Most organizations feel the constraints of having a union organization are too great. It affects the cost to the organization and operation efficiency. Collective bargaining at times can put management at odds with its employees and cost more to produce products and services. Ideally, companies will provide safe working conditions, fair pay, and benefits so the employees do not feel they need to form a union. There are three main phases of unionization:
- Phase 1: Your organization is union free and there is little or no interest in unionizing.
- Phase 2: You learn that some employees are discussing unionization or you learn about specific attempts by the union to recruit employees.
- Phase 3: You receive a petition from the National Labor Relations Board filed by a union requesting a unionization vote.
Because of increased costs and operational efficiency, it is normally in a company’s best interest to avoid unionization. While in phase 1, it is important to review employee relations programs including pay, benefits, and other compensation. Ensure the compensation plans are fair so employees feel fairly treated and have no reason to seek the representation of a union.
Despite your best efforts, you could hear of unionization in your organization. The goal here is to prevent the union from gaining support to ask for a National Labor Relations Board election. Since only 30 percent of employees need to sign union cards for a vote to take place, this phase to avoid unionization is very important. During this time, HR professionals and managers should respond to the issues the employees have and also develop a specific strategy on how to handle the union vote, should it get that far.
In phase 3, familiarization with all the National Labor Relations Board rules around elections and communications is important. With this information, you can organize meetings to inform managers on these rules. At this time, you will likely want to draw up an antiunion campaign and communicate that to managers, but also make sure it does not violate laws. To this end, develop specific strategies to encourage employees to vote “no” for the union. Some of the arguments that might be used include talking with the employee and mentioning the following:
- Union dues are costly.
- Employees could be forced to go on strike.
- Employees and management may no longer be able to discuss matters informally and individually.
- Unionization can create more bureaucracy within the company.
- Individual issues may not be discussed.
- Many decisions within a union, such as vacation time, are based on seniority only.
With unionization in decline, it is likely you may never need to handle a new union in your organization. However, organizations such as Change to Win are in the process of trying to increase union membership. This organization has four affiliated unions, with a goal to strengthen the labor movement. Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, United Farm Workers, and Service Employees International Union are all unions affiliated with this organization. 1 The next few years will be telling as to the fate of unions in today’s organizations.
FORTUNE 500 FOCUS
Perhaps no organization is better known for its antiunion
stance than Walmart. Walmart has over 3,800 stores in the United States and over 4,800 internationally with $419 billion in sales. 2 Walmart employs more than 2 million associates worldwide. 3 The billions of dollars Walmart earns do not immunize the company to trouble.
In 2005, the company’s vice president, Tom Coughlin, was forced to resign after admitting that between $100,000 and $500,000 was spent for undeclared purposes, but it was eventually found
that the money was spent to keep the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) out of Walmart 4(he was found guilty and
sentenced to two years of house arrest).
Other claims surrounding union busting are the closing of stores, such as the Walmart Tire and Lube Express in Gatineau, Quebec, 5 when discussions of unionization occurred. Other reports of union busting include the accusation that company policy requires store managers to report rumors of unionizing to corporate headquarters. Once the report is made, all labor decisions for that store are handled by the corporate offices instead of the store manager. According to labor unions in the United States, Walmart is willing to work with international labor unions but continues to fiercely oppose unionization in the United States. In one example, after butchers at a Jacksonville, Texas, Walmart voted to unionize, Walmart eliminated all US meat-cutting departments.
A group called OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect), financed by the United Food and Commercial Workers* (UFCW) union, has stemmed from the accusations of union busting. Walmart spokesperson David Tovar says he sees the group as a Trojan horse assembled by labor organizations to lay the groundwork for full-fledged unionization and seek media attention to fulfill their agenda. While the organization’s activities may walk a fine line between legal and illegal union practices under the Taft-Hartley Act, this new group will certainly affect the future of unionization at Walmart in its US stores.
*Note: UFCW was part of the AFL-CIO until 2005 and now is an independent national union.