Understanding UFOs and How They Impact Your Business
I had the opportunity to attend the SHRM 2014 Employment Law and Legislative Conference this past week and learned a great deal about UFOs, or Union Front Organizations. As many people are aware, union penetration into the private sector has fallen from 35% of employment Americans during the 1950s to just below 7% today. In the face of greater regulation and less interest from workers, unions are developing new tactics and going after new segments of the working public. It’s more important than ever for business owners to be knowledgeable about trends in union efforts to help protect your business interests and your rights.
Union Front Organizations, commonly referred to as UFOs or work centers, have sprung up in the past decade at an alarming rate. Even more alarming, most of these groups claim that they do not meet the National Labor Relations Act definition of a labor organization and therefore aren’t subject to unfair labor practice stipulations of the NLRA. They can conduct secondary picketing, wildcat strikes, work slowdowns, etc.
So why does all of this matter to the average business owner? The bottom line is that unions are stepping outside of their traditional industries in a bid to get new members at all costs. Through tacit or overt partnerships with work centers, the campaign to gain recognition from employers and from the public doesn’t necessarily follow the traditional rules.
Imagine that you own a local chain of restaurants. In years past, a local restaurant company would not have been a target for most major unions, but that has now changed. The National Labor Relations Act already allows your servers, cooks, and cashiers to discuss their terms of employment so if they happen to see the Fight for Fifteen, a work center focusing on raising wages in the fast food and service sectors, posting for a rally on Facebook, you suddenly have a much bigger problem. Would your line managers and floor supervisors know what to do if your business was flash mobbed by protestors? How would your management respond if employees requested a significant raise in pay?
Some of the tactics in combatting Union Front Organizations are similar to those we employ against unions: treat your employees fairly and keep lines of communication open. One of my colleagues on the Helios team has written a great blog on tactics for remaining union free. If your organization is approached by a work center or UFO, line managers should never accept any documentation given to them and should treat the situation as if they were being asked to review authorization cards.
Lastly, and most importantly, make sure that all employees know their rights and the rights of the business. In conducting flash mobs and secondary picketing, many work centers use people who are not employees of the business and who may even be known union organizers. You should train managers to enforce your private property rights and ask the trespassers to leave before calling the police as a last resort. Because work centers are playing as much on public sympathy as they are hoping to organize workers, you should address any disruptions to your business swiftly, before crowds or media can gather. Some UFOs have been known to partner directly with media outlets to spread news of a rally or protest so if you have a Public Relations team, ensure that they have counterpoints drafted and ready to use in the event that your organization is targeted.
I think it’s also important to recognize that some work centers and UFOs have been formed to address legitimate and common grievances: long or unpredictable hours, few opportunities for advancement, capricious policy enforcement, etc. If your business can anticipate and proactively address these employee concerns, your workforce won’t look to unions or work centers in an effort to improve their lot. If you operate consistently and intentionally from a place of fairness, unions and work centers will be able to offer employee few advantages that they don’t already receive. Talk with your HR leaders and managers today to make sure that they understand these new trends in labor relations and are ready to respond.