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Using Employee Communication to Create Positive Employee Relations

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Since the industrial revolution, employees and organizations have been engaged in labor struggles. The premise is largely the same as it has ever been: Labor is a company's highest cost, and workers want to be rewarded for their efforts. But communication strategies within this struggle have changed tremendously over the years, especially on the part of business leaders. Contemporary labor communication helps organizations remain union free and improves the relationship between management and employees, improving the overall work environment.

In the past, attempts by organizations to remain union free typically evoked mental images of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and its caustic tactics, or other violent means to stop union organizing. However, corporate leaders quickly recognized that these measures were counterproductive to the success of the organization. This recognition, along with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, drastically changed the way organizations approached remaining union free.

Following the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act, organizations turned toward industrial-organizational psychology, management theories, and labor law to avoid unionization.1 Consultants with training in industrial-organizational psychology and management theories began working to help leaders understand the complexity of relationships among people in an organization. Additionally, as labor laws increased and became more complex, organizations as well as consultants turned to labor attorneys and firms to help interpret these laws and understand their legal rights during union campaigns. In an article by Bruce E. Kaufman and Paula E. Stephan, that examined the role of management attorneys on union organizing, the authors state that management law firms may have been more influential in union avoidance than consultants.2

Union avoidance consultants and firms have been partnering with companies to help them remain union-free since the early twentieth century. An article by John Logan that discusses the history of union avoidance notes that until the late 1970s and early 1980s, employers thought of unionization as almost inevitable and approached union-avoidance strategies with apprehension, for fear of unions retaliating.3 This anxiety can be partially attributed to communication within organizations prior to the early 1980s. Up until that point in time, communication about collective bargaining was kept between union officials and the organization's industrial relations staff, isolating employees and top management from the bargaining process.4 This bargaining structure gave unions stronger negotiating abilities and led to larger contracts, including those that applied to multiple organizations, such as the Teamster's "National Master Freight Agreement." According to Kochan et al., this bargaining structure was largely ineffective in the changing marketplace.5

As the corporate landscape continued to evolve and employers became more emboldened to speak out against unionization6, they also recognized the need for reorganization of communication flow within the company to achieve more bargaining strength. This recognition sparked a major departure from the former isolated bargaining structure that alienated employees and management to one that decentralized information flow and made information available to all members of the organization. Soon, members of management were actively engaging in discussions about the organization's well-being and the threat of unionization with employees.7 They were breaking down the management versus employee barrier and approaching unionization as a threat to everyone's interests, not just those of management. Using data from a survey conducted by The Conference Board between 1977 and 1983 regarding management-industrial relations strategies, Chalykoff and Cappelli corroborate this shift, pointing out that in 1983, priority shifted from management industrial relations strategies that used best-bargaining solutions to strategies that worked proactively to keep organizations union free.8

This shift paved the way for organizations to implement strong union avoidance strategies. With the expert help of union avoidance resources, companies also began improving management-employee relationships by providing honest information about union organizing and its potential impact on the organization, the employee, families, and the community. By the 1990s, union-avoidance had developed into a robust industry. Contemporary firms now offer cost-effective solutions that help organizations create a proactive labor strategy, even before they are ever targeted by unions.

With the current economic crisis, EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act) legislation looming, and unionization slowly rising (union membership was up to 12.4 percent in 2008 from 12.1 percent in 20079), it is imperative that business leaders take advantage of the expertise of union-avoidance professionals to create a healthy work environment for everyone and remain union free. For example, Projections, Inc., a leader in custom employee communications since 1979, has worked with thousands of companies to strengthen the lines of communication, fostering positive employee relations, and ensuring continued success and viability. To accomplish this, Projections offers clients a variety of resources, including eLearning, training videos for supervisors and employees, Web sites, and other custom solutions. Each of these tools is designed to give all members of the organization information about union organizing, including their rights during a union organizing drive. The key to remaining union free, according to Projections, is for management and employees to communicate openly, honestly, and effectively.

An organization is only as strong as the employees who comprise it. Don't let unions reduce your strength. Ensure all members of your organization understand your company's union-free philosophy. The experience and expertise of union-avoidance resources can help accomplish this and empower your organization to remain union free and successful.

With powerful video, web and eLearning resources, Projections has been helping companies communicate with their employees for more than 3 decades. CEO Walter Orechwa believes in working with the Human Resources and Labor Relations experts that help those companies maintain positive employee relations. For more information on the tools Projections offers, please visit their website at www.ProjectionsInc.com


1 Robert Michael Smith, From Blackjacks to Briefcases—A History of Commercial Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press), 2003.

2 Bruce E. Kaufman and Paula E. Stephan, "The Role of Management Attorneys in Union Organizing Campaigns," Journal of Labor Research 16(4), 1995.

3,6 John Logan, "The Union Avoidance Industry in the United States," British Journal of Industrial Relations 44(4), 2006.

4,5,7 Thomas A. Kochan, Harry C. Katz, Robert B. Mckersie, The Transformation of American Industrial Relations (New York: Basic Books), 1987.

8 John Chalykoff and Peter Cappelli, "Union Avoidance: Management's New Industrial Relations Strategy," Monthly Labor Review, April, 1986.

9 Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Union Members Summary," http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm.

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