Union issues are suddenly on the front burner. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which enforces the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) has become particularly proactive in recent months, witness its very strong stand on social media rights of employees.
For the legal do’s and don’ts for employers, we turned to attorney Patricia Trainor, SPHR, managing editor for HR.BLR.com. Trainor also provided specific steps for keeping employees happy and maintaining a non-unionized workforce.
Employers are often confused about what they can legally say to employees about unions, says Trainor. Therefore, they often train supervisors and managers to say nothing. Many experts in union organizing believe that this is a mistake.
Under the NLRA and related case law there are only a few things employers cannot do in terms of communicating about unions with their employees. They can be summed up in the acronym TIPS.
- T—Employers cannot Threaten employees with adverse action if they support a union. For example, they cannot threaten to close the facility if the union is elected.
- Employers cannot Interrogate employees about their union activities. This means that employers cannot ask employees any questions about their union activity, such as “Did you get an authorization card?” Or, “Why are you interested in that union?”
- P—Employers cannot Promise benefits to employees if they vote against the union.
- S—Finally, employers may not Spy on—or conduct surveillance of—employees’ union activities.
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Beyond those limitations, it is absolutely legal for employers to discuss unions with employees regarding facts, experiences, and their opinions about unions. For example:
- Employers can say that a union will not guarantee better wages.
- Employers can explain that because a union is the exclusive representative of employees, issues such as a simple schedule shift, would need to be presented by and negotiated with the union—there’s no one-on-one with management.
- Employers can explain that unions are costly—for example, they cost money in the form of dues
- Employers can also let employees know what their experiences with unions have been. For example, they can tell employees when a local company was unionized, wages went down, not up.
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Union Avoidance Don’t’s
- Don’t speak in anger. Angry feelings of the moment may easily get you in trouble.
- Don’t threaten workers with what you will do or what will happen if a union comes in. Do not say, for example:
- The business will close
- The business will move
- Wages will go down
- Overtime will be eliminated
- There will be layoffs
- Don’t tell union sympathizers that they will suffer in any way for their support.
- Don’t terminate or discipline workers for engaging in union activities.
- Don’t transfer workers on the basis of union affiliation or sympathies.
- Don’t ask workers about union sympathizers or organizers.
- Don’t ask workers to remove union screensavers or campaign buttons if you allow these things for other organizations.
- Don’t treat pro-union or anti-union workers any differently.
- Don’t ask workers how they are going to vote or how others may vote.
- Don’t ask employees about union meetings or any matters related to unions. You can listen, but don’t ask for any details.
- Don’t promise workers benefits, promotions, or anything else if they vote against the union.
- Do not become involved—in any way—in the details of the union’s election or campaign or participate in any petition movement against the union.
- Don’t give financial aid or any support to any unions.
Any one of these practices could be viewed as an “unfair labor practice,” which may in turn result in recognition of a union without an elections, as well as fines for your company.
In tomorrow’s Advisor, eight steps to keep your workplace union free, plus an introduction to a program specially designed for the smaller—or even one-person—HR department.