As Congress continues to mull enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act—legislation that could fundamentally alter the nation’s labor-relations landscape—unions are pushing hard to add more members.
According to Jonathan Kaplan and David Rittof, who recently spoke at HR Specialist’s Labor and Employment Law Advanced Practices Washington Conference, union membership increased by almost half a million in 2008. Now 16.1 million Americans belong to a labor union.
And while union organizers tout organized labor’s ability to secure better pay and working conditions, Kaplan believes workers don’t always join unions for those reasons.
“I would argue that most efforts to unionize come about because of intangible factors, such as a lack of dignity in the workplace,” said Kaplan, a partner in the Memphis employment law firm of Kiesewetter Wise Kaplan Prather.
And if that’s the case, it’s within ’s power to convince employees they don’t need union representation.
Rittof, an employee-relations consultant, agrees. When executives and managers demonstrate genuine concern for employee needs, he said, union representation loses much of its appeal.
Kaplan and Rittof say top brass can stay one step ahead of union organizers by following these common-sense steps:
- Maintain an active dialogue with employees regarding their concerns.
- Be visible on a daily basis.
- Act on issues raised by employees and provide feedback to them.
- Express a sincere desire to hear employee concerns.
- Keep an open door.
- Get involved in the workplace to ensure employees feel you are in touch.
- Communicate information from management so employees feel informed.
- Involve HR before employee issues become a crisis.
- Involve employees in decisions.
- Treat employees fairly.
- Promptly address conflicts and stay professional.
- Lead, don’t “manage.”
- Provide rational discussion supporting actions and changes.
- Most importantly, always show appreciation for employees’ efforts.
Rittof’s advice for HR pros in workplaces that might be susceptible to union organizing campaigns: “Get your executive staff out there among your workers. Familiarity makes a tremendous difference. Employees need to believe there’s someone in the executive suite with their interests at heart.”