Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of entrepreneurs more than the prospect of unionized staff, and rightly so: unionization brings a variety of ills, from higher payroll and benefits costs to workplace inflexibility. Even worse: “Having a third party with no investment in your business telling you how to run it,” says Don Ewart, president of Advanced Labour Relations Inc., a Saskatoon-based consultancy. There’s no cure for unions, so take these precautions:
Be a good boss
“A bad boss is a union organizer’s best friend,” says Gordon Williams, communications manager of the B.C. Ministry of Labour. Establish regular communications with staff so they can raise questions and concerns before they become major grievances. Avoid breaking promises, such as rescinding bonus offers or cutting back vacation time.
Mind your environment
“It sounds simple, but provide a clean, safe, well-lit workplace,” says Greg McGinnis, a partner in Stringer Brisbin Humphrey, a Toronto law firm with a specialty in labour relations. There’s nothing like a rash of shop-floor injuries to spark interest in unionization.
Borrow the union playbook
Eliminate key union selling points by adopting them yourself. Pay equitably, within both your industry and your business (“So the supervisor’s girlfriend doesn’t get more money than everybody else,” explains McGinnis), and recognize seniority where appropriate.
Read ’em their rights
Incredibly, a union drive begins the second two employees start talking unionization. From that point on, just about anything you could do to prevent certification, from rewarding individual employees for voting against a union to transferring or firing suspected union organizers, is against the law in most provinces. B.C. and Ontario, however, allow companies to make direct but limited appeals to their workers. The key message to communicate? “Talk to employees about their rights,” advises Ewart. “Make sure they’re aware they have the right to vote ‘No’.”