Last week I discussed the Verizon strike, and what employers should and should not do when their employee are on strike. Staying on this subject, in this blog post I discuss some of the things that private sector employers can do to prevent their employees from forming unions in the first place.
While it is true that an employer cannot take negative action against an employee for joining a union or attempting to get others to join a union, an employer can make it more difficult for union organizers to get employees to join a union. For example, an employer can prohibit employees from engaging in union organizing during work time. If an employee is failing to get work done because he spends too much time attempting to organize other employees, the employer can take disciplinary action against that employee for inattention to duty or poor performance but not for engaging in union organizing. The employer should be sure to keep evidence that the employee was failing to do his job, and should not mention that the discipline is related to unionizing. Employers should also be careful not to prohibit employees from attempting to unionize during breaks or outside of work, or from posting messages on Facebook or Twitter supporting unionization.
An employer can also attempt to persuade employees not to join a union with facts about unionization that the union is likely not sharing with them. Employers must remember though to avoid what is commonly referred to with the acronym TIPS – threatening, intimidating, promising benefits in exchange for rejecting unionization, or conducting surveillance on employee organizational meetings.
For example, an employer can explain that unionization may increase the employer’s costs, which could lead to layoffs, or that the union could require employees to pay union dues, whether or not they belong to it. The employer can also counter false information promulgated by union organizers or note that if an employee joins a union, he or she may be forced to go on strike with it, which could lead to loss of salary or the permanent loss of their job. An employer can explain that while a union can make promises, it can guarantee little.
An employer can also inform employees of their rights when approached by a union organizer. Employees are under no obligation to join a union or to sign a union card, although in many states they will have to pay union dues whether or not they belong to the union. Employees do not have to speak to union organizers or allow them into their home.
Finally, employers should try to foster a good working relationship with employees so that the employees feel no need to unionize in order to have their grievances addressed. Employers should have conflict resolution procedures in place. They should communicate to employees the reasons for unpopular decisions. They should be transparent and maintain a fair workplace, giving promotions and raises based on merit and not favoritism. They should offer competitive wages and benefits.
Employers may want to consult with an experienced attorney to review ways that they can avoid unionization in their workplace. Spending a little bit of money on an attorney upfront can prevent expensive problems down the road.