Be Aware of the Early Warning Signs of Union Activity

Erick Becker

Non-union employers should always remain vigilant for signs that may indicate vulnerability to union organizing, or actual union activity in the work place.  If you can spot these early warning signs and take appropriate action before a significant number of signatures from employees are obtained by the union, your business stands a much greater chance of maintaining your union free status.

Applicants who are overqualified or from outside your industry

Unions sometimes employ a strategy known as “salting.” They send volunteers or paid organizers to a business to apply for a job, and if hired, they start soliciting their new co-workers on behalf of a union.  Pay attention to changes in your applicant pool, it might be a sign you’re being salted.

Employees avoid supervisors or stop talking when they approach

Employees are told by union organizers to avoid talking about the union around supervisors and keep the organizing secret as long as possible. If employees won’t engage with supervisors and engage in behavior that indicates they are trying to hide something, it should raise a red flag.

Groups who rarely talk with each other are congregating

In most workplaces, employees naturally tend to congregate in the break room with co-workers from their own department or job, or sometimes by nationality. If groups are now sitting together or talking intently in the break room, it may be a sign that one group is trying to spread the union message to others.

Employees question job assignments or supervisory authority

Employees that normally have positive attitudes are now telling supervisors “it’s not my job” or “that’s not in my job description,” or arguing with supervisors in meetings. They may be simply acting out what they are being told by union organizers or supporters, because unions try to sell that they will have the power to tell the company what jobs employees will or will not do.

Employees taking longer breaks or spending more time in restrooms

Legally, employees are allowed to solicit other employees to sign union authorization cards during rest breaks or meal times. In-house union supporters may push the envelope and take more time than usual away from their work station to approach other employees about the union.

Group complaints or petitions

A standard play from the organizing playbook is to spur employees into submitting a petition or letter on behalf of the group complaining about an issue – a policy change, reduction in benefits, disciplinary action or termination of a popular co-worker. If the company does not address the complaint, the union can claim the company doesn’t listen, which is why employees need a union.

Use of union buzzwords

There are many terms employees don’t often use unless they have been attending union meetings and listening to organizers – seniority, bumping, grievance, job security, etc. Two phrases to listen for are almost always associated with an organizing effort:  “we need a voice,” and “dignity and respect.”  These are designed to stir emotions, which are the lifeblood of any successful organizing campaign.

Once any of these warning signs are identified, it is critically important to be proactive by training your supervisors so they can communicate on the union topic without violating the law, and educating your employees about unions and the organizing process.  Equally important, you must surface and address the underlying issues that are driving the organizing effort.  If you delay, a golden opportunity to avoid a costly and divisive union election will be missed, and your company may wind up with a unionized workforce.