When it Comes to Unions Never go it Alone

Make sure the law is on your side in union disputes

Frant Mamat, Barnes and Thornburg

“If your company becomes the target of a union-organizing effort, keep your head,” said ABC SEMI President and CEO Keith Ledbetter. “Some anti-union activities can spell disaster for a company. Both the NLRA and the Taft-Hartley Act prohibit employers from discriminating against employees for participating in union activities. That is not to say that you cannot do something to prevent this, just make sure you have consulted a legal professional skilled in labor law to help guide your company’s efforts.”

You have the right to express your views to persuade your employees not to join a union, and you also have the right to run your business. Use and protect these rights by exercising caution and controlling your own behavior. Don’t act emotionally or with a feeling of betrayal. Make sure you have a thorough knowledge of the labor law rules and have expert help. Your own conventional wisdom won’t suffice, nor will your own determination of what is fair, no matter how objective you think you are.

“Your ‘common sense’ in how you think you can deal with picketing or salting will probably get you into legal trouble,” said Ledbetter. Our Chapter Attorney, Frank Mamat, of Barnes and Thornburg, was the first in the Country to put on a Salting Avoidance seminar for ABC members in 1991. He has successfully helped ABC members deal with pickets since 1986. You can legally and successfully deal with pickets and salts — but do not try to “go it alone.” Reach out to ABC and we will point you in the right direction for help and advice.

The law may appear too restrictive, but you clearly have weapons available. Despite labor law pitfalls and restrictions and the frustrations they may cause, you can emerge intact from a union’s organizing campaign.

Frank Mamat has represented ABC members for over 30 years, successfully keeping them union free. He was formerly in the General Counsel’s office of the NLRB and helped draft Michigan’s “Right-to-Work” law. Frank is available for a free consultation at (313) 333-7474 or  fmamat@btlaw.com.

What Employers Can’t Do

The following covers some activities that constitute unfair labor practices. Make sure that you don’t:

  • Discriminate in any way against any employee for participating in union activities. This prohibition applies to all aspects of employee relations.
  • Promise or grant benefits to your employees (such as wage increases, holidays, benefits, or improvements in working conditions) to encourage them to abandon the union.
  • Make threats based on employee support of the union, including threats of discharge, layoffs, plant closure, or discontinuing current benefits.
  • Interrogate your employees or prospective applicants concerning union-organizing activities.
  • Prevent pro-union oral solicitation by employees during non-working hours and breaks.
  • Prohibit union insignia on shirts and jackets.
  • Engage in surveillance of employees to determine their views on the union.
  • Take a straw vote of employees as to whether they favor or don’t favor the union, except in special circumstances and in accordance with legally mandated procedures designed to protect employees. (Consult your legal counsel.)

Although not necessarily unfair labor practices, the following conduct may result in invalidation of an election:

  • Campaigning on company time and premises within 24 hours of an NLRB-scheduled election. Meetings held off-premises may take place under special circumstances.
  • Reproducing and distributing official NLRB ballots and showing employees how to mark them.
  • Discussing the union with employees in a supervisor’s office, regardless of the non-coercive tenor of your remarks.
  • Prohibiting distribution of union literature in non-work areas during non-work time, such as in the lunchroom during the lunch hour.
  • Requiring employees to wear “Vote No” buttons in the plant or office.

What Employers Can Do

You may hold meetings with your employees on company time and property to answer questions and discuss the company’s position and unionization. Just make sure the meetings aren’t held in a supervisor’s office. Talk with employees at their own workstations or in a group meeting. You can also mail literature to the employees’ homes, stating the company’s position, but be careful what you say.

Here are some of the things you can say:

  • Describe the good features of working for your company, such as existing benefits, job security, and steady work.
  • Remind them that signing union authorization cards doesn’t mean they must vote for the union.
  • Inform them of the disadvantages of belonging to a union, such as the possibility of strikes, serving on picket lines, paying dues, fines, and assessments.
  • Explain the meaning of the phrases “dues checkoff” and “union shop.”
  • Inform them of any prior experience you’ve had with unions and what facts you know about the particular union that’s trying to organize them.
  • Tell your employees how their wages and benefits compare with other unionized and non-unionized companies with less desirable packages.
  • Disclose the names of known gangsters or other undesirable elements who may be or have been active in the union, provided this is accurate information that can be verified by official sources.
  • Inform them that, insofar as their status with the company is concerned, they are free to join or not to join any organization they choose.
  • Express the hope that your employees vote against this or any union.