What would you do if conflicts between management and your employees caused your staff to consider unionizing? Union avoidance is key before both sides commit to fighting tooth and nail for their respective interests.

You need to be careful at this point about what you say or do next.

We’ve heard unfortunate stories of how things can get ugly when management confronts organized groups of employees and unions. That’s because most managers don’t know how to fight a union without creating a controversy. Neither are they sure how to communicate with employees without crossing the line.

As a result, companies get entangled in a lawsuit or allegations made against them.

It sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? 

Luckily, learning about union avoidance strategies can resolve this problem. Even if the rebellion doesn’t die down, these tips could help you save face against the “opposing party”. The quotations around “opposing party” are there because executives, management, and employees are really on the same team. But too often employees don’t feel like they’re part of the team or have a voice that’s heard.

Here’s everything that you need to know about union avoidance to bypass future conflicts:

The Basics: What Is Union Avoidance?

Union avoidance is a strategy that organizations adopt when they want to stop unionization. It is often used to prevent transferring their authority or changing their core policies to appease the union.

Your primary goal is to minimize the influence that labor unions have on your employees. It also teaches you how to take precautionary measures against them. This is done to avoid succumbing to the pressure that unions build during the campaign.

The key here is to make sure that you accomplish this feat with minimum consequences. You don’t want your corporate story to become the next controversial headline. Nor do you want good employees to leave the company because they feel undervalued or slighted by your tactics. Authenticity is key here.

In other words, you have to win the battle without intimidation. You might think that is impossible, but you can achieve these goals ethically.

TIPS: What’s the Best Way to “Fight” a Union?

We all know that communication is the key to resolving conflicts.

The only problem is that labor unions can manipulate what is said. They might twist your words or take them in the wrong context if they wish to tarnish your public reputation.

Therefore, your managers must know how to engage and work with the employees and labor unions. More importantly, management should be aware of the things they can’t do or say during the corporate campaign. Otherwise, they might make a blunder that can cause drastic consequences.

Thankfully, The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has come up with a few guidelines to keep things in order. Their rules and regulations align with their primary purpose to inhibit ‘private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the welfare of workers and businesses operating in the U.S.’

They call this set of rules by its acronym TIPS.

Here’s a glimpse of what these four letters entail:

  • Threaten 

The management is, under no circumstances, allowed to threaten employees who support the union.  You aren’t allowed to scare the subordinates off or pressure them to betray the union. Doing this gives the employer an unfair advantage against the employees, especially those who can’t afford to lose their jobs.

  • Interrogate 

Supervisors must not ask questions or run inquiries about union activities. Neither should they ask employees whether or not they like the union.  Most unions like to operate with a certain level of privacy, which gets compromised if you interrogate their members.

  • Promise 

Corporate managers must win public opinion without foul play. You need to be honest in your conduct and maintain transparency throughout the campaign. That means you can’t arrange secret meetings, make promises, or offer bribes to sway the employee’s vote in your favor.

  • Spy

The management is prohibited from spying on union meetings. You can’t attend them, ask someone to record the meetings or take pictures of participants. Additionally, other forms of surveillance like eavesdropping and monitoring emails are not allowed.

In short, your interaction with employees and union members should abide by these rules. The failure to obey could instigate a lawsuit.

FOE: How to Create a Drama-free Campaign?

Let’s get one thing straight―you can’t simply appease disgruntled employees with sweet talk. They want real proposals and practical solutions to their problems. You have to do this without interrogating them or making false promises.

So what can you do? 

FOE allows you to keep your campaigns clean and controversy-free. The following checklist highlights topics and points that can be brought up during your campaign. Additionally, it gives you the power to narrate your side of the story convincingly.

Here’s what the acronym stands for:

  • Facts

Start researching facts and figures on the disadvantages of unionization and the benefits of non-union companies. Incorporate the data in your campaigns and show them how their cooperation can produce better results in comparison to union parties.

  • Opinion 

Express your personal beliefs on the formation of a union (keeping TIPS in mind). Tell them how unionization creates a communication gap between managers and workers.  Explain how it might cause further delay in getting applications and requests approved. You may use personal stories to present a stronger viewpoint.

  • Examples 

You can also use case studies and news articles to address issues that employees might face after joining the union. You can discuss stories about union corruption, controversies, and mismanagement.  Apart from that, you can highlight stories from within the company to showcase the positive aspects of management.

It’s important to note that you can’t fabricate facts while you talk to the public. Try to be as neutral as possible during the campaign and be patient. You should also be honest about the management’s faults and prior mistakes. While you can’t directly promise to make amendments without breaching the TIPS rules, you can still accept those mistakes. You can also say that the company is eager to learn from past errors.

These qualities will have a positive impact on your employees.

What Else Can You Do?

team management for union avoidance

The biggest mistake you can make is to approach your employees without learning their side of the story. We know that union avoidance may seem like a battle between employers and union workers but it’s not. Employees are a core element of this situation. So neglecting employee and management relationships and previous mistakes (by managers) could prove to be your Achilles heel.

Therefore, the company should investigate the reason behind union formation before they start their campaigns. Since, your employees are least likely to listen to you if the managers have in some way harmed them or ignored their complaints.

Here are a few ethical and unconventional ways to implement union avoidance: 

  • Improve Management-Employee Relations: Your goal should be to strengthen the ties between the management and employees by cultivating a healthy work environment and cooperative relationship. Additionally, you can hire labor relations consultants to mentor your management team and train them on how to deal with workplace issues.

  • Build Better Work Environment: You need to learn how to identify and address red flags before things escalate. You can do this through evaluations, surveys, and careful deduction to find out your weaknesses. 

  • Feedback and Follow Up: You should start arranging feedback meetings to discuss problems faced by employees. The focus should be to review company policies and evaluation of the management. You may ask your employees to give their suggestions so that you may modify office policies accordingly. 

  • Value Your Employees: Reassess your recruitment program and annual appraisals. Try to fill gaps by offering job perks, employee benefits, and bonuses. Also, you should set new benchmarks for wages if you think that your employees would form a union. 

In the long run, these tiny steps will go a long way in stopping your employees from turning their backs on the company and forming a union. It accomplishes this by creating a happy environment where employees feel valued.

The Bottom Line

On the whole, playing by the rules ensures that your union avoidance tactics don’t trigger disputes. All you have to do is remember to follow the TIPS in this article. Then use them to act appropriately when you deal with the FOE. Additionally, positive changes like consultancy sessions and feedback meetings can decrease the chances of unionization.

Create a proper plan that trains managers on the right techniques to approach employees who are considering unionization.

That’s it. Now you are finally ready to put union avoidance into practice. But if you still have questions or concerns, please reach out to us.

Looking for support?  Greer Consulting, Inc. is a labor relations and diversity management-consulting firm. We offer practical solutions and counseling sessions for businesses that struggle to keep employee conflicts under control. With our assistance, you can keep unionization at bay for years to come. 

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