By the time the union is knocking at your door, there have likely been numerous signs, red flags, and hints of an impending union petition. Yet, companies are left asking ‘how did we not see this coming?’
Labor unions have been around since 1866 and were born out of the demands by huge labor forces for better working conditions. Unionization is neither nefarious nor ill intended.
It is simply your workers seeking a platform to negotiate with their employer for better wages, benefits, working conditions, and/or job security, a platform that in their perception does not exist.
Chances are your workforce have been shouting from the mountain top what they want well in advance of contacting a union for representation.
Unions are a symptom
Some organizations expend a considerable amount of time and resources to prevent and discourage formal organization by their workers through conducting union avoidance exercises.
This might include distributing anti-union literature or holding meetings to discourage workers from forming a union, without pausing to consider what may be driving their workers to organize or how third-party union intervention might have been mitigated.
As simplistic as it seems, it all begins with fostering a culture of strong employee engagement between workers and management, where workers feel valued, heard, and respected.
An environment that promotes effective communication and transparency is pivotal when it comes to understanding and responding to issues that impact your workers and their experience.
The absence of this employer/worker relationship could be the reason why you ‘didn’t see this coming.’
Despite several large employers having made headlines in recent years for unionizing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the union membership rate for wage and salaried workers decreased from 10.3% in 2021 to 10.1% in 2022 which is reportedly the lowest on record.
There are valid reasons for and against unionization, based on what is happening politically, economically, and socially. Workers may feel that they need the job protection and bargaining power that comes with union membership, while others may prefer to negotiate their own terms with their employer.
If workers choose unionization, it’s important for employers to understand that to unionize or not is entirely up to your workers, and under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) workers have a legal right to organize and seek union representation without retaliation. It’s also important to understand what might motivate your workers to petition for representation.
Take action for better work culture
The following are three primary reasons workers are seeking a collective voice to protect their interests and rights and address the following workplace concerns:
- Better benefits and compensation is a frequently identified issue by workers seeking representation. Unions can be instrumental in supporting workers negotiate better benefits i.e., health & welfare and retirement benefits, vacation and sick time, shift differential, and overtime pay.
- The collective bargaining power of a union can be appealing to workers when it comes to demanding fair treatment from their employers. Workers often feel that through unionizing they gain a collective voice when demanding fair treatment, better benefits, equal pay, and better working conditions from employers.
- Job stability and security is important to workers. Unions can be a critical source of support to workers during a grievance process against employers who violate safety standards or employment law standards they can also protect workers from unfair disciplinary and termination practices i.e., arbitrary termination and layoffs, and unfair or inconsistent practices around internal mobility.
Employers should establish clear policies and procedures for everyone that outline their rights and responsibilities, including pay, benefits, hours of work, and safety regulations.
I cannot think of a single organization that should take issue with the concepts of job stability, fair and equal treatment of all workers, good benefits, and fair and equitable pay.
These are all practices that every organization should advocate and strive for. The challenge comes in advancing such objectives from theoretical to practical application. Hence, unionization!
A good engagement strategy begins with the following:
- Provide equal opportunities for all workers regardless of their age, gender, religion, race, or sexual orientation. This includes equal pay for equal work. Make sure you establish and promote a career path and training and development opportunities to ensure that all workers have the skills and knowledge necessary to perform their job duties.
- Encourage open communication with your workers to ensure that you are aware of any concerns or issues related to their working conditions; and not only listen to feedback from workers but make it actionable.
- Provide a safe and healthy work environment, including exercising the highest level of safety standards with a system in place for reporting and addressing safety concerns.
- Make sure you are following all relevant laws and regulations related to working conditions, including health and safety regulations, anti-discrimination and minimum wage laws; and that your policies support fair wages and benefits to your workers, including overtime pay, and benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off.
Our post pandemic workplaces and workforce are dramatically different from what they used to be. Ultimately, it comes down to specific needs and goals of the workplace and its workers.
However, taking time to understand and meet your workers where they are is critical in implementing these and other practices to create and support a fair and safe working environment for your workers.
The more engaged, satisfied, collaborative your workforce the greater the chance that may not see the need for unionization.
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