Labor Relations

How to Promote Union Avoidance Through Respect and Fairness

Employers use a variety of union avoidance strategies to discourage unionization. What if all it takes is to make employees feel respected and valued?

Employees in the U.S. have the right to organize themselves for collective bargaining purposes. This often involves forming or joining a union, which then becomes the authorized representative of some or all employees in negotiations with the employer. Federal law prohibits employers from interfering with employees who are engaged in these types of activities. While the days when employers called in soldiers or armed guards to break strikes and prevent unionization are in the past, many employers still use a variety of tactics and strategies to discourage their employees from organizing. Strategies for “union avoidance” can promote a more generous approach. Employers may find that respect and fairness towards employees can alleviate some of their worst fears about unionization. Employees’ goals when organizing often come down to wanting their employers to hear them and understand their concerns. Employees whose employers listen to and respect them may not feel a need to unionize.

What Is Union Avoidance?

The term “union avoidance” refers to efforts by employers to discourage employees from pursuing unionization. They may do this in a largely negative way, such as by highlighting the shortcomings of modern unions or suggesting that unionization could have unintended consequences. They may also take a more positive approach that seeks to address whatever concerns led employees to start considering unionization.

Businesses have many reasons to prefer that their employees not form or join unions. While opposition to unions might bring the robber barons of the late 19th century to mind, not all businesses who oppose unions do so out of a desire to return to a six- or seven-day workweek. Union conflict resolution and grievance procedures can create additional costs for businesses and limit their ability to find flexible solutions to problems.

The robber barons of old might have dealt harshly with unionization efforts. Today’s union avoidance strategies have dropped such a blunt approach. They may focus instead on promoting employee communication and satisfaction.

What Are the Costs of Union Avoidance?

Employers often go to great expense to prevent their employees from unionizing. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), employers in the United States spend over $400 million each year on “union avoidance consultants.” Some of these consultants, the EPI reports, use strategies that range from aggressively anti-union to misleading about the role of unions in the workplace.

Direct interference with unionization activities violates the National Labor Relations Act and could expose an employer to civil penalties and other liability. Union avoidance typically does not go so far that it overtly violates this statute. That said, federal labor regulators seem to be catching on to ways that consultants and others skirt the law. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards requires employers to report “any expenditure where an object thereof, directly or indirectly, is to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their collective bargaining rights.” This could include many expenditures related to union avoidance.

What Are Some Alternative Union Avoidance Strategies?

Employers might consider strategies for union avoidance that do not place them at quite so much risk of legal liability. As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Examples of how employers can use positive measures to discourage unionization include:

  • Fostering open communication with employees;
  • Encouraging collaboration between employees and management;
  • Maintaining transparency to the greatest extent possible concerning employment policies and procedures;
  • Providing employees with the resources they need to perform their job duties most effectively;
  • Demonstrating employees’ value to the business through fair compensation, benefits packages, and opportunities for advancement; and
  • Leveraging technology to help facilitate these measures.

Learn How Employee and Labor Relations Software Can Help Keep Your Workforce Happy

Employers who want to dissuade their employees from forming or joining unions have several options for avoiding unionization. Some union avoidance strategies focus on discouraging employees from organizing. These can be expensive, cumbersome, and legally risky. Other strategies try to prevent unionization by addressing the concerns that might have led employees to look into organizing in the first place. LaborSoft’s employee and labor relations software can help employers respond to issues affecting their employees and maintain good relationships. Download our Union Avoidance Kit to learn more about positive strategies for discouraging unionization. You may also contact us to set up a customized demonstration of our software for your business.

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