I used to be like you. I used to think that no company in their right mind would ever want a union representing their employees. No company would want to live within the strict confines of a collective bargaining agreement. No company would want to have to ask permission to change the brand of potato chips in their vending machine (a real case by the way). But after representing many unionized companies, I have softened my stance a bit.
Traditional wisdom is that unions are bad for employers (and employees) for a number of reasons. If you don’t believe me, you haven’t been reading this blog. Unions are known for engaging in destructive tactics like strikes and pickets when they do not get what they want and try to intimidate employers into giving unions what they want. Also, unions force employees to pay dues, prohibit employees from earning merit bonuses and being promoted. And importantly, unionized workforces oftentimes have lower moral and lower productivity than non-union workforces.
But some companies encourage unionization. In the construction industry, trade unions provide valuable training to their employees and access to a hiring hall provides construction companies flexibility in staffing projects without repeatedly hiring during peak times and laying-off workers at the end of each project. For example, an electricians’ union like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) provides labor to several companies working on many different jobs and when union members are not working the union provides them with training and product safety knowledge they would not otherwise receive.
Staying in the construction industry, having a unionized workforce “unofficially” gives construction companies an advantage when bidding on government funded construction projects. Government funded construction projects are typically covered by project labor agreements requiring an employer to pay “prevailing wage.” Most non-union companies are not set up administratively to comply with the headache-inducing record keeping nuances of prevailing wage. Unions know this and regularly request prevailing wage reports under the Freedom of Information Act, identify violations, and institute record keeping audits of unsuspecting non-union construction companies. After all, a non-union construction company working on a jobsite is preventing a union from putting its members to work, so unions have a keen interest in keeping non-union construction companies off of publicly-funded construction projects.
Companies in the retail industry, like many of my grocery store clients, have unions at some of their locations. When they open new locations, those locations are oftentimes also unionized. Some contracts have territory restrictions, so opening a store within the territory allows the union to automatically represent the new store’s employees. Other times it is less costly – in terms of money, time, and effort – to welcome a union at a new store if the owners know that in the end their employees will vote to organize anyway. Furthermore, there is a benefit to having all employees at all locations working under the same collective bargaining agreement.
As you can see, there are some benefits to some companies of having a union represent their employees. And to me, as long as my clients are happy and profitable, then I support their corporate position on unions.
Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio employment 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. You can email Matt at Austin@LaborEmploymentOSHA.com or call him at 614.285.5342.