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Close the Door on Union Organizing

July 21, 1999
Related Topics: Labor Relations, Featured Article
Editor's Note: Workforce Department Editor Scott Hays signed up for a class titled "Human Resources Management," as part of the HR/Management Certificate Program at the University of California, Irvine. Each week, he visits one nugget of knowledge from the course, helping you move in the direction of becoming a more strategic partner.

Today millions of U.S. workers belong to unions. And these aren't just blue-collar workers, either. White-collar workers and public employees are also forming unions, mostly to get better working conditions and more pay, and to protect themselves from the whims of management.

In his book "Human Resource Management" (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1997), Gary Dessler suggests companies develop strategies for human resources professionals to effectively deal with unionization, "lest they commit unfair labor practices." For example, it’s an unfair labor practice for employers to interfere with an employee’s right to self-organize, it’s an unfair labor practice for companies to discriminate in any way against employees for legal union activities, and it’s an unfair labor practice for employers to refuse to bargain collectively with employees’ representative.

If a charge of unfair labor practice is filed with the National Labor Relations Board, an investigation could lead to an injunction or an order that the employer cease and desist. To avoid such problems, writes Dessler, "employers should have rules governing distribution of literature and solicitation of workers and train supervisors in how to apply them."

Dessler uses several sources to compile a number of steps you can take to legally restrict union organizing:

  1. Non-employees can be barred from soliciting employees when they're on duty, not on a break.
  2. Employers can usually stop employees from soliciting other employees if one or both are on paid-duty time and not on a break.
  3. Most employers can bar non-employees from the building’s interiors and work areas as a right of private property owners. In some cases, non-employees can be barred from exterior private property areas such as parking lots—if there’s a legitimate business reason and not just to interfere with union organizers.
  4. Employees can be denied access to interior or exterior areas if the employers can demonstrate that the rule is required for reasons of production, safety or discipline.

In addition, writes Dessler, there are guidelines you can use to preserve a union-free work environment, including: detecting union organizing activity as early as possible; "remember that your best source is probably first-line supervisors;" never voluntarily recognize a union without a secret election supervised by the NLRB; present your case to your employees forcefully and relentlessly;" and postpone any elections as long as possible.

Finally, consider the option of not staying union-free. "Union membership may make health benefits available at group rates ... and industry-wide or association-wide wage agreements can remove the burden of having to negotiate salaries and raises with each of your employees."

SOURCE: "Human Resource Management" (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1997) by Gary Dessler.

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