, equipment and machinery is a fact of life in almost all unionized production plants. Most often it results from an employee silently venting his anger at his supervisor, shop steward, his wife – any excuse at all is excuse enough. 

II. Plan Components 

Development of Policy on Unionization. 

Just as employees have the right to be for a labor union, employers have a legal right to oppose unionization and to express this opposition to employees in a non-coercive manner. Both supervision and employees should be made aware of this fact. The employer should develop a written policy statement that outlines its position on unions and explain some of the reasons why the employer feels that unionization is unnecessary. Once the policy has been adopted and reviewed to ensure that it is legal, the company should cover it in its orientation program for new employees. One very effective way to communicate this message is in a well-scripted “New Employee Orientation Video.” 

Training Supervisors to Respond to Questions About Unions.

Manager/Supervisor should be trained at least bi-annually on this overall plan. Topics that should be covered include but are not limited to:

Facts & common misunderstandings concerning unions.

Employer mistakes that cause employees to turn to unions.

Basic steps in union prevention.

The actual mechanics of a union campaign.

Management’s role in union avoidance.

Dos & don’ts relating to unions and union activity. 

Test your knowledge

Defensive measures that the employer should take:

• Know what companies are unionized in your operating area

• Obtain copies of their collective bargaining agreements if possible

• If you are in an area of the country that has an employer’s association, this group can be of tremendous help in providing this information. 

• Have a early warning system and know the possible signs of union activity.

Maintaining Effective Communication With Employees.

An effective communications program with employees should, at a minimum, includes periodic meetings, individual conferences and a suggestion/complaint procedure. An employer’s sudden interest in employees in response to a union campaign has little impact and probably will be viewed by employees with suspicion. Employers should constantly work on good communications and keeping employees informed through bulletin board notices, letters, and individual and group meetings with employees. The use of Employee 

Opinion Surveys is a well-established way to ensure upward communication.

Keeping Wages, Benefits and Other Working Conditions Up to Area Standards.

A noticeable lag in wages and benefits is an invitation to union organizing efforts. Wage and benefit reviews can be used to ensure that the employer remains competitive with similar industries in the area in which it operates. Area wage data should be collected to insure that your wage structure is competitive. You should have a position/philosophy with regard to wages and benefits. 

Additionally, employers interested in remaining union-free should hold all managers and supervisors accountable for the success of the following points:

• All levels of management must be honest and ethical in all its dealings with employees. If employees do not trust management on a daily basis, there is a high likelihood that employees will identify with a union if they do show up.

• Senior management must be visible to employees and must avoid dictatorial and autocratic styles of management that in effect close communications between employees and management.

• Management must create and maintain an environment where it is obvious that managers and supervisors are in fact committed to treating all employees with dignity and respect no matter what the situation. Respectful treatment includes keeping lines of communication open and responding to employee problems and questions in a timely way every time.

• Survey and understand the pay and benefits of those organizations near your own. Openly communicate in employee meetings what your pay and benefit programs are and why they are at the level they are. Remind employees frequently.

• Implement a job-posting program for all jobs openings above entry level with the exception of management jobs. Administer this program so that no employee can sustain a claim of favoritism or contend that they did not have an opportunity for promotion.

• Administer discipline and attendance policies so that employees view these programs as fair and consistent. They can be tough and demanding. If tough and demanding is done respectfully and your program is viewed as fair and consistent, employees will accept it.

• Never implement any significant new program without “selling it” to the employees it will impact before you implement it. Never assume that one selling will do. Any employee negatively impacted should have a one-on-one meeting with his or her supervisor to deal with personal issues relative to the change.

• Conduct regular confidential employee opinion surveys (no more often than every two years) and manage the results with employees. This process, done right will remove any ability for the union to say that we do not listen and react to problems.

If organizations practice all these things and an organizer does show up in response to some isolated and unique situation or incident, the company will already have its story in place.

Employer Failures That Trigger Unionization

1. Lack of “management credibility” – lack of trust, confidence, and respect for management.

2. Failure of management to reflect and exercise competent leadership in the organization.

3. Failures of management and the organization to create an organizational atmosphere in which employees feel their efforts are appreciated, vital and essential to the organization of which they are a part. They want to feel an important part of the team, contributing to the success of the organization.

