Proposed changes by the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board could drastically change how employers interact with their workforce.
By Jeffrey Usher, Contributing Editor.
In recent months, the words “unions” and “collective bargaining” have been spoken in the media, at social gatherings and in business meetings more than they have been in many years.
Across the nation, one of the most frequently debated subjects is the right of employees to join a union and bargain collectively. Existing union members are desperately trying to hold onto entitlements from the past. Unions are encouraging unrepresented employees to join the ranks of the ‘protected.’
In this upcoming election year, the media will keep the topic of unions and collective bargaining in front of us, in the context of campaigns for the presidency, congress and governorships.
Thousands of union supporters have protested in the streets of places like Madison, Wis. in scenes that look like those in foreign countries. Occupy Wall Street protesters have established residency in camp sites in major cities. Unions are experiencing more visibility than they have in years. Employers everywhere are asking what this all means to them.
At the same time, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is encouraging employees to choose union representation. The board has proposed new rules that require employers to post official notices by Jan. 31, reminding employees of their long standing rights to form, join and assist unions. In addition, the NLRB has proposed another rule, which will shorten the representation election process and allow employees to vote more quickly. These actions must be causing employees to wonder why the federal government wants them to join a union and do so in a hurry.
Understanding the Realities
Most employers agree that they do not want a union to represent their employees. Business owners understand that the day-to-day restrictions in a union contract are the primary reasons for wanting to remain union free. Operating under a contract with complicated processes to cover absenteeism; assignment of overtime by seniority rather than availability; and promotion of employees based on seniority rather than performance can be as detrimental to a business as the negotiated wages and benefits. Flexibility in daily operation is often the difference between profit and loss.
Loyal, hard working employees need to understand that union representation will not benefit them personally either. Contract restrictions that lead to increased costs can lead to less job security for employees. Advancement opportunities determined by only seniority do not reward employees for their hard work. Union representation will change valued relationships with supervisors. Employers are in the best position to help employees understand the facts.
Many employers view the requirement to post the new NLRA notice on Jan. 31 as further unnecessary interference by the government. Lawsuits have been filed to stop the implementation of the rule. But, if employers must eventually comply by posting the notice, why not seize the opportunity to present a positive message to employees? Why not use it as an opening to educate employees about why they are better off without union representation?
Employers are still free to discuss the impact of changing relationships, third-party representation, the risks in collective bargaining and the costs resulting from union representation.
It is likely there will be other similar challenges in the future because of new rules and decisions by the government. Although there are legal guidelines to navigate, those conversations can be opportunities to assure that employees have the facts and information to understand the personal impact of joining a union. Experience shows that fully informed employees who can answer, “Why no union?” are the most effective response to union organizing.