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THE LAW. The 1935 National Labor Relations Act gives employees the right to organize, bargain collectively and strike. In the 1940s, Congress tried to correct union abuses of power by passing the Taft-Hartley Act, which made it illegal for unions to:

 

  • Force employees to join the union.

     

     

  • Force employers to discriminate against nonunion employees.

     

     

  • Refuse to bargain collectively with an employer.

     

     

  • Charge excessive or discriminatory fees or dues.

     

     

 

WHAT'S NEW. This past summer, four large dissident labor unions led by the huge Service Employees International Union split away from the powerful AFL-CIO. Those breakaway unions and others formed "Change to Win," a new labor group focused on organizing, rather than political activism. The group aims to reverse the steady drop in union membership.

At first glance, you may think a split in the labor movement is a positive move, but that may not be the case.

Change to Win aims to organize as many employers as possible to stem a half-century decline in American union membership. Its first target: Wal-Mart.

The AFL-CIO, which was stung by the membership defections, responded by increasing its organizing budget, too. Nonunion employers now sit squarely in the labor movement's cross hairs.

HOW TO COMPLY. Employers are in one of three categories: unionized, nonunionized or nonunionized but being targeted.

Don't become a union target. If you're a nonunion company, your goal is to stay that way. That's why it's important to understand the factors that may make you an organization target, specifically:

 

  • Employees' job insecurity or lack of opportunity.

     

     

  • Poor communication with management.

     

     

  • Below-average compensation or benefits.

     

     

  • Perceived favoritism in the workplace.

     

     

  • Poorly trained supervisors.

     

     

  • Lack of standards or feedback.

     

     

 

Your organization has control over some of these factors, but not all. Most issues that will make a company vulnerable to organizing deal with fairness. Unions sell the idea that a collective-bargaining agreement eliminates favoritism. Employees who feel unfairly mistreated can easily be seduced by such an argument.

To see if you're a good target, evaluate all aspects of your employee relations. How do your pay and benefits compare with your industry? Have your terminations and discipline procedures caused complaints and lawsuits? Survey employees to identify potential problems that could spark an organizing effort. Don't be afraid to do an honest assessment and make changes, if necessary.

What if you're targeted? If you find yourself targeted by an organizing effort, keep your head. The NLRA makes it illegal to:

 

  • Discriminate against employees in any way for participating in union activities, or make any threats of discipline or firing.

     

     

  • Promise to increase pay or benefits in return for abandoning the union.

     

     

  • Prevent pro-union verbal solicitations by employees during nonworking hours and breaks. (You can prohibit organizing during work hours.)

     

     

  • Engage in surveillance of employees to determine their views on the union.

     

     

  • Prohibit union insignia on shirts and other clothing.

     

     

 

In the 24 hours leading up to an NLRB-scheduled union election, you can't campaign on company time and premises. Off-premises meetings are permitted, but tightly regulated. Consult your attorney for guidance. You also can't reproduce NLRB ballots to show employees how to mark them.

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