Union activity is on the rise and many labor experts believe the organizing efforts at companies such as Amazon and Starbucks are just a step in a growing nationwide movement. Combine the events of the past couple of years with a shortage in the labor force, and workers everywhere are reevaluating and expecting more from their employers. Unions are using new tools to communicate with employees, and employers need to give more attention to employee concerns if they want to remain nonunion. This recommendation applies to all employers of employees who are not currently represented by a union. Employees leading recent union campaigns have said that they want a seat at the table, and feel their voices were not heard as their employers made changes in scheduling, work responsibilities, and safety protocols in light of the pandemic. Employers of a workforce of any size, even if some employees are already represented by a union, need to consider whether their nonunion employees are vulnerable to a union campaign. There are steps an employer can take to avoid employee interest in a labor union.
Respond to employee concerns such as safety, personal work-life balance, and fair wages.
Employers have had to adjust schedules due to the pandemic and employees have become more vocal that their personal needs seem to be secondary to the profit margins of their employers. In this world of the Great Resignation and labor shortages, no employer can consider itself immune from employee interest in a union. The term “living wage” has become a mantra. Employers should look at their pay structure and consider whether they should be increasing their pay, not only for retention, but also to show employees that they don’t need a union to get an increase in pay.
In the face of union organizing, consider regular, direct communication with employees.
In the cases of Amazon and Starbucks, they brought in outside consultants to design anti-union campaigns and to speak to employees about the reasons why they should vote against a union. However, a concerted employee-to-employee grassroots effort proved more persuasive than were the hired outside consultants. The consultants messaging was ineffective and came to represent the significant disparity between corporate profit and management pay.
Employers should consider ways to increase employee engagement. Taking care not to create an internal labor union, an employer can involve employees in decisions regarding benefits, scheduling, continuing education and company events. Companies should consider programs that allow employee involvement in decisions affecting them.
In recent union campaigns, employees have communicated with each other using social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, or text messaging. Employers do not typically use this tool to communicate with employees and have relied on traditional techniques. Social media is a powerful vehicle for employees and labor unions to communicate with each other. Employers need to figure out how to engage with their employees. Employees want a seat at the table, and transparent decision-making may go a long way in avoiding unionization. Great communication is a critical tool.
Make sure employees feel they are being listened to.
One of the reasons behind forming an employee labor union is the belief that management is not listening to employees. Employees who support the unions at Starbucks and Amazon said continuous changes in their schedules due to COVID-19 did not take into account the impact the changes had on personal lives. Added to this was a sense that company management did not care about individual employees.
Listen to your employees and consider additional benefits that discourage employees from seeking union representation. Employees are asking for new and different benefits, such as pet insurance, bus cards, mental health days, or a health and wellness allowance. Consider a health insurance plan supplement to include transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits. Many employees want paid time off to volunteer or would like Fridays off during the summer. Employers should also consider offering flex time and work-from-home opportunities to show employees you are listening to their needs.
Remain consistent with brand ideology.
Many employers market on a progressive platform, such as being environmentally conscious, supportive of LGBTQ rights, or in support of Black Lives Matter. In some cases, these progressive ideas attract workers who share their values. When it is perceived that their employer is acting inconsistently with the social justice values publicized, they become restless and want more say regarding working conditions. Even stores like REI, which say they put “purpose before profits”, are being organized. Employees are conflating working conditions with social justice themes espoused by their employer. Employers should take this into account when making employment policy decisions.
Don’t ignore the power of social media.
Employees and unions use social media to communicate with prospective members. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and text messaging are replacing the traditional communication tools. Employees talk among themselves at work, which can be a compelling way to get the union message across to others. Employers should be creative in how they communicate with their employees and be aware of the powerful tool that social media presents for the unions. Employee meetings and written communications may not be enough to convey the employer’s messages regarding the reasons why employees should not vote for the union.
Ensuring employees feel valued is a critical element in staying nonunion. The objective is to listen to employees and demonstrate that as their employer, you have their back. Make an effort to understand interests and needs and demonstrate that the company will listen as needs evolve.
The General Counsel of the NLRB has announced that she will seek a ruling from the NLRB prohibiting mandatory employee meetings in which employees “are forced to listen to employer speech concerning the exercise of their statutory labor rights, especially during organizing campaigns. “Employers should increase their efforts to communicate with their employees before they become interested in a union. One thing that is consistent in all businesses is that employees need to feel their opinions count and that their employer appreciates their contributions to the success of the company.