Proactive Labor Strategies

Labor Relations Readiness System

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For more information about Labor Relations Readiness System contact IRI Consultants:
(313) 965-0350

Union Organizing: The New Normal

In December 2014, a labor-friendly National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) exercised its rulemaking authority for only the second time since 1935. The NLRB announced plans to implement its controversial expedited election rule, shortening the time period between when a petition is filed and an election occurs. Then, the Board made decisions about dual employer relationships and unions’ use of employer email – and more decisions are coming.

Two orders that could reshape America’s workplaces for decades::

  1. Expedited elections
  2. Micro-bargaining units

Union Election Win Rates 2001-2013

1. Expedited Elections

We estimate that the petition-to-election gap could shrink from the current median of 38 days to an average of 21 and, in extreme cases, 10 days, and make it far more difficult for employers to run an effective campaign.

The new rules:

  • Remove the 25-day window between the date when the NLRB orders an election and the date of the actual election, thereby shortening the election time frame
  • Allow the Hearing Officer to limit pre-election hearings to matters only relevant to whether an election should be held
  • Give the Hearing Officer new discretion over whether parties may file pre-election briefs, which had been allowed in the past
  • Prohibit pre-election appeals and consolidate all appeals to be heard only after the election takes place
  • Allow direct election appeals to the Board before an election only in “extraordinary circumstances”
  • Change policy so that Board review of regional directors’ decisions is not mandatory but discretionary, and only after an election takes place

2. Micro-Bargaining Units

The second NLRB decision, a judgment against Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, AL, allows unions to carve out small “micro” bargaining units, establishing footholds in businesses where the majority of the employees may not want union representation. This decision, which affects all employers except acute healthcare facilities, reverses the decades-long practice of “wall-to-wall” organizing, wherein a union attempts to represent every union- eligible employee in a business.

The Specialty Healthcare decision will have far-reaching consequences, including:

  • If a union realizes it doesn’t have the support needed to win an all-employee election, it can pick a small group of employees it thinks it can persuade. In the case of Specialty Healthcare, that micro-unit was one job title (certified nursing assistants)
  • Because it allows an increased number of bargaining units, the ruling could enable several unions to cherry-pick a workplace with each representing a handful of employees
  • The decision makes it far easier for unions to get their foot in an employer’s door. Instead of having to rely on external organizing, unions will have the micro-unit employees organizing their co- workers throughout the workplace

IRI's Labor Relations Readiness System

Whether a union is trying to organize your employees through an NLRB- supervised election or a corporate campaign, IRI’s Labor Relations Readiness System will help you:

  • Determine your vulnerability to union organizing
  • Educate your leaders, managers and board about union tactics and election rules under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)
  • Identify strategies to dramatically decrease your vulnerability to union organizing
  • Train managers in effective leadership and communications skills
  • Train managers to recognize and effectively respond to early signs of union activity
  • Improve internal and external stakeholder communications
  • Develop rapid-response strategies to union activity
  • Strengthen overall culture and communications to reduce employees’ interest in union representation

Tools for Success

Labor Relations Readiness System Process Graphic

1. Planning

Prior preparation, long before unions show up, will be needed to maintain a direct working relationship with employees, and provide the steps you should take if a petition is filed. This planning includes determining before a petition is filed which employees the employer considers supervisors and which employees are considered eligible to vote.

Detailed Election Campaign Strategy

With election schedules compacted, the need to be prepared well in advance of union organizing has never been greater. IRI will develop a Detailed Election Campaign Strategy to include the following components:

  • A written strategy
  • A campaign strategy and calendar at a glance (week-by-week and day-by-day meetings, activities, communications, etc. through the election and post campaign period)
  • An action plan (to begin immediately and have completed prior to any petition)
  • Preapproved communication materials (Notification of Petition Letter, Announcement of Election, Announcement of Leadership Update Meetings, etc.)

Bargaining Unit Analysis

Under changes to election rules approved by the NLRB in 2014, litigation and hearings to determine proper bargaining units will take place after a representation election is held. A well-prepared organization can quickly and confidently provide the NLRB with an accurate list of eligible voters.

Supervisor Status Analysis

This comprehensive tool helps verify that managers have supervisory status under the NLRA and ensures that manager training is limited to those not eligible to vote as part of a bargaining unit. Understanding who is a manager/supervisor and who is in a bargaining unit before the union shows up is an essential part of preparedness.

Labor Relations Competency Assessment

To evaluate managers’ depth and breadth of knowledge, skills and confidence when communicating with employees about the NLRA, unions, union organizing and related topics, IRI will conduct a training needs assessment. The results of the online self-assessment and subject matter “quiz” will establish a baseline understanding from which learning objectives and content can be customized for the targeted leadership training and development.

Readiness Assessment

The Readiness Assessment is a rigorous, comprehensive assessment of an organization’s firewall. It provides the organization with a clear analysis of how prepared it is to handle an expedited election and respond to both traditional union organizing and corporate campaigns.

