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A Fresh Perspective on EFCA

I recently heard an amazing speaker attorney Jonathan Segal, now of Duane Morris, offer a fresh perspective on EFCA.  The main takeaway for me was remembering that often union campaigns and membership are about emotion, not logic.

I was a begrudging member of the teacher’s union when taught high school English right out of college.  I was fortunate they settled a contract dispute right before the start of the school year so I didn’t have to start my professional career on strike.  But I remember talk of meetings with not only fist-pounding but a teacher actually standing on the table pleading the case of the union.  That’s emotion!

In his presentation Jonathan encouraged us to recognize that almost every component of the union process and fight against it are emotional, rather than logical.  He reminded us that as the union process now stands, people often sign their cards just to get people out of their faces, and then they vote against forming the union.  With the pending change, with the lack of a private ballot, these people may bow to the emotional pressure and vote for the union.

Jonathan also told us that the videos unions shown to recruit members are all about emotion.  One union’s video was titled, “You’ll never walk alone again.”  It showed how the union will always be there for you and really played on emotions and fears.  Management at that particular company countered with their own video also aimed at the emotions, showing how with a union you truly won’t ever be alone; you’ll never able to have a private conversation with a supervisor, for example.

Union campaigns can be particularly brutal because you can’t turn it off.  If, as a member of management, you respond to attacks, you’ve dignified the attack and employees think what the union is saying about management is true.  If you don’t respond, they think it must be true.  So as a member of management, you’re stuck either way.  Jonathan recommends keeping the emotional temperature high enough so people vote no just to get peace.  It may seem counterintuitive since the emotions are what makes this process so uncomfortable, but his point is to not back down from a management perspective so people realize the union is not worth the hassle.  He recommends telling employees what customers or business could be lost because of the fight.

So where does all this leave us?  If we want to prevent the near-disastrous effects that EFCA could have, of course we need to send a loud message to our Representatives and Senators, as many in the restaurant industry are already doing.  But I’d urge you to be careful with letters you send to Representatives and Senators.  Jonathan had some great suggestions here:

  1. Don’t say things like, “If a union comes in, our business will shut down.”  Letters are discoverable and you don’t want to have to defend these statements further down the road.
  2. Anti-union letters will be discarded or tossed aside.  It’s not about whether unions are good or bad.  It’s solely a process issue.
  3. He recommends something like this, “Dear Senator XXX.  I voted for you in a private voting booth and believe my employees deserve the same opportunity.  When you and your counterparts on the Senate floor can’t agree, you don’t bring in a third party to solve the dispute.  You think about it and come back to the drawing board.  I voted for you before and I’d like to vote again.  This is not a good bill for the employees we support and care about.  This is not about pro-union or anti-union; this is about a law that changes the process by which employees have a voice for their preferences.”

Finally, Jonathan reminded us unions aren’t the problem; they’re symptoms of what’s happening in the workplace.  If we remember to focus on recognition and appreciation, we will be better suited to prevent union action in the first place.  Another way of looking at it?  Pay attention to employees’ emotions now, and avoid having to worry about the emotions stirred up by a union campaign later.

Christin Myers

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