How can companies avoid unionization?
No employer wants a union.
Avoiding a union begins with employee engagement. This is not only a job for the Human Resources Department. It should be a company-wide management directive and a company-wide management practice. Unionization is not a failure of HR. Sometimes, no amount of discourse, positive company culture and support can alter the outcome. Unions have significant organizing resources that no HR budget can feasibly challenge. Moreover, unions have legislative protections which permit organizers to misrepresent the so-called "benefits" of joining a union. Sometimes it's just a numbers game - particularly in the construction industry, where only those who are at work on the application date, have a right to decide the outcome.
Union avoidance begins with creating the right company culture. An open-door policy with an opportunity to air grievances freely and without reprisal is part of that. Ensuring equal treatment for employees, and fair decision-making not only in discipline but promotion is essential. Perception becomes reality, and it is important for management to remain grounded and accessible.
What is a union organizing drive?
A union organizing drive is an attempt by a union to collect membership support from your employees. In Ontario, once the union has collected support from 40% of the bargaining unit it seeks to represent, it can apply to the Ontario Labour Relations Board for certification. Generally, five days later, the Board will hold a secret ballot vote which will usually determine the outcome.
What do I do if a union is trying to organize my employees?
A union organizing campaign is not the time for risk-taking or overreaction by company management. Nor is it a time for corporate paralysis and management inaction, which ultimately will drive employees to the union because of the perception that the company is weak or uncaring.
Although a union organizing campaign may create significant upheaval within the work force, companies must focus as best they can on continuing business as usual.
Any management response to the union organizing campaign, whether written or oral, must be carefully considered. An employer has a legally protected right of freedom to express its views concerning unions and union representation. Nevertheless, in speaking to employees, there are specific restrictions on the right of free speech. This includes:
Use of coercion
Intimidation (i.e. suggestions of reprisal)
Threats (i.e. threat to close operation or threats of dismissal)
Promises (i.e. improved working conditions if the union is rejected)
What can management discuss?
Lack of personal treatment
Loss of merit system
Effect of a strike
Union ability to meet promises
Factual comparison to other employers in the same industry
Such communications (preferably made in writing) should be approved in advance by senior management and the Human Resources Department, with the assistance of an experienced labour lawyer. Further, employees should not be requested to attend captive audience meetings during paid working hours.
Once an employer becomes aware of a potential union organizing campaign, it should communicate in writing with employees as soon as possible. Indeed, in Ontario, if you wait to receive notice of a certification application, then any opportunity for a meaningful response will be limited to the 5-day period prior to the representation vote. Five days is often insufficient for employer communication to have any useful impact upon the outcome of the representation vote.
Memoranda or letters should be either handed out to employees or included within their pay envelopes. This has more of an impact than posting a document on a bulletin board. Employers should not be reluctant to acknowledge the "rumored" union organizing campaign- they should respond specifically to it. Employees expect to hear from the employer during a union organizing campaign, and silence is likely to be construed as a lack of employer concern.
Often, the union will produce numerous documents of written propaganda. It is important that the company responds to each. The initial response should be a positive letter designed to encourage team building and co-operation. This is necessary in order to build employee confidence in management and in order to set the stage for more "hard-hitting" letters as organizing efforts intensify. Subsequent letters should emphasize the positive aspects of a non-unionized workplace and should fairly set out the employer's perceptions of the downside of a union relationship. This includes fair comment concerning the union (as big business) and its organizers. The letters should not exceed two pages in length and should be provided over several days, if the opportunity exists. Again, employee correspondence should be carefully drafted with the assistance of an experienced labour lawyer.
Each union organizing drive is different, and this information should not replace the advice of an experienced labour lawyer.
What can Hyde HR Law do for my company?
We are certified specialists in labour law. Our client successes include colleges, large manufacturing companies, construction companies, national and international transportation companies as well as family businesses, who simply do not want to lose their autonomy on account of union certification. Hyde HR Law has the experience you need, and a proven track record to help you remain union free. Contact us today.