Research into the working environment in the United States of America indicates that about sixty million unorganized workers wish to have representation through government-certified unions. The rest of the workers prefer a less formal and unregulated form of collective representation, with a negligible percentage of them preferring to have their employers set and impose conditions in the workplace without their consultation or consent. Since the employer has the power to grant his workers’ wishes of collective representation, it is vivid that opposition from employers remains to be the major obstacle of satisfying this demand.
The Employee Free Choice Act is structured in a manner intended to increase the cost of employers to thwart unionization by going against the law, as they frequently do. It is assumed that their fear of severe penalties will reduce their frequent breaking of the law and result in more success in organizing campaigns. Some scholars, however, oppose this theory claiming that the Employee Free Choice Act will not yield much benefit, as was the case in Canada.
In Canada, employers successfully discourage their employees from exercising their right to bargain for better terms collectively by organizing themselves, even after refraining from illegal activities. They do this by making it clear that indulging in such activities will be considered as challenging of the managerial competence and good will. When asked how they felt about organizing campaigns, one of the respondent employers claimed that they tried their best to lead the workers properly, so as to make the unions unnecessary, but they would respect it if the employees chose to have one. This statement made it clear that the employer would prefer his workers not to join any union. It is like saying that they would prefer employing men, but if women applied for the position they would not discriminate against them.
The Organizing Campaign
The labor laws give workers the right to elect a representative who would always negotiate with the employer on their behalf regarding the terms and conditions of the workplace, such as wage rates, working hours and other working conditions. Organizing campaigns take place before the elections and are aimed at providing the information required by both the employees and the employer, so that they make informed choices regarding collective representation. Employees have the right of meeting with union organizers, talking to them and asking them questions. Union organizers should also be allowed to visit the workplaces before or after the working hours or during lunch breaks to talk with the employees. It is the employee who should decide to speak or not to speak with the union representatives.
When an employee wants to have the representation of a union, they can speak with fellow workers about the issue and even persuade them in order to get their support for the union. It is also allowed to pass union brochures and wear buttons and other symbols among other activities, as long as they do not interrupt the working progress. Employees are protected by the labor laws from being asked any questions regarding their position by their employers or employers’ representatives. The knowledge of how one intends to vote in the elections could spoil the working relationship with their employers, especially when they do not actually like the idea of having a workers union.
Similarly, workers who do not support the union have the right to express their views, as well as engage in every sort of activity that the union supporters can. This means that they can also talk to others and persuade them to withhold their support, pass flyers, and wear buttons and symbols, as long as whatever they do does not interfere with the work. Employers also have the right to urge their employees and persuade them not to support collective representation. However, it is illegal for an employer to threaten employees, fire them, reduce their wages and other benefits, or even change the working conditions simply because of their support for the collective representation. Likewise, it will be beyond the powers conferred by law for the employer to use such incentives as a salary increase, promotion, and more working hours to lure an employee to vote against the union.
Factors Affecting Support for Unions
The workers’ right of organizing and joining unions is the fundamental employment protection for them in the labor laws. These laws protect the employees’ interests, depending on the nature of their jobs, whether private or public, small local businesses or large multination corporations. Employees, who obtain membership in a certain union, get covered by the union such that they will not personally have to fight with their employers about their rights. They are no longer employed “at-will” and the union negotiates on their behalf for better working terms and conditions.
However, there are several factors that affect the employees’ willingness to support a union. Workers would only want the help of a union if they know that it will help achieve more than they could by themselves. Therefore, a union’s prior record of helping oppressed employees can really help in influencing the workers’ opinion. In most cases, employees would depend on what they hear about the union. Prior praise to the union may have a huge impact on how employees feel about it. Research has also shown that employee dissatisfaction is the greatest reason for employees organizing or joining a union. In most cases, employees are not satisfied with compensation rates or working conditions, and this makes them feel the need to use the union threat on their employers.
Inflation rates also have a huge impact on the workers’ willingness to support a union. During high inflation periods, workers fight for salary increments, in order to offset the rising prices. This gives them the urge to support organizing campaigns in order to have unions represent their demands. In addition, increased unemployment may also have a positive effect on the unionization of workers, because they do not feel secure about their jobs during these periods. The fear of losing their jobs makes workers stick together to fight for their rights.
How to Organize Campaigns
Successful organizing campaigns gather enough support to apply for certification or win in the representation elections. To succeed, union organizers need to apply a number of strategies in the campaign. For example, workers could be contacted individually for their support or in small groups. An organizing committee could also be established to ensure proper penetration and reaching of all workers in the organization. These committees usually have representatives from each department to ensure that all the employees are reached and presented the idea. However, it is very important to identify the employees’ needs first in order to present to them possible solutions for their problems. Then, the union organizers need to ensure that they obtain maximum participation from the workers. Organizing campaigns could be initiated by either the employees or the union itself. In most cases, when employees move first to initiate the organizing campaign, they approach an established union to represent them.
According to the Canadian labor laws, the first step should always be holding an information meeting, whose aim is to formally evaluate the degree of support the organizing campaign will get and the probability of succeeding in obtaining certification. An organizing committee is then formed to help with the organizing campaign. The committee should be composed of a few employee representatives from each department, as well as experienced union organizers to provide the necessary expertise and legal advice. This committee talks to the employees to gather enough support, after which an application for certification is submitted to the relevant labor relations board. The labor relations board upon verification of the application could grant automatic certification, order an election or even suggest alterations to the bargaining unit.
Since the early 1970s, governments across the world have been promoting union efforts by ensuring that the right legislation is availed to protect employees from being exploited by private businessmen. However, not a lot has been achieved so far, which begs the question: Why is it so difficult to get results from the unions’ efforts to organize employees? We realize that while the political, economical and legal environments for unionization keep on deteriorating, private business men and employers continue to aggressively oppose the union efforts. These people know how to find legal loopholes and exploit them to make it hard on those who support organizing campaigns.
However, a few unions have shown commendable progress in their organizing campaigns by winning them. Recent research indicates that these unions conduct fundamentally different campaigns, when it comes to intensity and quality. It is important that we briefly review these strategies that guarantee a higher likelihood of winning across a wide range of environments, corporate characteristics and bargaining unit demographics.
In general, these successful unions seem to apply campaigning strategies that incorporate the following ten elements: (1) sufficient and appropriate human and financial resources (2) highly active organizing committees with rank-and-file representatives (3) strategic targeting (4) individual contacting for both in and out of the workplaces (5) a strong bases of members who volunteer to be part of the organizers (6) proper pre-evaluation for union support and threshold of continuing with the campaign (7) good analysis of issues affecting the employees not only in the workplace, but also in the community (8) creative, escalating inside pressure for employees (9) creative, escalating outside pressure for the surrounding society (10) creating of the initial contract, while still in the organizing campaign. Application of these elements in one well-outlined campaign strategy appears to be the key ingredient of success in the current organizing environment where application of numerous tactics is not bearing any fruits.
The world is moving towards the ideal democracy, and this progress cannot be achieved if labor laws and regulations are neglected. Democracy needs also to be instilled in the private sector, which employs the highest number of people. During the time when union density in the private sector is deteriorating, while total employment figures are increasing, it is really necessary for all the stakeholders to find ways of organizing the workers. Organizations are growing and merging with one another, forming extremely complex multinationals, which are even more difficult to organize. Unions need to also step up their techniques and strategies of organizing campaigns to protect citizens from cruel extortion from wealthy and ambitious businessmen. Quality and intensive organizing campaigns appear to be the only key to success.