The proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that is before the U.S. Congress is sending chills down the spines of many employers. Feeling threatened by the prospect that they soon could be bargaining with unions instead of dealing directly with their employees, and fearing the possibility they will have to live with a contract imposed by a panel of arbitrators, and/or be subjected to penalties for which there are no union equivalents, it's no wonder that many employers are wringing their hands. My advice: you're worrying about the wrong thing! The EFCA is not your primary concern. Instead of focusing on whether the law is going to pass - which it will, in some form - you need to be paying attention to the real issue, which is: How are you treating your employees every day?
Union representation holds little attraction to employees who feel respected, valued, trusted, challenged, and recognized for their contributions. Based on these sample criteria, how would your employees rate their experience in your workplace?
The EFCA represents an opportunity for employers. For instance, they get to choose how they will interact with their employees in the future. Those who decide that it's okay if their employees feel threatened, disrespected, short-changed, without a voice, untrustworthy, and any number of negative emotions no doubt will find themselves bargaining with one or more unions in the near future. Those who prefer to communicate and work with their employees directly will ensure that workplace conditions provide no reason for those workers to believe they need third-party intervention in the form of a union.
It is true that there are elements affecting the workplace over which employers have little or no control, such as the economy, competition, and the talent pool. However, there are many more things that employers CAN control which will make a significant difference in developing a workplace culture attractive to everyone. Distinguish clearly between the things you can and cannot control, and focus your time and energy on the former. For example, it is well documented that the #1 reason why employees join unions (and leave organizations) is dissatisfaction with their immediate supervisor. This issue is totally controllable by employers. (The fact that some employers choose NOT to control their managers' behavior is another issue.) Spend your time looking for these and other opportunities to improve the workplace - and make sure that you're assessing conditions from your employees' perspectives, not your own.
Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.
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