2. Education & Training

In order for your organization to remain union-free, your management team needs to fully grasp the risk and how best to manage it. This includes understanding union organizing strategies and trends, management’s responsibilities and stakeholder roles, the NLRB election process and the preventive steps your organization should take to reduce vulnerabilities a union may leverage.

With 10- to 21-day elections and micro-bargaining units now facts of life, the need for continual education and training is overwhelming. The entire organization needs to learn and re-learn what unionization means to them.

The labor relations education and training portion of the IRI Labor Relations Readiness System addresses the need for an organizational firewall that remains effective regardless of the shifting laws and policies emanating from Washington. This means systematic, ongoing education and training that begins at the top of the organization and extends throughout it.

Readiness Response Teams

Board of Directors

Union organizing can affect the personal and professional lives of your directors. Corporate campaign activists, for example, might stage loud demonstrations in front of their homes or businesses, attracting media coverage and keeping customers away. Directors also need an appreciation of the costs of unionization to your organization.

IRI’s experienced consultants are adept at helping directors understand what might happen and how to prepare for it, both as business and community leaders and as the individuals with fiduciary responsibility for your business interests.

Executive Management

New NLRB rules will allow union elections to be held in 10-21 days. Without advance preparation, it will take a Herculean effort to quickly develop and activate an effective counter-campaign. In addition to knowing what your directors know, executives need to be engaged from a strategic point of view, have a detailed understanding of how unions behave, and how that behavior can change virtually every aspect of their workplace (and ultimately your organization’s competitiveness).

Readiness Response Teams

Shorter union election campaigns require a trained and ready organizational response.

Our framework helps organizations build a Labor Relations Readiness Response Team comprised of carefully selected leaders who receive in- depth training that prepares them to serve as internal persuaders and communications resources.

Readiness Response Teams:

  • Focus on the employee relations environment
  • Share knowledge and coach their peers about union-avoidance techniques
  • Conduct labor relations education and training
  • Are alert to early signs of organizing activity
  • Deploy at the first sign of union organizing and monitor all union activity
  • Serve as an advisory board to Human Resources and leaders on employee relations issues
  • Identify training needs and activities
  • Help coordinate campaign information and strategy

Employee Advocates

IRI offers a proprietary 10-module training system that enables organizations to use their own leadership team members as advocates for management when discussing unionization with employees. The system shows leaders how to not only convey information, but to persuade employees that having a disinterested, external third party speak for them is not in their best interests.

All Management

The Labor Relations Readiness System provides interactive learning activities for managers and supervisors to:

  • Persuasively and legally respond to employee questions and concerns about unions and unionization
  • Effectively initiate dialogue with employees regarding key organizational messages
  • Recognize and respond to early warning signs of potential union organizing

Educational Tools

IRI offers a broad assortment of education and training tools, that can be led by an IRI consultant or an internal instructor via IRI’s train-the-trainer program including:

  • Manager training video vignettes
  • Employee card-signing videos
  • NLRA (Act) training
  • New-employee orientation
  • Continuous training
    • e-Learning
    • Lunch and learns
    • Role-plays and simulations

​​3. Assessing Vulnerabilities

IRI uses sophisticated diagnostic tools to help gauge employee engagement and issues that could trigger a union organizing attempt in your workplace.

Union Vulnerability Assessment (UVA)

IRI’s UVA, which can be conducted online or in person, is a thorough assessment that explores the eight areas most often targeted by unions:

  • Communication
  • Management
  • Job security
  • HR policies and procedures
  • Employee voice and values
  • Workload and staffing
  • Pay and benefits
  • Employee engagement

Issue Identification and Improvement (I3®)

IRI’s proprietary I3® Focus Groups are a diagnostic and organizational improvement system that identifies workplace issues through employee focus groups. Much more thorough than employee surveys, I3® Focus Groups measure issues as diverse as human resources, operations, staffing, workplace communications, work environment, equipment, compensation and benefits and teamwork.

The I3® Focus Group process goes beyond the numbers generated in employee surveys, revealing critical issues quantitative data can’t reach. The report provides detailed conclusions and actionable recommendations.

Corporate Campaign Vulnerability Assessment

Unions use corporate campaigns to wage long-term economic, political and psychological warfare against target organizations. They attack real or perceived organizational weaknesses in an effort to gain leverage over an employer, either for union organizing or contract negotiations. IRI’s Corporate Campaign Vulnerability Assessment helps pinpoint an organization’s vulnerabilities to a corporate campaign and provides recommendations to correct issues and respond effectively.

4. Communications

A strong culture of communications is a strategic advantage in the event of a union organizing effort, particularly in the case of an expedited election.

