Union salting: Combating a union salting campaign

posted by Michael Fortney  |  Dec 24, 2009 09:03 AM in Employment Law

A union salting campaign is designed to intimidate or cripple a nonunion contractor. Part of the plan is to get the employer to say the wrong thing, no matter how inconsequential, and file unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB. The following sets forth some of the basic points which should be discussed on an informal, one-to-one basis with the employees during the upcoming weeks, as well as possible questions which could be asked by employees and suggested answers to these questions.Your supervisors should feel free to use your own words when you talk to the employees, but you should try to stick to the general approach outlined. 

Utilization of both a positive and negative approach. To be most effective, we want to take both a positive approach -- i.e., based on the Company's past record and the company's commitment to its employees, it should be clear that a union is not necessary -- and a negative approach -- i.e., there are bad things about unions and risks in having a union. Which approach should be emphasized will depend upon what you perceive would be most effective with the particular employee in question.

Positive approach. As previously mentioned, this is basically the idea that a union is not necessary. It should be tied directly to the Company's "track record," programs which are already underway, and not based on promises of future benefits. Past problems and mistakes can and should be acknowledged, but it should be pointed out that the Company has been working on its employee relations and that things are improving, and you believe that there is a management commitment to make sure things will improve. You might remind employees of the actions which have recently been initiated such as the employee survey, improve communication, etc. 

Again -- we have to be careful not to promise that specific problems or issues will be taken care of if the union doesn't get in. (Be prepared to cite specific examples of what has been accomplished in the last few months.)

Approaches, in general, to negative points about the union. 

Both from the standpoint of establishing your own credibility and keeping within the bounds of the law, you should point out to the employees that you are not saying that if the union gets in, all the bad things you have been discussing will automatically happen. Accordingly, you should point out that, "We are not attempting to scare you - we are not saying that the negative points we have discussed will necessarily take place if the union gets in here." You should make sure, however, to point out that these bad things are real possibilities. You can say something like, "They certainly are possibilities - real possibilities that you risk happening if the union wins." The point you want to make is that the employees risk losing something if the union gets in - risks that aren't there if the Company remains union-free.

Specific negative points. It is important for you to have a good idea of possible risks or adverse consequences to employees that bringing in a union may have. There might be opportunities for you to specifically point out these risks. Feel free to cite any examples of strikes, plant shutdowns, loss of jobs and union wage concessions that you have personal knowledge. Alternatively, employees may ask you, "what's there to lose in having a union?", and you should be in a position to summarize these risks: 

  • Hiring restrictions. The union contract requires that certain classifications of persons do certain work at a jobsite, and require all hourly employees to be union members. This may require the replacement of some or all of our workforce. Also, the union may require the company to hire some workers who are not as productive as our employees, thus adversely affecting the company's efficiency in completing projects.
  • Loss of team approach. Quite often, the operation turns into a "we" vs. "them" approach. Everyone grabs their "best hold" and the teamwork and goals of the organization are sometimes lost. The focus changes and the result is no longer look at what's good for the organization in terms of growth, etc. Sometimes through the loss of a team approach, operating efficiencies are sharply reduced which results in reduced profits necessary to pay competitive wages, employee benefits, job security, etc. The reason the Company has been able to be competitive in its market is that everyone has worked together well as a team.
  • Possible jeopardizing of Company's competitive position. If the union succeeds in forcing the company to sign the current union contract, the Company's competitive position, and indeed its very ability to conduct business in the market that it does now, would be jeopardized. The Company's competitors would jump at the chance to grab our customers if there is a strike.d. Loss of flexibility in work rules and discipline. Working conditions are usually more formal and rigid under a union contract. The reason is that with a union you have to go by the book, and it is very hard to make individual exceptions.
  • Loss of informality in communicating with management and working out problems. Usually there are formal grievance procedures under a contract and the existence of union stewards, which could make it more difficult for employees to bring their problems directly to the management. The stewards and the union may or may not agree that an employee has a legitimate problem. It would be much better for employees to work out problems directly with management.
  • Possibility of union fines for violating union rules and regulations. The union has numerous rules and regulations which members have to follow. Penalties, including fines, suspension, expulsion and other discipline can be taken against union members who violate rules.
  • Use of union dues to fund salting and targeting. 

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