Faced with difficulties in organizing broader units in a number of industries, some unions have adopted a strategy of targeting smaller units in order to convince a smaller number of employees to vote in favor of union representation. This is called micro-units. You can read more about micro-units on my website here.
As a refresher of why non-union companies should care about micro-units, first, smaller units are easier to organize. Unions have an easier time convincing 4 out of 7 employees to join a bargaining unit than convincing 40 out of 70 to do the same thing.
Second, smaller units create the possibility of inefficiency in operations; some employees at the same workplace may be subject to very different work rules, conflict resolution processes, or pay and benefit policies. For example, a typical grocery store has a produce department, deli, cash registers, and a frozen food department to name a few. Employees working in each of these departments could join different unions and work under extremely different terms and conditions of employment.
Third, the new NLRB will likely re-adopt its “quickie election” rule reducing the time a company has to explain the realities of collective bargaining to just a few short days. If you remember, the only reason quickie elections are not the law now is because of a minor voting technicality. Had the Board not encountered that glitch, we would be living with quickie elections today. This should go without saying, but non-union workplaces must start union avoidance training now.
Non-union companies should conduct a labor audit to prepare to combat the rise of micro-units.
The decline in union membership has resulted in many companies taking a complacent view towards labor relations and union avoidance strategies. Companies should revisit their priorities in order to be ready when a petition for a certification election arrives in the mail. Non-union employers would be well served to either conduct their own labor relations audit, or employ outside professionals to help assess their vulnerability to union organizing. Many unions are jumping on issues such as wage and hour violations, workforce reductions, reductions to fringe benefits, and unfair treatment of employees through smaller wage increases and longer working hours to attract support for an organizing effort.
Non-union companies in many industries, particularly those in retail and healthcare, need to begin looking at their workforce from the standpoint of whether it may be possible for a labor organization to carve out a small group of employees for organization and what, if anything, the employer may be able to do to avoid that result before they are faced with an organizing attempt.
In order to minimize the potential of having smaller groups of employees picked off by a union (or worse, multiple unions), employers should examine their workforce with an eye towards flattening out their management structures. This means more employees report to fewer managers. Companies should also examine existing positions to determine whether the number of classifications can be reduced and whether employees can be cross-trained and utilized to perform different jobs on an interchangeable basis. Lastly, make sure, that conditions of employment are consistent across the entire and non-supervisory workforce as much as practical. These are basic starting points – not legal advice. For more a more in depth discussion about preparing to combat micro-unit union organizing efforts, please contact your labor relations attorney.
Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm with offices in central and northeast Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. Austin Legal’s Concierge Legal Services program is relied upon by companies to remain compliant and competitive. If you have employees, you need Concierge Legal Services. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Austin@LaborEmploymentOSHA.com.