The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations are fertilizing union growth with some big bucks.
Gone are the days of heavies breaking up wildcat strikes with baseball bats and chains. The old strong-arm tactics that used to be synonymous with the AFL-CIO are no more.
In their place are strategic plans and educational support foundations, which combine with cash reserves in excess of $10 million. Today, the recently founded AFL-CIO Organizing Institute teaches the art of union organization by a different book.
Rather than wage an adversarial campaign, today’s unions have adopted a new tact — the strategy of promoting employee involvement as a method of success. The message goes like this: The successful company is the strong company. The strong company is stable. And that means it provides steady employment and treats its workers right.
David Schreiner is familiar with the fervor and excitement union organizers can rally within a susceptible organization. Schreiner, a partner with Millisor & Nobil Co. LPA, a Cleveland-based firm dedicated to practicing labor law, says that understanding the atmosphere that nurtures a union drive is an important first step to creating a barrier. Changing that environment is the second.
He suggests determining the satisfaction level within your work force and adopting action steps that create a retention-conducive environment. To arm your business against organization, Schreiner says do not wait to react. Rather, fortify the company with a healthy dose of a union immunization — knowledge, communication and commitment.
An ounce of prevention
Everyone needs that inherent sense of self worth that comes from feeling like an integral part of something bigger. Unions often fill that need by giving people “something to belong to, to be a part of,” Schreiner explains.
Provide a forum for your employees that offers them a voice within the organization, he suggests. That will fill the need and provide other benefits, as well.
And, while unionization is not prevented by one program, it is also not caused by one event. By being proactive and laying out a total commitment from the top down, along with the policies to support that commitment, you’re using knowledge to strengthen your business without outside interference.
Establish communication methods and commit to a schedule. Keep everyone informed of changes in profitability, market-driven demands on the industry and key customer successes and failures.
Small- to mid-sized companies often cannot pay the highest wages, Schreiner says. So combat dissatisfaction by fostering a team-oriented environment based on mutual respect.
Pay particular attention to prime work force union targets. Those include employees over 50 years of age and those younger than 30. While young people are hungry for cash and willing to listen to union organizers’ promises of wage increases, older workers typically seek job security and financial stability. Schreiner says union organizers will tailor their strategy to fit the individual’s greatest concern.
And, while most businesses simply cannot promise higher wages and no layoffs, owners and managers can understand and eliminate irritants such as inequitable or inconsistent rule enforcement, ignoring employee grievances, discharging without prior warnings, making policy changes without explanation or employee participation and ignoring seniority in shift assignments.
With deeper pockets, unions now offer a greater array of benefits, so check the health of your benefits package. Do you offer a credit union? The union does. Many also offer discounts at major retailers and phone companies, drug and alcohol abuse programs, day care facilities and even an AFL-CIO credit card.
During a battle, the front line requires the most reinforcement and suffers the greatest number of casualties. The same holds true in business. Front-line supervisors are the voice of the company on a day-to-day basis, setting the tone, creating the atmosphere and enforcing policies.
Do not limit supervisory training to understanding company policies and improving technical skills. Instead, Schreiner says, commit to the expense of soft skill education in interpersonal communications.
Consider training your company’s managers in hiring process techniques such as interviewing and reference research. Then, train them in crisis management, employee confrontations and terminations, and give them the tools they need to communicate corporate changes to the rest of your work force.
At the same time, do not underestimate the importance of published policies. A written manual helps maintain consistency, while an investment in an employee relations audit and opinion survey is less expensive than a union election.
By committing the time, energy and resources to keeping your business healthy you’ll increase your bottom line while keeping the door closed to unionization.
How to reach: Millisor & Nobil Co., L.P.A., (440) 838-8800
Deborah Garofalo ([email protected]) is associate editor of SBN Magazine.