When the NLRB orders a union election, organizations typically will have between 10 and 21 days to not only inform employees but to convince them that voting for a union is not in their best interest. Long before the election, frontline managers must be able to:

  • Feel comfortable answering difficult employee questions
  • Identify and address employee concerns and dissatisfiers
  • Explain and promote your organization’s mission, goals and challenges

Communications Tools

IRI’s veteran communications consultants help organizations enhance their union firewall efforts by fine-tuning and expanding the most effective tools available, including:

  • Strategic Communications Planning
  • Stakeholder Communications and Advocacy
  • Employee Polling and Surveys
  • Presentation and Media Training
  • Corporate Campaign Vulnerability Assessments
  • Business Literacy Education
  • Organizational Communications Training
  • Campaign Websites
  • Position Statement Videos

Communication tools

Labor Relations Readiness Manual

Among the most useful and essential firewall tools, IRI’s Labor Relations Readiness Manual prepares organizations to rapidly and appropriately respond to the first signs of union activity and card signing.

The Readiness Manual provides a comprehensive overview of proven actions and responses that organizations employ to successfully prepare for and manage union organizing campaigns, including:

  • A full complement of supervisor/manager educational materials
  • Supervisor/manager communication tools: conversation starters, “What do I say/do if” scenarios, how to talk about unions with employees and other materials
  • Talking points for executives, board members and managers about key issues
  • Management and executive visibility strategy
  • Sample communications/letters: e.g., letter from CEO to staff about onsite card signing

Communications Assessment

IRI’s Communications Assessment is a thorough assessment of an organization’s ability to effectively communicate critical messages by pinpointing practices that work well and identifying opportunities for more robust, results-oriented communications.

Social Media Monitoring and Strategy

Increasingly, unions are reducing their reliance on traditional media to better leverage online tools and social media like Facebook and Twitter. Our social media services are specially tailored to track and assess union activity, corporate campaigns and communications focused on employees in specific industries and labor groups.

5. Employee Engagement

For employees, engagement means feeling they are an essential part of the organization and are valued and respected.

Engaged employees understand an organization’s mission and their role in it, enjoy productive relationships with their managers and offer their input and best efforts.

IRI offers powerful tools to assess and maximize employee engagement in your workplace, including:

Employee Engagement Surveys

IRI’s engagement surveys validly and reliably quantify the impact of employee attitudes on business results. In our easy-to-understand survey reports, we identify critical engagement drivers and deliver actionable recommendations designed to help focus your organization’s performance improvement planning for the greatest return on investment.

Fastrack TeamsSM

Making changes across work groups or departments using traditional methods can be a long, frustrating exercise. Fastrack TeamsSM offer an alternate approach that produces lasting results faster while giving employees the satisfaction of taking part in resolving problems that affect their work.

Ad Hoc Problem Solving Teams

IRI’s Ad Hoc Problem Solving Teams leverage the strength of Fastrack TeamsSM in an interdisciplinary setting that takes into account the full range of work groups and departments involved in a particular service or product. With an emphasis on teamwork and work flow, Ad Hoc Problem Solving Teams give employees an important voice in resolving issues, as well as the ability to address concerns unions might exploit.

Employee Advisory Groups

One of the most effective tools to promote engagement and manage difficult issues, Employee Advisory Groups provide focused, non- binding employee input. As proven safety valves, advisory groups help guide organizational decision making, improve problem solving, solicit ideas and anticipate the effect of new policies and business decisions on employees.

Peer Review

Conflict exists in every workplace. IRI’s Peer Review process, designed as an in-house grievance procedure, provides employees a participatory process for resolving problems fairly and impartially. Organizations that deal with employee conflicts this way benefit from reduced exposure to litigation, higher morale, better productivity and a reduced likelihood of unionization.

6. Leadership Training & Development

All leaders can benefit from targeted training and individualized skill development to help them achieve greater results.

Employees typically vote for unions because they feel:

  • Disrespected by management, with perceptions of unfairness, favoritism and inconsistent application of rules, processes and discipline
  • Disengaged, powerless and not valued in the organization
  • Insecure in their jobs or roles in the organization, with little understanding of its overall goals and challenges

A strong leadership team is the best bridge to better-engaged, fulfilled and committed employees. IRI’s Leadership Training & Development services include:

Management Fundamentals

IRI helps organizations develop trusted and credible leaders through programs that help leverage effective communications, use tested relationship strategies and build trust to remove barriers and resistance to change. The result is a culture that empowers employees to take ownership of their performance, make good decisions and feel no need for third-party representation.

Employee Relations Skills

To eliminate issues that may lead to union organizing, it’s essential that managers and supervisors are skilled at:

  • Engaging employees on matters that affect their jobs
  • Understanding and addressing employee concerns and operational difficulties
  • Providing effective feedback
  • Dealing with problem employees
  • Managing conflict
  • Managing change

Communications Training

To help an organization remain union-free, IRI’s Communications Training equips managers and supervisors to:

  • Initiate dialogue and keep open lines of communication
  • Manage rumors and control communications
  • Communicate with and inspire employees
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