• New Union Organizing Initiatives Bear Watching
  • January 9, 2006 | Author: D. Gerald Coker
  • Law Firm: Ford & Harrison LLP - Atlanta Office
  • Seven unions recently formed the "Change to Win Coalition" (CWC) and withdrew from the AFL-CIO. The division was caused by the inability of the unions to agree on how best to attempt to halt declining union membership. The unions that formed CWC are: International Brotherhood of Teamsters, UNITE-HERE, the Carpenters and Joiners of America, the Laborers International Union, the Service Employees International Union, the United Farm Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

    At its founding convention, CWC members adopted a constitution that devotes 75% of per capita taxes to organizing. In addition, CWC members have pledged to devote all of their $23 million in savings from leaving the AFL-CIO to unionizing employees who presently are not represented for purposes of collective bargaining by a labor union. Altogether, CWC estimates that the new organization and its member unions will spend nearly $750 million annually on organizing, including spending at the local, state and national levels.

    CWC will have a strategic organizing center where strategic organizers from each union will work with other member unions to spread their expertise. This center will guide both multi-union and single-union organizing campaigns. CWC claims to have the best strategic organizers, which could be true, since this coalition as a whole won 60% of all elections and filed one-half of all election petitions in 2004.

    Bruce Raynor of UNITE-HERE and Andrew Stern of SEIU are two of the most innovative labor leaders right now. These unions are on the cutting edge of organizing tactics. In recent years they have used card check/recognition agreements in addition to federally supervised union elections as methods of seeking new union members. While these unions favor neutrality and card check/recognition agreements, it is likely they also will continue to seek union elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board to resolve representation disputes at companies.

    While all employers now are at greater risk of being targeted for a unionization effort, the majority of organizing drives will continue to be sparked by one or more disgruntled employees contacting a union by telephone or through its website. All major unions have sophisticated websites that provide information to employees who may be interested in learning more about union representation in the workplace. Experience has shown that once employees contact a union, a trained union representative will arrange a meeting, usually within 24 to 48 hours. As soon as 30% of the employees in an appropriate bargaining unit have signed cards authorizing the union to represent them, the union is free to file an election petition with the local NLRB office. As a general rule, the NLRB will conduct a secret ballot election at the worksite 40 to 45 days later.

    The end of the year is a good time for companies who value their union free status to "audit" their level of preparedness. Managers should always be alert to any change in "normal" employee behavior, which could be a warning sign of union activity. Also, companies should: (1) identify any workplace issues that a union organizer could seize upon and address them in a timely and effective manner; (2) review all pay plans to ensure internal equity and competitiveness; and (3) review benefits policies (particularly health insurance) to make sure that what you are doing is competitive and that employees understand the value of these benefits. Sometimes this review of benefits policies can be communicated effectively on a "user-friendly" spreadsheet that is distributed to employees along with their W-2 Forms. Also, Ford & Harrison has developed an Employee Opinion Survey that is an effective method of "taking the temperature" of the workplace to enable the employer to gauge employee satisfaction and pinpoint issues that need to be addressed before they become major problems.

    Many employers currently are evaluating staffing levels. If your company is considering a reduction in force for business reasons, carefully consider the employee relations aspects and the many alternatives to a RIF. Make sure you have a plan to avoid meritorious discrimination claims. If you are considering the acquisition of a faltering company, be aware that job security concerns might make employees more receptive to union promises. Also, if the targeted company already has a union contract covering a group of its employees, the contract may mandate certain advance notice requirements and procedures for selecting employees for layoff (e.g. inverse order of seniority in affected job classifications).

    In conclusion, the current uncertain economic climate and the renewed focus by every major union on increasing membership rolls could be a potent combination for some employees who feel insecure in their jobs and who may believe union "promises" of job security. Forward thinking employers should take proactive steps now to create a climate of trust and increased workplace satisfaction in the new year, which will decrease the likelihood of a successful union organizing campaign.