Managing by Walking Around
How to Have Your Business Ready Before a Labor Union Comes KnockingNon-union businesses are currently facing an increased risk of union infiltration.
Due in large part to the sympathetic ear of the Obama administration and the stagnant economy, labor unions have gained momentum over the past year, becoming much more aggressive than they have been in several decades. Also, with the explosion of social-networking Web sites, labor unions have seized the opportunity to reach broader bases and larger audiences by using this free social medium to spread their message with relative ease. In light of the recent uptick in union organizing, businesses must begin taking proactive steps to guard against unionization.
The two best union-avoidance practices that businesses should put into place now before the union comes knocking at their door are what’s known as ‘managing by walking around,’ and implementing an open-door policy. Managing by walking around is literally what it sounds like: managers, including those in upper management, walk around the company, going to each of the employees’ work areas. This type of managing is a win-win situation. It makes employees feel that management is accessible and approachable. It also makes them less likely to turn to a third party for representation.
Unionization is successful is not solely because employees want better wages and better benefits; it is also because employees do not feel recognized. When management comes to the employees’ work areas, workers will undoubtedly feel a greater sense of value and importance. That simple pause to tell an employee that her hard work is appreciated can go a long way. Managing by walking around also provides an opportunity to discover potential problems and nip them in the bud before they snowball. Certain problems that go unnoticed or are left unattended could ultimately lead employees to seek out the help of a third party.
Open communication between employees and management is essential to reducing the risk of organizing activity. Non-union businesses should consider implementing an open-door policy that allows employees to have access to any manager in the company. Just as it sounds, an open-door policy literally means that every manager’s door is open to every employee. In order for such a policy to work, businesses must make sure that the doors to management are actually open. Certain steps can be incorporated into the policy that encourage employees to go to their supervisor first before contacting the company’s president; however, for the policy to have the intended effect, employees must feel that they can, if need be, go to anyone in management to voice their concerns.
Businesses should also consider implementing a formal grievance procedure that provides a process by which employees can express their concerns internally. Some companies have created formal grievance procedures that allow employees the right of appeal up through executive-level personnel. Other companies have gone so far as to model their practices after the typical union format, utilizing similar grievance procedures to that of a union. In either case, seeking union representation is less needed when businesses have created their own mechanisms for resolving problems internally. Indeed, the reason behind having these types of policies is simple: why would employees pay a union to do what the business already does for them?
Other policies businesses might consider implementing include non-solicitation and non-distribution policies. Such policies prohibit the solicitation of employees or the distribution of literature during work time and in work areas. Implementing a union-free-environment policy can also be a good way to communicate the reasons why the company believes a union is unnecessary in light of its current environment and culture.
As part of having an open dialogue with employees, businesses might actually consider using the ‘U’ word with their employees. Often times, management is reluctant to do so out of fear that saying it will somehow put the idea of unionization into the heads of their employees. Another reason management might be afraid to say the word or otherwise discuss unions is the fear of committing an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act. Educating management on what it can and cannot say about unions is key.
Management training in union avoidance will arm managers with the tools they need to know how to have lawful conversations with employees about unions as well as enable them to identify the early warning signs of unionization. Such training also teaches management how to react appropriately should union representatives show up at the company.
Once upper management is trained in union avoidance, supervisory training is crucial to guarding against a union since these individuals are the company’s first line of defense. Due to their close proximity to rank-and-file employees, supervisors must be trained in several key interpersonal and leadership skills, such as effective communication and listening, accessibility and approachability, and modeling appropriate behavior. Further, supervisors must be trained to handle conflicts that arise amongst employees. With these skills, supervisors will help to create a positive working environment, and employees will believe that they can resolve their issues with the person that they see every day.
There are no guarantees that a company can remain union-free. But with thoughtful and continual planning, businesses can make a preemptive strike against unionization instead of playing defense once the union is already knocking at the door.
Amy B. Royal, Esq. and Benjamin A. Bristol, Esq. specialize exclusively in management-side labor and employment law at Royal & Klimczuk, LLC, a women-owned, boutique, management-side labor and employment law firm; (413) 586-2288; [email protected]