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October 2009 Newsletter
Welcome to the first edition of our periodic newsletter. It is our intent to inform, promote thinking and amuse on a wide variety of topics relevant to practice of Human Resources. We hope you find these short documents worthwhile.

EFCA-- Union Organizing Made Easy

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) proposed legislation is likely to pass Congress once the health care bill is completed.  The most publicized change of this EFCA legislation is amending the National Labor Relations Act to allow authorization signatures (card check) as an approved voting method.

Today, when a group of workers obtains at least 30% of the potential members authorizing a union, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would schedule a secret ballot election.  Even if the organizing group receives a majority of cards authorizing a union, the NLRB could still order an election. An employer may opt to bypass the NLRB process if the majority of potential members authorize labor organizing.

The proposed legislation will eliminate this employer option. That is, if a majority of potential members through the card check process authorize a union, then this union is authorized and that the employer cannot request a subsequent secret ballot.

There are many pros and cons to the use of the card check process. Proponents argue that the card check process will reduce employer coercive tactics such as threatening work site closures and forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings during working hours, while restricting union supporters’ access to employees.  Opponents of the legislation believe it will lead to greater harassment and coercion on the part of union organizers, especially peers pressuring workers to publicly sign authorization cards.

As a psychologist, I view it from the perspective that public voting applies undo pressure, especially from one’s peers.  It is much easier to change people’s public behavior than their private attitudes. Even minor social pressure from others has been shown to have a significant effect on public behavior. Secret ballots allow people to align their behavior more closely with their privately held beliefs. Public petition signing, on the other hand, is less congruent.  Workers will sign authorizations card even when this is not consistent with their internal beliefs. Unions know this and that is why they are pushing for card check as a preferred voting method.

Prevention Starts Now

A more strategic view towards preventing labor organizing requires an understanding of the organizational and personal worker factors that influence their overall attitudes about their employer and the union.  This happens long before the union comes knocking at the door. It requires forward thinking and the ability to perform critical self analysis of management practices.

Organizations that regularly perform employee attitude surveys have a head start on this.  Those that do not should start now.  While most employee attitude surveys cover a wide range of topics, surveys targeted specifically on preventing labor organizing activity should focus on these key drivers:

  • Trust in Management and Leadership

  • Quality of Supervision

  • Degree of Employee Engagement

  • Policy Fairness and Consistency

  • Compensation Fairness and Competitiveness

  • Job Security Perceptions

Using a professionally developed survey instrument that can reliably and validly measure employee attitudes and perceptions is a great asset in developing a union avoidance strategy. It can provide employers with valued information on the extent to which an organizational climate factor can be used as leverage to form a union. This can be a valuable tool for law practices to provide to their clients as well as a potential new profit stream.

Moreover, the applicable survey questions can provide guidance about the remedies and interventions needed to turn this entire union forming perception around.  For example, perceptions of unfair and non-competitive compensation may not be based in reality and thus employers could mitigate this by communicating salary survey information and providing employees with a true picture of their total dollar compensation (wages and benefits). 

Improving organizational climate factors like Trust in Management, Supervision, Employee Engagement, and Policy Fairness all require more action than talk. These will take months to enact and affect. Employers needing to change these because of immediate labor organizing are too late.  At this point tactics as opposed to these strategic initiates must prevail.  But for employers taking the long view now is the time to diagnose the issues affecting their organizations.

In addition to organizational climate factors that influence joining a union, workers attitudes towards unions and the employer-employee social contract are important. Regardless of how fair an employer is perceived to be, if workers have the mindset that they feel alienated, not in control of their careers, and have traditional worker values of entitlements, they will be more prone to join a union.  This personal view of the world of work is one that is rarely assessed, but nonetheless is important for employers to understand.

Diagnosing individual work values can be beneficial to employers from a strategic perspective.  It can first help employers understand the lens which employees see the company.  Once this is understood communications and interventions can be customized to take this value perspective into account.  The labor avoidance strategy for the emerging entrepreneurial worker will certainly be different from that of the more traditional worker. 

Taken together, a targeted labor organizing survey is an excellent strategic tool for employers to utilize and one that can be offered by labor attorneys to assist their clients.  The likely passing of EFCA and the economic recession with continued high unemployment levels make for the “perfect storm” of labor organizing.  Those who get ahead of the curve through implementing preventative measures now will benefit the most. Others will be at greater risk.

If you would like more information on how Pragmatic HR Consulting can help you with your union avoidance priorities, please see http://pragmatichr.com/union-avoidance

Carl Greenberg, Ph.D.