Union salting: Supervisor do's and don'ts

posted by Michael Fortney  |  Dec 24, 2009 09:11 AM in Employment Law

A supervisor should:

Tell your employees that the union is pressuring your company to sign a union agreement without an election by the employees. If the company signs an agreement, all employees will have to pay union dues from their paychecks.

Tell employees that if the company signs an agreement with the Union (an outside organization), the Company will have to deal with it on all their daily problems involving wages, hours and other conditions of employment. Tell them that the Company would prefer to continue dealing with them directly on such matters.

Tell employees about the benefits they presently enjoy (avoid veiled promises or threats).

Tell employees some of the disadvantages of belonging to a union--such as the expense of initiation fees and monthly dues; membership rules restricting freedom; and their loss of the right to make their own decision on matters involving wages, hours and other working conditions. (Do not mention any reduction in employees' paychecks as a consequence of unionization without specifically attributing this to the expense of the union dues.)

Tell employees about any experience you may have had with unions, especially the union seeking to represent the employees. It is very important here to be entirely factual.

Tell employees anything you know about the Union or its officers. (Be sure your statements are truthful and relevant to the employees' selection or rejection of the union.)

Tell employees about any untrue or misleading statements by an organizer or in a handbill, or through any other medium of union propaganda. You may always give employees the correct facts.

Tell employees that merely signing a union authorization card or application for membership does not mean that they must vote for the union in an election.

Tell employees that the Company favors the principle that union membership should be voluntary and not compulsory.

Make assignments of preferred work, overtime, shift preference so long as such is done without reference to the employee's participation or non-participation in union activities.

Enforce Company rules impartially and in accordance with customary action, irrespective of the employee's membership or activity in a union.

A supervisor should not:

Supervisors are the company's representatives on the front line. What supervisors do and say will usually determine whether the union's campaign is successful. Also, whatever you say as a supervisor can bind the company and be held against the company just as though a top company official had made the same statements. That's why you have to know what you can't say, in order to avoid "unfair labor practices" charges.

You don't have to be a lawyer to understand what you shouldn't say during an organizing campaign. It's mostly common sense, and the ground rules are easy to remember:

Don't threaten.

  • You can't threaten employees with loss of jobs or reduction of income or benefits if the union gets in. You can't tell them that there will be a strike if the union wins the election, or that management will refuse to bargain with the union. And you can't use intimidating or coercive language to influence an employee.
  • You are free to give them your own opinions on the union and to tell them that they have a right to present their anti-union views to their co-workers.

Don't promise.

  • You can't promise employees increased wages, promotions, or benefits if they reject the union. And you can't tell employees that you won't discuss wage increases with them until the union is out of the picture. That's considered an implied promise of reward.

Don't interrogate.

  • It's illegal to ask employees what they think about the union or its officers, their union sympathies, or what they know about the internal affairs of the union. (But you may listen if information is offered.) Don't ask if they have signed cards or attended any union meetings. Don't solicit or encourage employees to request the return of their authorization cards, and don't assist them in writing letters to the union asking for withdrawal of their cards.

Don't spy on union activities.

  • You may not spy on employees to determine their feelings about a union; you may not attend union meetings; and you may not even give the impression that you're watching employees' union activities.It's easy to unintentionally create the impression that employees are under surveillance. The NLRB has taken a hard line against apparently innocent questions or apparently harmless statements like these: "We know who is involved with the union." "I hear you're involved with the union, Betty. Is that true?" "Let me know if you hear of anyone supporting the union; I'd like to talk to them and give them our company's position." "They won you over last night, didn't they?"Even though none of these statements involve a threat or a promise of benefit, the NLRB has held that they imply surveillance of employees' union activities. The NLRB is not concerned with whether the statement is true, or whether the supervisor intended any unlawful effect, or whether there was actual surveillance. They have found that such statements have a "reasonable tendency" to discourage employees in exercising their rights, since they create the impression that the supervisor has sources of information about union activity.Here are general rules for your supervisors to follow:
  • You may not imply that you have someone on the inside telling you about union meetings or insinuate that you know when and where union meetings have been held (unless the notices of meetings are public knowledge). Do not create the impression that you know exactly what has been said at these union meetings.
  • You may continue to visit local bars, pubs, restaurants and other establishments, even if a union meeting is taking place there, as long as you have had a frequent practice of attending these places. Before going to any establishment where you know a union meeting is to take place, be sure to check with company officials first. They will give you legal clearance on whether or not to go ahead with the visit.
  • You may not request employees to report the identity of pro-union sympathizers to you or to other officials of management. Also, you may not encourage those you supervise to engage in surveillance of the union activities of their co-workers, or to reveal who is for or against the union. Do not question (even when you are off company premises) an employee's spouse, relative, neighbor, friend, or co-worker as to whether the employee is for or against the union.
  • You may not tell employees that co-workers are informing you about union activities, or that some employees are "keeping you posted" on what is going on with the union; do not imply, even in a joking way, that you are receiving information about union activities in the plant. Do not even start a conversation with the statement, "I've heard that some people are interested in the union...." All these statements can be viewed by the NLRB as creating the impression of surveillance.

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