Will Workers Unionize During the Recession?

The Employee Free Choice Act was introduced in the House and Senate on March 10. The top priority of organized labor, the bill would force Companies to recognize a union when a majority of Employees sign authorization cards. Under current law, Employers can require a secret-ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. In addition to changing the union election process, the bill would refer a first contract to binding arbitration if an agreement isn’t reached within 120 days of bargaining. The resulting contract would be binding for two years. The bill will go through the normal legislative process and some version of the bill is expected to be voted on by Labor Day.

While Employers may think that it doesn’t matter whether this bill becomes law because their Employees would never join a union, they should consider this:

Some studies shows that at least 60% of a Company’s Employees would join a union if they believed they were able to do so without Employer retaliation. Labor Expert Matt Perovic says that, regardless of what Employers think, Employees don’t join a union because of wages and benefits, but rather because of the following reasons:

  • Lack of a good relationship with their direct Supervisor.
  • Employees believe, as individuals, they have little or no influence with their Employer.
  • Their Employer arbitrarily changes policies and conditions of work whenever management feels like it.
  • Their Employer does not provide an internal Grievance and Arbitration procedure that protects Employee rights.
  • Their Supervisor engages in favoritism.
  • Their Supervisor does not treat Employees with respect and fairness.

The Bottom Line: Matt says that regardless of whether the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law, the current economy downturn is creating opportunities for unions to organize Employees. While Employees will not jeopardize their jobs at the moment, once the economic climate improves, Employees will seek to recoup their losses as quickly as possible and may seek out a union to help them do that – especially if they were mistreated by management during the economic downturn. To avoid the threat of unionization in the future, Matt recommends that Employers make sure the lines of communication remain open and that Front Line Leaders are treating Employees properly.

Questions: If the Employees in your department or company were offered an opportunity to join a union, without the inherent threat of retaliation for doing so, would a majority of those Employees join the union? If the answer is "yes" what actions need to be taken to stop that from happening?

Contact me at paulglover@trainingeverydayleaders.com for get more information about EFCA from Labor Expert Matt Perovic.

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7 Comments

  • Paul Glover

    Interesting observations Joe. And most of them I agree with. Latest defection from support of the EFCA is Republican Senator Alan Spector -a supporter of the bill in 2007. I believe that a compromise version of the bill - shorter period for a secret ballot election, increased fines for violation of worker's rights - will be passed. Obama and the Dems owe organized labor for its support in the election.
    As far as the future of unions in the U.S., organized labor has not found a way to make itself relevant in the Knowledge Economy. It's inability to do so makes a revision in labor law essential if it is to be relevant. The question is: does the U.S. need a relevant labor movement? And, if so, as with the auto industry, does the U.S. Government need to bail out the labor movement with assistance in the form of an EFCA like law?

  • Paul Glover

    Interesting observations Joe. And most of them I agree with. Latest defection from support of the EFCA is Republican Senator Alan Spector -a supporter of the bill in 2007. I believe that a compromise version of the bill - shorter period for a secret ballot election, increased fines for violation of worker's rights - will be passed. Obama and the Dems owe organized labor for its support in the election.
    As far as the future of unions in the U.S., organized labor has not found a way to make itself relevant in the Knowledge Economy. It's inability to do so makes a revision in labor law essential if it is to be relevant. The question is: does the U.S. need a relevant labor movement? And, if so, as with the auto industry, does the U.S. Government need to bail out the labor movement with assistance in the form of an EFCA like law?

  • Joe Schmid

    How far this year’s version makes it and what language it will contain is a matter of speculation. Factually, the co-sponsorship is down compared to 2007. The “option” language favors coercion and intimidation which is ever present in any organizing campaign; and the option language does not negate the argument.