4. Management apathy and lack of personal interest shown to employees in the organization concerning their on-the-job satisfaction.


1. Failure to “sell” employees on the benefits and advantages of working for the organization.

2. Little, if any, effort by the company to keep employees informed on the plans and future of the organization and the employee’s role in the future.

3. Failure of immediate supervisors to keep employees informed of changes in the job requirements and expectations.

4. Management failing to communicate with employees about things going on, fears of job insecurity and rumors, etc.

5. Management operating in a vacuum as far as employee complaints and opinions are concerned. Failure or refusing to listen to employee complaints, opinions, or suggestions on how the organization can be a better place to work for them as an individual.


1. No formalized wage and salary program causing employees to know where they can go in satisfying their need for financial reward.

2. Internal wage classification inequities among employees doing the same job and different jobs.

3. External wage classification inequities – wage rates that are not competitive in the community.

4. Failure to understand method of payment, incentive programs, and raising performance standards on piece rate systems.

5. Failure to give opportunity for promotion and upgrading before hiring from outside of the organization.


1. Unfair treatment by immediate supervisors; favoritism, cursing employees.

2. Failure of supervisor to explain “why” when he or she gives orders or makes changes on the job.

3. Supervisors failing to discipline other employees for same offenses, being too tough, and using inconsistent disciplinary methods.

4. Poor supervisors who don’t know how to make an employee “feel important” or “needed.”

5. Fear of immediate supervisor. Lack of confidence and respect for immediate supervisor.

6. Failure to take care of employee complaints and problems quickly.

HR  Policies

1. Failure to put HR policies and work rules in writing so employees can understand what is required and what they can expect in return.

2. Failure to explain new work rules to employees before discipline is given. 

3. Enforcing work rules inconsistently.

4. No formal complaint or grievance procedure to clear up misunderstandings, on-the-job problems and complaints.

5. No effort made by employer, human resource department or by immediate supervisor to let employees know “how we’re doing” or “how we need to do better.” (Performance Appraisal System.)

Status And Recognition

1. Employees do not feel he work they do is important; believe the union can relieve their feelings of boredom and frustration by giving them a chance “to belong”; need for feelings of status, recognition, dignity, self-respect, and importance. “MMFI” – make me feel important.

2. Little, if any, personal recognition or appreciation shown by immediate supervisor for exceptional work performance. “MMFA” – make me feel appreciated.

3. Failure of immediate supervisor to help employee develop to the fullest potential by further training and development on the job.

4. Failure to recognize employee length of service with appropriate gifts, awards, certificates, pins, and other benefits.

5. Reprimanding, correcting, and criticizing employee conduct and work performance in front of fellow employees.

Employee Benefits

1. Lack of understanding of employee benefits by employee and/or family.

2. Inadequate employee benefits program.

3. Hospitalization insurance not kept up to date to meet higher costs.

4. Failure to provide competitive paid holidays and paid vacations.

5. No retirement (401K) or pension plan.

Working Conditions

1. Unclean, unhealthy, or unsafe physical working environment.

2. Failure to provide the necessary tools, equipment, and supplies to do the job expected.

3. Filthy restrooms, unclean eating area.

4. Inadequate restroom, break or eating facilities, poor parking area.

5. Poor ventilation and heating system.

6. Lack of workable drinking fountains and vending machines.

Job Security

1. Fear of losing job through layoffs out of line of seniority.

2. No written “qualified” seniority program recognizing length of service as a factor in layoffs and recalls.

3. Fear of job insecurity caused by failure to communicate with employees about presence of new automation equipment and machinery, of company planning to move to another location, or a merger in process.

4. Employees believe that a union can guarantee job security through a union contract.


1. Employees sign union cards and attend union meetings because their immediate work group did the same. “Need to conform” to the immediate work group wishes cause many employees to “go along with the crowd.”

2. Employee’s friend being unjustly terminated, thus creating a “martyr” image for union to sell their “protection” package.

3. Favoritism shown employees by supervisors.

4. Failure of immediate supervisor to require same amount of effort and job performance by all employees – “They don’t do their fair share of work.”

5. Failure to get rid of or “weed out” employees with bad attitudes, poor attendance, and poor performance records.

6. Rehiring former employees that were discharged for cause.