Two years ago I was leading webinars and roundtables about the potential passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. Today, some US employers have a union organizing campaign at the bottom of their worries. The pendulum has swung once again, and unions appear to be losing ground.
If you’re watching the stand off in Wisconsin or the emerging labor struggles in Ohio and Indiana, it appears that state government workers – and the unions that represent them — might not be in the driver’s seat going forward. In fact, they might not even get a seat at the table. And if you’re a private sector employer watching these disputes, you might be wondering, Does this mean we can write off the unions altogether?
As a lawyer who represents management in labor organizing campaigns, I’m advising my clients not to become over confident. Sit tight for the moment. The National Labor Relations Act – governing private sector employees – is alive and well. And only time will tell us if the state government disputes are isolated incidents of political rhetoric or the beginning of a sweeping change in the labor movement.
For now, employers should take a hard look at what’s in front of them – their own workforces. Experience shows us (and the research confirms) that employees turn to unions over issues like respect, communication, and management relations – things we can fix. Some of these issues don’t even cost money.
So, if you’re watching the labor disputes with interest, make sure you don’t forget to watch the labor issues that aren’t making the headlines. It’s usually when we least expect it that employees turn to a union. (And it might be time to implement that supervisor training you just couldn’t find the time or budget for last year.)