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Thought Leadership

The Labor Law Insider: The Unions Are Coming! The Unions Are Coming!

 
Podcast

The Labor Law Insider takes on the recharged union optimism and activity in this podcast episode. Moderator Tom Godar is joined by members of Husch Blackwell’s Labor Law team, Terry Potter, Tom O’Day, and Rufino Gaytán, to discuss the increase in public support for unions, recent changes in organizing activities by unions, and implications for employers. With the benefit of their more than 100 years of combined experience in labor law, our panel discusses actions employers should take to maintain a direct relationship with their employees as unions attempt to increase their organizing efforts in the workplace.

    

Show Notes

Rising public support for unions

Union membership has fallen precipitously over the decades and now only 6% of private sector employees are union members today. Yet there is growing support for unions by the general population. According to annual Gallop poll surveys, the increase in the approval rating for unions rose to about 65% in 2020 from 50% in 2010. The upward trend potentially portends a resurgence of labor union organizing activity and clout.

A confluence of factors will continue to increase the positive impressions of labor unions, such as 1) employees’ disengagement, physically and mentally, from the workplace in the past year as a result of the pandemic, 2) a general feeling of civil unrest and dissatisfaction with the status quo that grips many groups in the population, and 3) the current administration’s commitment to fully support unions as articulated by President Biden in his promise to be the most labor-friendly President this country has ever seen.

Along with a pro-labor administration, Democratic appointees comprise a majority of the National Labor Relations Board (Board) with the recent addition of union stalwarts Gwynne Wilcox and David Prouty, both influential and committed union-leaning lawyers. Historically, union elections have increased during Democratic administrations. This perfect storm of conditions creates an environment that fosters growth of union organization efforts and union influence.

Learning from post-election organizing tactics following Amazon’s union election

Notwithstanding the loss, the union election at Amazon’s plant in Bessemer, Alabama, provides insight into the latest labor union tactics used to garner support among workers and the growing influence of unions at the Board, which supervises union elections. Despite a 2-1 vote against the union, the union filed a formal challenge with the regional office of the Board alleging unlawful interference by the employer. The hearing officer recommended a second election that is expected to be granted, despite seemingly unsupported allegations of interference. The union has also launched a sophisticated social media campaign reaching thousands of workers that reiterates unsupported claims regarding the election and promises employees a voice at the table with union representation. While the latest union tactics and claims may be difficult for employers to contest, focusing on workplace culture and communication can neutralize the appeal of union representation.

Deploying effective employer strategies

Unions rely on worker dissatisfaction to recruit employees to support organizing efforts within the workplace. They promise workers a voice at the table and real regard for employee issues in exchange for union representation. Working to achieve a culture of communication, inclusivity, and employee respect deprives unions of a powerful tool to gain access to the workers, while it increases employee satisfaction and reduces turnover.

Employers should consider the following strategies to maintain a direct relationship with their employees:

  • Conduct an audit of employee concerns in the workplace and provide positive responses to issues not only related to compensation but to accessibility and responsiveness of management.
  • Train supervisors and managers on soft skills, including communication, as employees are highly frustrated by favoritism, unfulfilled promises, and disrespect.
  • Ensure managers are meeting with employees in small groups on a regular basis to address worker concerns.
  • Respect employees by sharing real insights regarding the company’s performance, successes, and competitive threats so that workers are involved in understanding their workplace and the marketplace.

Contact us

If you have questions regarding union organizing issues and your workplace, contact Tom Godar, Terry Potter, Tom O’Day, Rufino Gaytán or your Husch Blackwell attorney.

Professionals:

Thomas P. Godar

Partner

Tom O'Day

Partner

Rufino Gaytán III

Senior Counsel

Terry L. Potter

Senior Counsel
 

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