As ASE has previously reported, worker union organizing is getting a lot of attention across the country. A recent study by the Worker Empowerment Research Network (WERN) that is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL), highlights what union conditions are usually present in the workplace for conditions to be right for organizing. This information also provides employers valuable insight into how they can avoid allowing those conditions to develop in their workplace.
The first issue reported from this study is employees see “a wide voice gap at work.” This means employees feel they are not listened to when it comes to working conditions. Employers need to have a way of listening to what is important to employees – in other words, a good communication funnel into their workplace. There are many ways employers can listen to employees. Supervisors need to understand their role as the employer’s representative out on the floor. Supervisors that are not trained to listen and communicate with the workers they manage will cause employment relations issues that become the “voice gap.”
Another common listening tool is to do periodic employee surveys. Asking employees for their input about how what they think about working conditions in the organization not only allows employees to vent frustrations but can provide valuable information to address and hopefully remove that issue from the workplace. As an added bonus, it can sometimes also open the door to new productivity gains. But the employer must not just listen, but also respond. Not just collect information from employees, but also take action with what they learn. Even if only to communicate back why their suggestion or concern is heard and what currently prevents the employer from implementing a response to their concern.
The above chart from “Worker Voice in America: Is There a Gap between What Workers Expect and What They Experience” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 72(1):3-38 shows what issues employees are concerned about and what employers should be monitoring in their workplace.
The second issue brought out in the WERN report is the increase in worker strikes and protests. The report ties the “voice gap” to worker activism in the form of strikes and work protests. The WERN report included another interesting chart put together by the Cornell Industrial and Labor Relations School. The below chart shows the types of demands by workers involved in a work stoppages.
The third issue from this USDOL report was recognition that union elections were surging. Union representation petitions surged more than 57% this year over the same time last year. More than anytime in the past 35+ years, workers see unions as their friends – but employers, not so much.
Employers that want to avoid the possibility of unionization are going to have to become more proactive in their union organizing defenses. Workers are open to joining or even forming their own union as seen recently in the case of Amazon in New York. This labor organization is being encouraged by a labor friendly President and his Administration in Washington that is using the power of the USDOL and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to support worker organizing.
What should employers do to respond? As mentioned above, start programs to listen to employee concerns. Opinion surveys, engagement surveys, and most importantly train your supervisors and managers – making them better leaders that listen … and respond! Seeing smoke (worker concern) and just sitting on that information is like watching smoke in the woods until it becomes a forest fire before deciding to do anything about it. Union organizing campaigns have often been going on a long time in a workplace before it is seen by an inattentive employer. This secrecy is intentional.
Action number two, know where your pay and benefits stand in relations to the market. ASE provides regularly updated information on where employee benefits and pay are for the state and national level. An employer does not have to pay at the top of the market. It needs to know where it is in relation to the market that it competes for talent in. The employer should also be able to explain its pay practices to its workers.
Lastly, train your supervisors and managers to become better at not only listening but treating workers fairly. Supervisors need to know how to respectfully manage their people.
Taking the big organizing issues out of the workplace will help avoid the costly and disruptive result of becoming unionized and having an outside third party telling an employer what they have to do.
ASE has pay and benefits data, engagement survey instruments, and most importantly supervisory training programs to address these issues before they become a big problem. View all upcoming Principles and Practices of Supervision courses here.
Source: USDOL Tracking the New Wave of Worker Organizing with Data: 3 Facts We Learned from a New Collaboration. USDOL Labor Blog 6/13/2022