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Front Line: Unionization Efforts Trending Upward

According to the experts, respecting and listening to employees’ concerns is key to keeping unionizing efforts at bay.

Q3 2022
Across the United States and across industries, the unionization of workers has been declining for decades. However, U.S. employers took notice earlier this year when about 2,600 Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, N.Y., voted to start a union.

In light of another widely reported trend — employees’ new, post-pandemic bargaining power — does this mark the beginning of a new era in labor relations? HR pundits say, “Stay tuned.”

“The Sweet Spot” According to Mary Weissman, an officer and consultant with The Weissman Group, a Dayton, Ohio-based labor relations consulting firm, “There has been a significant uptick in unionization efforts in all sectors.”

In recent decades, mid-sized companies in the 50 to 300 employee category have been “the sweet spot” for union’s organizing activities, “because those employees are most likely to give (union organizers) a return on their investment,” Weissman notes. Organizers have largely avoided larger distribution centers with 500-plus employees, because those are harder to organize and tend to have more varied employee viewpoints, she says. However, with changes in National Labor Relations Board rules making it easier to organize, there has been much more organizing activity within larger organizations, especially in the warehouse-distribution center space, Weissman says.

One NLRB change has reduced the time employers have to respond to a union petition to organize and the union election, from 42 days to 10 to 21 days. The shorter window makes it “almost impossible” to educate employees on issues before a union vote. Employees having the ability to sign ballot cards online and use mail-in ballots can also work in unions’ favor, Weissman says.

Building Trust
Though employers have various groups of people with whom they need to have relationships, the “magic formula” for employers is to treat each of these separate groups of individuals — with variations depending on the audience — as partners in the business, according to Weissman. She explains that “the best way to keep people connected to the company is to create a sense of ownership so that ‘I get to decide a lot about my job.’

Employee satisfaction is built in trust. If employees trust their employer, they don’t need anybody else. Mary Weissman, officer and consultant, The Weissman Group “Employee satisfaction is built in trust. If employees trust their employer, they don’t need anybody else. You build trust and respect by never calling people names, and never using demeaning, inappropriate language. Your employee interactions should be conducted the same way you would like an employer to interact with and treat your spouse or your child,” Weissman says.

She also advises trying to give employees as much control over their work lives as is reasonable. When possible, “tell them ‘why’ so they can understand the whole picture. Tell them what they need to do, show them how be clear about your expectations. Let them take control of their work.”

Employees Have Choices
With today’s tight labor market, the advice could be more important than ever. “Employees have choices now. Even when they don’t, they are more productive and committed and you need fewer employees when you treat them with respect,” Weissman notes.

How does an employer stay in touch with what workers are thinking and feeling? It’s easy to say and hard to do, Weissman says, but “the number one thing is talking to your employees and making sure your supervisors talk to them.” These talks should be scheduled to occur regularly, she advises. For a supervisor with 12 employees under (him or her), it’s reasonable to have one-on-one sessions three times a month.

In an interview with Forbes.com, labor relations expert Jason Greer, president of St. Louis-based Greer Consulting, put his finger on what could be the over-arching factor in keeping employees content and productive: “People will work for money, but they will die for respect,” says Greer. “You might have employees saying they want a union, but what they are really saying is, ‘I want executives to recognize I’m a human being and not just someone who shows up to make you all richer.’”

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