Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Unions membership is up in Ohio; is your business prepared?

Union membership numbers for 2016 are out, and while most employers should be encouraged, Ohio employers might think otherwise.

In Ohio, the percentage of workers belonging to unions is at 12.4 percent, up 0.1 percent from 2015. Nationally, union membership sits at 10.7 percent, down 0.4 percent from 2015. In other words, Ohio’s union representation is both greater than, and growing faster than, the national average.

While many think that President Trump will appoint a pro-business National Labor Relations Board, undoing the NLRB’s pro-union and pro-employee policies of the past eight years, those appointments would run counter to one of Trump’s key campaign promises—to rebuild the economy for the working class. And, if there is one thing President Trump has demonstrated over the first 10 days of his administration is that he intends to make good on his campaign promises.

Indeed, writing at OnLabor, Professor Charlie Morris makes this very point:
The extent to which the Trump administration will be willing to pursue objectives that differ from traditional Republican positions is mostly unknown. For example, If one assumes the possibility of President Trump prevailing in intra-party disagreements concerning matters involving labor-relations—which is pure wishful thinking—a fundamental question arises as to whether he might actually oppose some of the extreme anti-union positions that have long been hallmarks of the Republican establishment and perhaps even initiate some reasonable actions that favor both organized labor and the economy as a whole.
While we can agree that this outcome is unlikely (see Phillip Miscimarra’s appointment as acting head of the National Labor Relations Board), it is not implausible to the point of being laughable.

Regardless, in Ohio, we employers must deal with the reality that union membership is up and outpaces the national average. And, faced with the likely prospect of Trump’s NLRB rolling back the gains unions earned during the Obama era, we should expect unions to remain active and aggressive.

Is your business prepared for a union organizing campaign? The time to prepare is now. Once a union knocks on your business’s door, it is too late to start. Management efforts to combat a labor union start on the first day each employee walks in your door, with what your policies say about your philosophy of employee relations, and how you treat your employees day-to-day.

I have long advocated that employers adopt the TEAM approach to union avoidance.

          Train supervisors
          Educate employees
          Affirm the open door
          Modernize policies

1. Train Supervisors. If a union is organizing, supervisors are likely to be the first people to know. They will also be the people that rank-and-file employees will come to with questions or concerns. Thus, supervisors need to know how to report, monitor, and legally respond to union activity.

2. Educate Employees. Employees should not be told that the company is anti-union, but why it is anti-union – competitive wages and benefits; positive communication between management and employees; history of peaceful employee/management relations; management’s openness to listen to employees and handle their concerns without an intermediary; and an unwillingness to permit a third-party to tell the company and employees how to do their jobs.

3. Affirm the open door. Management should routinely round its employees to learn what is happening and what they are thinking. Management should walk the floor on a daily basis. It should also hold regular meetings with employees, whether in small sessions with HR or large town hall-style meeting.

4. Modernize Policies. In an ideal world, employee handbooks and other corporate policies should be reviewed and updated annually. I’ve yet to come across a company that does so this frequently. No time is better than now to take a hard look at current policies. Do you have an open door policy? An issue resolution procedure? Peer review? An employee bulletin board? An electronic communications policy? Most importantly, do you have a no solicitation policy? It is the single most important policy to help fight labor unions.

It is essential that employers address these issues proactively before a union talks to even one of your employees. Otherwise, it will likely be too late to mount a meaningful resistance. 

To learn how to deploy this critical strategy in your workplace, contact one of Meyers Roman’s labor and employment attorneys.