Union organizing approaches are more sophisticated today than in prior years. The use of the internet and social media, as well as the new type of worker (i.e., Millennials) provides an increasingly target rich environment. Find out about one of the most effective tools to minimize and/or avoid union organizing attempts.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Agency provides service daily to over 400,000 commuters who find this service a necessity to get to and from work. The employees working for BART are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 1021. Local 1021 and management have been meeting and negotiating for the past several months for a new contract. Negotiations first broke down in July, 2013 and the employees went on strike. The strike lasted approximately 10 days. The parties then resumed negotiations, but were unable to reach an agreement. While representatives for the parties acknowledged that they were getting closer on economics, the real differences involve work rules and past practices. Management insists on having the usual management rights authority granted to employers in most contracts. Normally, this authority allows companies to implement reasonable rules which are then subject to arbitration if the union grieves, among other things, the reasonability for the rule. The policy under the expired contract was that rules and/or past practices could only be altered by mutual agreement between management and the union. In a unionized environment, obtaining such agreements is often unrealistic and difficult. As an example, management wants the authority to modify schedules when necessary whether or not over a holiday or a citywide event. The union is adamant that it will not accept a contract which gives to management such unilateral rule making authority. This is the type of issue that usually breeds contentious and lengthy strikes.
While BART is certainly harmed by the strike, the real harm flows to commuters and to the citizenry in general over the greater San Francisco area. In my view, the strike at BART is simply a throwback to the old days when unions sought more and more because of its greed and its desire to obtain more power. Employees who chose to work at BART should understand that they have a public duty to aid the citizens in their area of work. Most public employees need to balance their desires with the greater good of the areas residents. Many public employees and public employee unions have learned the hard way that their outlandish desires in areas of money, pensions, healthcare and work rules literally forced many public employers into considering bankruptcy. Detroit is just a recent example of a public entity that was forced to enter bankruptcy since its overall cost of doing business far exceeded its income. A large part of these costs in Detroit are related to public employees. Its now time for all of us to stand up for limiting the type of abuse brought to the city of San Francisco by its public employees and public employee unions. If we don't stand up now for the rights and needs of the citizens, then more public employers will go the route of Detroit.
Creating a Pro-active Labor Relations Environment - Part Twenty in a Series: Realistic Expectations About What a Union Can Give
There are many misconceptions about what a union can realistically provide. Educating a workforce about these matters is a critical part of a pro-active labor relations plan. Some of what a union can or will do are set forth below.
No union can obtain for employees anything management is not able or willing to give. The company is not required to automatically sign a contract or agree to any benefits that are not in its best economic interests.
Possible decreases in benefits
The company is not required to continue its present wage and benefits if a union gets in. Whatever wages and benefits the employees receive after the union gets in must be negotiated with the union. The wages and benefits employees receive after the union gets in could be more than they now receive, or they could get LESS.
Employees likewise need to be educated about their rights as protected by federal law. Some of these rights are:
 Employees do not have to accept literature or home visits from any union representative.
 Unions cannot threaten, coerce, or intimidate employees to join the union .
- Representatives of a union may not threaten an employee with job loss if s/he refuses to sign a card. They may not imply that an employee will be sorry if s/he does not immediately join the union.
 Management cannot threaten, coerce, or intimidate employees as a result of union activities.
- Employees are free to join or not join any organization without fear of reprisal from the company.
Further employee education should include what an employee needs to know about a union:
Employees should know that under certain conditions the National Labor Relations Board has ordered employers to bargain with unions without an election, solely on the basis of a sufficient number of signed authorization cards. Thus, employees should think carefully before signing an authorization card or they might unknowingly “vote” in a union.
On the other hand, if employees have already signed a card and there is an election, they can still choose to vote against the union during that election.
Employees should always be told if there are any untrue or misleading statements made by an organizer, made in a handbill, or made in any other form of union communication. Supervisors have a responsibility to provide employees with the correct facts and with an accurate picture of how unions operate.
An employer also needs to explain to its employees/associates why unions are not needed today the way they were in the past. By and large the abuses unions were originally established to rectify are gone. The improvements in working conditions fought for by unions have now become the law of the land, e.g.: minimum wages; safety and health regulations; equal opportunity employment; payments for overtime; provisions for unemployment insurance; and worker’s compensation.
A majority of companies today are run by informed and enlightened management who view labor as a valuable resource rather than a mere commodity.
In addition to the ideas discussed above, creating a pro-active work environment should also include the components to be discussed in upcoming blogs, as part of a comprehensive strategy.