Congress is intent on passing the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which the president said he will sign into law. The EFCA will permit union organizers to pressure workers into signing cards or providing other valid authorizations indicating that they want to be represented by a union. If a majority of any company's employees in an appropriate unit sign such cards or authorizations, then workers will, ipso facto, be represented by a union. The EFCA will do away with secret ballot elections, which have historically occurred with less coercion or intimidation from either management or unions. Under the EFCA, however, union organizers will have a greater opportunity to coerce, pressure, and intimidate workers into signing cards, and management will likely have little or no recourse, or opportunity to present its case, as in the past. The result, of course, will be a significant increase in unionized workers, thus raising production costs during a period of recession. Such a result portends even worsening economic problems.
In order for Corporate America to avoid such a scenario, it is essential that management and workers throughout the country obviate their historical adversarial relationship. If a more productive relationship does not come into being, then Corporate America will be burdened by millions of newly unionized workers. To stem the potential tsunami of dramatically increased unionization, it is essential that management understand the feelings, thoughts, and proclivities of its workers, especially in relation to what unionization could mean to them.
It is essential that management execute a proactive strategy that will reduce and perhaps eliminate the need for employees to join a union. I have developed the following union free strategic action plan for numerous of my clients, and they have found it to be highly effective.
1. Facility Work Philosophy -- Communicate a statement of the facility work philosophy, emphasizing organizational goals, objectives, and a commitment to positive employee relations. This sets the tone and direction for positive changes. For example, if a facility's primary commitment is to produce the most cost effective products in an extremely competitive marketplace, the commitment needs to be clearly stated in the employee work philosophy.
2. Employee Opinion Survey -- Conduct a confidential employee opinion survey to ascertain employee attitudes toward job duties, working conditions, skills of supervisors and managers, communications, pay, benefits, opportunities for advancement, personnel policies and procedures, and job security. The survey serves a dual purpose. First, it provides employees with a direct and anonymous channel of communication to top management. They know that they can communicate frankly with management without fear of reprisal. Second, it furnishes management with an accurate, continuing profile of employee attitudes on which to base policy decisions. For example, items dealing with communications might include "my supervisor asks for my opinion," or "management keeps us well informed about matters that affect us." Employees would then decide the degree to which they agree or disagree with the statement. Items asking for employees' written opinion or comments might include "the thing 1 like most about working here is..." or "some things our management should know are..." Feedback sessions regarding the results are necessary and encourage direct and positive dialogue with employees on critical issues. Once management has gained insight into issues that employees consider important, it can then respond and thus demonstrate that it is truly listening.
3. Employee Profile -- Develop a profile of the type of worker the facility should actively seek for employment. An employee profile greatly increases the likelihood that a facility will hire applicants who will be useful, efficient workers and reduces the chances of hiring persons who will be disaffected and troublesome. The development of an employee profile begins with a thorough analysis of the employer's current work force. The work force analysis must determine the precise skills required at the facility and examine the attitudes employees must possess to foster a positive work environment. In addition, it will be necessary to analyze the labor market to measure the availability of desirable employees.
4. Employee Selection System - Once the profile has been developed, management will be in a position to prepare an employee selection system. The selection system will ensure that the facility hires only applicants who have the right combination of skills and attitudes for the particular work environment. As part of the selection system, management should develop questions and model answers to help employment interviewers determine whether an applicant possesses the desired profile characteristics.
5. Audits must be developed. Audits require supervisors to respond to a series of questions, it compels them to become more aware of the employees whom they supervise and to take an interest in them. Additionally, audits ask supervisors to provide what they believe is the employees' view of working conditions as well as their needs, desires, concerns and issues. It is important to remember that supervisors themselves are sometimes only recently removed from being hourly employees and are likely to have a good perspective on the hourly work force. Personnel audits serve as a barometer for determining how well the employees are adapting to the pro-employee method of operation. The audit might include the following questions:
- Does the employee lack motivation?
- Does the employee frequently complain about the job, salary, or supervisors' treatment?
- Is the employee openly disrespectful of authority?
- How often and how recently has disciplinary action been taken against the employee?
- Does the employee perform work duties inefficiently?
6. Involvement Systems -- Institute systems that encourage employee involvement in the decision-making process. Employees will understand and are more likely to support decisions in which they play a role. Employees who see themselves as a genuine part of the facility, rather than just cogs in a wheel, will be more productive, efficient, caring, and loyal. Informal involvement systems might include meetings with small groups of workers to listen to employees' needs and perceptions, while encouraging them to suggest positive workplace solutions. Formal involvement systems include the use of such techniques as quality circles, focus groups, and/or employee membership on committees dealing with work rules, safety, discipline, and so forth. The important point is that management must listen to what is on the minds of employees and encourage them to provide solutions that will have a positive impact; it will further serve to demonstrate that management cares about employees and their jobs.
Management will be facing a crucial employee challenge when the Employee Free Choice Act is passed. That challenge is to create a work environment in which employees and employers recognize that their interests are the same and that their goals can best be achieved through mutual cooperation. By implementing an integrated union-free strategy, the prudent employer can meet that challenge and diminish the likelihood that workers will be swayed by organizers into signing cards or other authorizations for union representation.
Stephen J. Cabot, Chairman of the Cabot Institute for Labor Relations (www.cabotinstitute.com), is a nationally renowned labor relations expert and strategist. He is also the author of the best-selling books, Everybody Wins! Up From Confrontation, and Stephen Cabot's Complete Guide to Labor Relations in the 21st Century.