2015 will be a game-changing year when it comes to maintaining your union-free advantage. The pro-labor NLRB has set the stage to completely transform the way in which companies across all industries must react to union activity. Unions are salivating over the Quickie Election rule. We have inside knowledge from many unions that they are already planning blitz attacks on targets as soon as the rule takes effect. With the onset of the era of the Quickie Election, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way executive leadership approaches union avoidance.
In the past, it was important to be proactive and use positive employee relations strategies to build a firewall between the unions and employees. The hard truth is that many companies did not see this as a decision that would have any return on investment (ROI). Even before the Quickie Election era, it was difficult to convince many companies that the efforts to "union proof" a company also boost productivity through increased morale and reduced turnover. Paying a few thousand dollars a year for proactive training did not appear to have any effect on leadership's ultimate goal of being profitable.
It is now crucial to engage employees.
Before the Quickie Election rule, companies had approximately 38-42 days to win back the support of their employees. When a company was served with an election petition, the cost to fight the union successfully was substantial, but it was a necessary expense as the cost of doing business in a union environment increases dramatically. (These direct cost increases do not even take into account the "union rules - I won't do that" aggravation factor/loss of productivity that comes along with a union contract). So companies were forced to either accept the union with little-to-no assistance from attorneys, or hire professional persuaders to win back the trust of the workers. For these companies, spending between $100,000 to over $1 million (depending on the size of the company/unit) was necessary to prevent an even great long-term damage to profits if the union won the election.
38-42 days may seem like a long time, but for those who work as labor consultants can attest, it is more often than not barely enough time to win back the trust of workers who had given up on management and decided that they would rather have a third party deal on their behalf. Most elections were won during the last week of the process by providing employees with thorough education on the realities of unionization. This education process required lost productivity by removing employees from the productive flow through countless conversations and to attend meeting "classes". During the education process, consultants are also interviewing employees to determine which issues and concerns led the employees to either seek out or accept union support.
During union elections, there are some problems that can be fixed on the spot, but many cannot, due to rules set forth under the National Labor Relations Act. Even if an employer realizes that they have made a gross miscalculation or mistake, their hands may be tied and they cannot even promise to fix them at a later date. In other words, getting employees to see that these changes are possible without violating the law becomes a science that only experienced persuaders and attorneys can understand. Employers who attempt this on their own often end up with unnecessary Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs) filed by the union, costing them even more money.
As well as dealing with the aforementioned problems, it is also necessary to tailor each campaign to the demographics and concerns of the workers without interrupting production. With just six weeks available, this entire process had to be performed with precision and left no margin for error.
At this point, no one knows how short the election cycle will be until after the rules are in place. Experts estimate that it could be anywhere from 10 to 25 days. Once this happens, the cost to run a campaign will rise even higher. The same information and level of precise delivery has to relayed to the employees, but over a much shorter period of time. This means more persuaders will be required to communicate effectively and more meetings with employees will have to be held on a daily basis to ensure that they are properly educated. This compression of the timeframe will make it even more difficult to cover the workload without having to pay overtime. Increased payroll and increased consultant fees will become a necessity in order to win any campaign. These increased costs of fighting elections will make it even more difficult for inexperienced leadership to understand how these immediate costs to prevent unionization protect future profits.
The best way to avoid these increased costs (and greater risk of losing to the union) is to not have union activity in the first place. Unions are ultimately a business that has to protect its own profits, so they will not waste time and money attempting to organize an engaged, content workforce. Fortunately, it is relatively easy and not costly to increase engagement, and the process itself will benefit the company through increased productivity and decreased turnover costs. Some simple tips to be proactive include:
- Holding annual union awareness training with all members of supervision and management
- Ensuring that all members of supervision and management are trained in positive employee relations
- Holding regular surveys of employees to determine their levels of engagement and satisfaction
- Identifying concerns and issues early and addressing them promptly in a way that increases morale and productivity
- Creating (and ensuring that all members of supervision and management are aware of) a reporting system to relay any talk of unions to the proper team in executive leadership
- Paying attention to other companies and industries in the region that are under union attack
- Allowing employee input on change, while at the same time, providing no official power to make decisions on change
By following these simple proactive measures, costs are minimized and the company will have a happy and productive workforce.
Don't let the unions add you to their list of targets. Insulate yourself now and it will save your company a great deal of money in the long run. Your ROI will come in the form of a happier and stable workforce that produces and stays long-term with your company. Being proactive in union avoidance is a win-win scenario and is the only way to protect yourself in the Quickie Election era. Failing to do so can be catastrophic with this pro-labor NLRB giving unions a free pass to attempt to retake control of American business. Union membership is at an all-time low, you can be sure that unions will take every advantage of Quickie Elections to try to regain relevance.
For more information on how to implement positive employee relations and establish a firewall between your employees and the unions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.