How to stay union-free

Unions are looking hard at the restaurant industry and apparently seeing opportunities for the organized labor cause. Actually getting traction may be challenging, but if you combine recent activity by groups like the IWW Food & Retail Workers Union and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United with recent initiatives that would make forming unions a relative snap, sticking your head in the sand isn’t the best course of action. Rather, now’s the time to be proactive and to acknowledge that your very own employees could be the next group to link up and have a go at unionizing. Once they do, if you haven’t already made the right moves you’re way behind the eight ball.

“The time to communicate openly and treat employees the right way is every day,” says Rick Van Warner, senior partner and principal at Parquet Public Affairs in Orlando. “Once there’s actually an organizing campaign underway, your hands are tied from a legal standpoint and you have to be extraordinarily careful with all communication with employees. You’re immediately subject to very strict NLRB rules.”

What you can’t do if the union comes knocking:

  • Offer raises, better shifts or new benefits in exchange for dropping attempts to organize.
  • Punish the instigators.
  • Threaten to fire or actually fire employees involved in organizing.
  • Question other employees about the unionization drive and about who’s voting yes or no.
  • Do your own “surveillance” by spying on or listening in on employee conversations about unionizing.

What you can do to fend off unionization attempts:

  • Acknowledge that the threat exists and commit to being proactive.
  • Familiarize yourself with NLRB rules and regulations regarding union organization.
  • Ensure that you have established venues for open, two-way communication with employees.
  • Don’t assume your managers are treating employees with respect and communicating well. Monitor and make sure that they’re doing so.
  • Communicate regularly to employees the benefits you offer, and their costs. Don’t assume they know or remember.
  • Create paths to job advancement and make sure employees know what opportunities are available.
  • Establish a safe, non-intimidating process by which employees can raise complaints. Ensure that they receive just and fair treatment when they use the process.
  • If a union campaign is launched and an election is eminent, get legal counsel. Going it alone and making mistakes at this stage can be crippling.


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