As a member of the automotive industry, you know unions are not going away anytime soon regardless of recent defeats like those suffered by the UAW at Volkswagen in Tennessee. The UAW and others have stepped up their organizing efforts and do not be surprised if they come knocking on your company’s door seeking to “enlighten” your workforce. After all, the UAW did not recently raise dues for the first time in decades for nothing. Instead of sitting back and hoping unions do not make an appearance at your workplace; there are some basic tips for keeping your house in order to help stay union free.
When it comes to discipline, remember to keep fairness and promptness in mind. Employees should be put on notice, ahead of time, of what conduct will subject them to discipline as well as the nature of the consequences for engaging in misconduct. Employers should promptly investigate and impose the appropriate level of discipline. The more employees feel like they are getting a fair shot when it comes to discipline, the less likely they will be to seek the assistance of a union. Also remember to keep consistency in mind. If the level of discipline imposed in one situation is different than what was imposed in previous similar situations, you should have a good explanation for the disparity.
Employees like to know how they are doing at work – the fewer surprises the better. If you do not already have a formal evaluation process in place, think about implementing one. If you already have an evaluation process, make sure you are timely in providing evaluations. It is difficult for employees to fix a problem they do not find out about until 12 months (or more) later. Evaluations should be used for more than just negative news. Positive feedback increases employee morale. Think of a positive evaluation as the adult version of a gold star. While it may not seem like much, we all like to feel appreciated and that we are doing a good job. Make sure your employees, especially the superstars, know they are valued.
Despite your best intentions, conflicts will arise in the workplace. Even discipline that seems fair may be disputed by the offending employee. Giving an employee the chance to air their grievances (think Festivus but without the feats of strength) can help fend off further escalation, whether it is filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or reaching out to a union. Involving co-workers in the conflict resolution process can aid in its effectiveness. A peer review that involves co-workers can lend validity to the company’s decision. A line worker may think twice about the decision if his fellow line workers agree with the company.
In short, creating a work environment where employees feel they are getting a fair shake goes a long way to avoid the temptation of the promises dangled by unions. Happy employees will also likely result in higher productivity and increases in your bottom line. A win-win situation for you and your employees. Remember, the automotive industry has been and will continue to be a target for unions. Do not give the unions additional reasons to come knocking.
Michael Groebe further explores this topic on Foley’s Labor & Employment Law Perspectives blog.