Employment Law Alliance’s Labor Day Survey Illustrates Disconnect Between Union Promises and Reality

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Union Organizing Limited by Proactive Employee Engagement and Education

BALTIMORE AND SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 27, 2015) – In advance of Labor Day in the U.S. and Labour Day in Canada, the Employment Law Alliance (ELA), the world’s largest network of management-side labor, employment and immigration lawyers, has released the results of its latest “Employer Pulse” survey on traditional labor issues.

The poll, conducted from mid-July to mid-August, surveyed ELA attorneys across the U.S. and Canada and yielded nearly 400 responses from all 50 U.S. states and each of the 10 Canadian provinces.

Respondents were asked to identify both the stated reasons employees opt to join unions, and what they have found to be the “least accurate” claims unions have made to encourage membership.

“Higher wages and/or benefits” and “Enhanced job security, including protection from layoffs” made the top five in both employee reasoning and inaccurate union representations, suggesting a significant gap between what workers perceive to be a benefit of unionization and the reality as witnessed by a set of highly experienced labor and employment attorneys.  Gary L. Simpler of the Baltimore management-side labor and employment law firm, Shawe Rosenthal, LLP agreed.  Simpler commented, “Unions often promise employees job security and higher wages, but economic reality – global competition for goods and services, the ability to move operations to other states or other countries, the option to automate people out of jobs when wages get too high, among many other factors – limits what unions can deliver.”

According to respondents, the top two reasons employees reject union membership are: 1) “Cost of dues exceeds value of membership, including objection to use of dues to support and promote union political agenda;” and 2) “Distrust of union leadership and recognition of unrealistic campaign promises.”

One member commented, “I believe the real number one reason [that employees reject union membership] is that employees know and trust that their employer cares about them and runs the business looking out for both the employees’ and owners’ long-term interests. An employer ‘runs on its record,’ and that means it cannot start ‘caring’ or ‘showing that it cares’ only when the union shows up.”

Turning to specific issues, definitive answers emerged on the following:

  • 83 percent of respondents noted that “quickie” or “ambush” election rules issued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will either “Greatly assist” or “Moderately assist” unions in their efforts to represent employees.

Regarding “quickie” or “ambush” elections, New Hampshire attorney Charles S. Einsiedler, Jr. of Pierce Atwood LLP offered, “Employers must proactively educate their workforce concerning what unions really can and cannot do, because the board’s new election rules leave insufficient time for employers to provide meaningful employee education once an election is scheduled.”

Given that the poll’s data broadly indicates employees often choose unionization based on misrepresentations concerning enhanced wages, job security and elimination of unpopular supervisors, one respondent noted that inaccurate promises, combined with the natural reluctance of non-union employers to communicate with their workforce about unions and an “ambush” or “quickie” election, have the potential to greatly assist unionization efforts. They added that there is a genuine, economically material onus on companies to consider and prepare for this dynamic.

  • 85 percent of respondents answered that NLRB rulings allowing unions to organize small or micro units of employees will either “Greatly assist” or “Moderately assist” unions in their efforts to represent employees.
  • 76.5 percent of respondents answered that attempts, if successful, by the NLRB to expand and extend the joint employer test – particularly among franchisors and franchisees – will either “Greatly assist” or “Moderately assist” unions in their efforts to represent employees.
  • 94.11 percent of Canadian respondents answered that, based on their experience and feedback received from clients and colleagues, the recent change from card-based certification to vote-based certification under the federal Canada Labour Code “Will greatly reduce” or “Will moderately reduce” the success rate of unions in Applications for Certification.

The group was somewhat split on the potential impact of the expansion of overtime eligibility recently announced by the U.S. Department of Labor, with 45 percent of respondents believing that the broadening “Will have limited impact” in terms of assisting unions in their organizing efforts and 38.5 percent answering that it will “Greatly assist” or “Moderately assist” unionization efforts.

Overall, the importance of identifying and dealing with “unpopular,” “rogue” and – at times – unreasonable supervisors was stressed as one key ways to ensure a harmonious, union-free workplace. As one member put it, “Unfair treatment by management – or indifferent treatment – is the overwhelming reason why employees seek to unionize their workplace.”

Having an engaged, educated and committed workforce was consistently cited as central to keeping unionization efforts at bay. One respondent noted, “Happy and engaged workers don’t usually join unions.” Another offered a simple equation, “Poor management plus a lack of information about unions can often lead to a unionized company.”

About The Employment Law Alliance:
The Employment Law Alliance is the world’s largest network of labor, employment and immigration lawyers. With specialists in more than 135 countries, all 50 states and each Canadian province, the ELA provides multi-state and multi-national companies with seamless and cost-effective services worldwide. On the web at: http://www.employmentlawalliance.com. Shawe Rosenthal is ELA’s exclusive representative in Maryland and has consistently been ranked by Chambers U.S.A. as a top “band 1” firm in the State.