October 17, 2011 | last updated December 12, 2011 11:07 am

Look inward to protect against new union rules

Owner, Dacri & Associates, Kennebunkport

The National Labor Relations Board has issued two new rules that could affect an organization's ability to remain union-free. One will be implemented early next year and approval for the other is expected soon. Both are bad for business and both are designed to resuscitate deflated union membership nationally.

The NLRB will require most private-sector employers by Jan. 31, 2012 to notify their employees of their rights to form a union under the National Labor Relations Act by posting a notice. Employers will also be required to post a notice on their intranet, or on an Internet site, if their HR rules, policies or handbooks are normally posted there. Failure to post the notice may be treated as an unfair labor practice.

The NLRB also proposed amendments to its existing procedures that, if approved, would result in accelerated union elections. Typically, once a company is petitioned, an election is held in 30-60 days, sometimes longer. Companies use this time to defend themselves against union organizer claims and to present their side of the story. The proposed rules reduce the time between petition and election to seven days, unfairly tipping the balance to the union.

Employers can take steps today to minimize the potential of a union knocking on your door. It may appear that the NLRB is working against you, but companies often get unions because they deserve them.

When employees feel disengaged, treated poorly or when their wages and jobs are threatened, they reach for a lifeline. The union's promise of job protection, improved wages and benefits, along with workplace due process plays well in this depressed economy. Fighting a union drive, or worse, negotiating your first contract, is hugely expensive and derails attention needed to effectively run your business.

So how do you eliminate this threat? Ask what union arguments will resonate with your work force. Simply ask your employees. Employee satisfaction surveys are a great tool to determine what your employees are thinking and an accurate predictor of your vulnerability to unions. A strategy focused on your employees will not only make unions unnecessary, it will also increase the productivity and performance of your work force. This strategy should contain five key elements:

Communicate. Talk to your people frequently. Let them know they can always talk to you and that there should never be a need to turn to a third party. Employees also want to know about what's happening with the business; keep them informed.

Provide problem resolution. Things happen and employees need a safe, comfortable vehicle to address concerns and get issues resolved. Unions will guarantee your employees due process. Why cede that right?

Develop and invest in your supervisors. They should be your eyes and ears, employee problem-solvers and the go-to people to get things done. They will be your first line of defense in preventing or fighting a drive.

Pay fairly. In a tough economy, when survival is an issue, it is difficult to talk about pay. But keep two things in mind: 1) employees expect to be paid fairly for the work they do and 2) employees understand the times. Nothing fires up talk about unions more than a work force that believes it is being treated unfairly. Market survey your wages annually and correct inequities. At the same time, you can't pay what you don't have. Again, talk to your employees. If you've always been straight with them, they'll understand. But when the good times return, remember those who stood by you.

Take care of your employees. Setting clear expectations and holding your employees accountable for good performance is a must. When employees do their part, employers must do the same. Provide tools to do their job, supervisors who care, a clean, safe place to work, and people who are respectful.


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