    A better question is where unionization in the US is going. Looking at the precipitous decline from its high water mark in the 50’s the model being “sold” just doesn’t offer the services and benefits that are valued. The amorphous nature of labor pools and markets; the continued expansion of government protections and provision of benefits through enactment of law; the rapid growth of intelligence in the value creation process – all are signaling the end of an era. What is the future of the traditional blue-collar work in the US that unions thrived on? When you look at the massive global population bases trying to start and accelerate their economies through industrial employment, one could easily extrapolate to a future where blue-collar work no longer exists in the US.

    So will there be a rush to unionism? No – the underlying foundation in the US has disappeared. People recognize a union cannot save their job and more are beginning to see a union as jeopardizing it. People see that lifetime employment within the same company is no longer a possibility. And the companies that will survive the current shakeout are already doing a great job at nullifying the core reasons cited above. Industries that are not doing well in core communication processes (e.g. the health care industry) will see a well orchestrated effort to leverage against management structures and processes that are characterized as being stuck on stupid. As long as bad management exists, unions will exist. But the highly competitive global market will systematically eradicate companies populated by bad management, and as bad companies go – so goes unionism in the US.

  • Joe Schmid

    How far this year’s version makes it and what language it will contain is a matter of speculation. Factually, the co-sponsorship is down compared to 2007. The “option” language favors coercion and intimidation which is ever present in any organizing campaign; and the option language does not negate the argument.

    A better question is where unionization in the US is going. Looking at the precipitous decline from its high water mark in the 50’s the model being “sold” just doesn’t offer the services and benefits that are valued. The amorphous nature of labor pools and markets; the continued expansion of government protections and provision of benefits through enactment of law; the rapid growth of intelligence in the value creation process – all are signaling the end of an era. What is the future of the traditional blue-collar work in the US that unions thrived on? When you look at the massive global population bases trying to start and accelerate their economies through industrial employment, one could easily extrapolate to a future where blue-collar work no longer exists in the US.

    So will there be a rush to unionism? No – the underlying foundation in the US has disappeared. People recognize a union cannot save their job and more are beginning to see a union as jeopardizing it. People see that lifetime employment within the same company is no longer a possibility. And the companies that will survive the current shakeout are already doing a great job at nullifying the core reasons cited above. Industries that are not doing well in core communication processes (e.g. the health care industry) will see a well orchestrated effort to leverage against management structures and processes that are characterized as being stuck on stupid. As long as bad management exists, unions will exist. But the highly competitive global market will systematically eradicate companies populated by bad management, and as bad companies go – so goes unionism in the US.

  • Joe Schmid

    How far this year’s version makes it and what language it will contain is a matter of speculation. Factually, the co-sponsorship is down compared to 2007. The “option” language favors coercion and intimidation which is ever present in any organizing campaign; and the option language does not negate the argument.

    A better question is where unionization in the US is going. Looking at the precipitous decline from its high water mark in the 50’s the model being “sold” just doesn’t offer the services and benefits that are valued. The amorphous nature of labor pools and markets; the continued expansion of government protections and provision of benefits through enactment of law; the rapid growth of intelligence in the value creation process – all are signaling the end of an era. What is the future of the traditional blue-collar work in the US that unions thrived on? When you look at the massive global population bases trying to start and accelerate their economies through industrial employment, one could easily extrapolate to a future where blue-collar work no longer exists in the US.

    So will there be a rush to unionism? No – the underlying foundation in the US has disappeared. People recognize a union cannot save their job and more are beginning to see a union as jeopardizing it. People see that lifetime employment within the same company is no longer a possibility. And the companies that will survive the current shakeout are already doing a great job at nullifying the core reasons cited above. Industries that are not doing well in core communication processes (e.g. the health care industry) will see a well orchestrated effort to leverage against management structures and processes that are characterized as being stuck on stupid. As long as bad management exists, unions will exist. But the highly competitive global market will systematically eradicate companies populated by bad management, and as bad companies go – so goes unionism in the US.

  • John Fontaine

    "The ( EFCA ) bill doesn't remove the secret-ballot option from the National Labor Relations Act," 3/20/09 editorial, Wall Street Journal.

    Therefore, the WJS says the secret ballot is not removed. Only your entire argument is removed.