Issue: Infighting among union groups has the labor movement cranking up its organizing efforts to prove a point.

Risk: Many employers panic when they become union targets, tripping over costly labor relations rules.

Action: Follow these steps to avoid becoming a union target. If you are targeted, know what you can and can't say in response.

At first glance, you may think last year's high-profile split in the labor movement is good news for employers. Not so.

When four large dissident labor unions, led by the huge Service Employees International Union, broke away from the powerful AFL-CIO, those breakaway unions and others joined "Change to Win." That new labor union focuses on organizing, rather than political activism.

Change to Win aims to organize as many employers as possible to stem the half-century decline in American union membership. Its first target: Wal-Mart. And the AFL-CIO, which was stung by the defections, responded by increasing its organizing budget, too.

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. Examples: employees' job insecurity; poor communication with management; below-average compensation or benefits; perceived favoritism in the workplace; poorly trained supervisors; and lack of feedback.

Most issues that make a company vulnerable to organizing deal with fairness. Labor sells the idea that unions eliminate favoritism. Employees who feel unfairly mistreated can easily be seduced by that 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. Sell changes to top execs as a way to ward off a union bid.

 

What if you're targeted?

 

Many targeted businesses make moves that constitute unfair labor practices under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). That law 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.)
  • Prohibit union insignia on shirts and other clothing.

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