By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University
(Note: This article contains content adapted from lesson material written for APUS classes.)
This is the third article in a 10-part series on the dynamics of union and employer relations in the United States.
In the second article in the series, we looked at factors that motivate employees to unionize and ways that employers can monitor employee perceptions. Now, we’ll discuss approaches that employers can legally adopt to actively deter union encroachment.
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As we’ve noted, one thing that employers can do to avoid unionization is to closely monitor employee attitudes for dissatisfaction and to understand its causes. However, even assuming that this monitoring is done effectively, employers then face the much more difficult task of deciding how to address employee concerns and avoid a push for unionization.
On that note, there are generally two different approaches for managing this response: the doctrinaire organization paradigm and the philosophy-laden paradigm.
The Doctrine Organization Approach Develops Policies, Procedures and Structure in an Environment without a Union
With the doctrinaire organization paradigm, the aim is to develop policies, procedures, and structure within a non-unionized environment that are closely aligned and consistent with the policies, procedures, and structure where unionization has already been successful. In other words, employers look to mimic the changes typically effected by unions so that when employees consider the difference that unionization might make, they are not likely to conclude that they would make much of a difference at all. Consequently, they would abandon such movements toward unionization.
For example, employers might establish formalized disciplinary procedures with escalating levels of intervention and attempts to remedy performance issues before termination. These procedures would be similar to the policies union contracts would demand. By doing so, the employers render moot any arguments from employees or union advocates that disciplinary affairs would be somehow better with union oversight.
In the Philosophy-Laden Approach, the Employer Makes Good-Faith Efforts to Assuage Employee Concerns
The other tactic employers might adopt to avoid unionization is the philosophy-laden approach. The employer makes good- faith efforts to assuage the employee concerns that have created the dissatisfaction. That leaves the unions without significant benefits to tout in campaigning for their own involvement.
As an example, if employees are dissatisfied with their pay, the employer adopting a philosophy-laden approach would make pay raises sufficient to satisfy the employees, or at least reduce the level of angst regarding salaries. Similarly, if employees are unhappy with schedules, overtime, and working conditions, employers would do what is necessary to improve these areas so that unions vying for a presence would be left with few arguments by which to “sell” themselves.
In this sense, the philosophy-laden approach is similar to the doctrinaire organization approach in that both strategies are designed to neutralize unions’ appealing arguments. The primary difference is that the doctrinaire organization approach accomplishes this through changes to policy and structure; the philosophy-laden approach accomplishes this goal through revisions to benefits and tangible considerations within the working relationship with employees.
Rosen Hotels & Resorts: A Unique Company without a Need for a Union
Years ago, I worked for a hotel company in Orlando, Florida, called Rosen Hotels & Resorts. It is owned and operated by Harris Rosen, a self-made billionaire with a passion for people and philanthropy. Rosen Hotels & Resorts employs roughly 5,000 people, and the company is unique because there are no unions whatsoever involved in any of the company’s operations.
This lack of unions exists because Harris Rosen believes that if employees are listened to and cared for, unions are unnecessary. His company has one of the most comprehensive benefit plans in the hospitality industry. It includes not only standard health coverage as required by the Affordable Care Act, but also an onsite company-funded and operated medical clinic where all employees and their families can be seen and treated at no charge.
Rosen Hotels & Resorts also offers fringe benefits such as free college tuition for employees and their dependents after meeting certain lengths of employment and other criteria. The company also uses stringent guidelines for discipline and management of employees, so that policies and procedures are fair both on paper and in practice.
By doing all this, Rosen Hotels & Resorts has adopted a combination of the doctrinaire organization and philosophy-laden approaches for handling union avoidance. As a result, the company has some of the most satisfied employees and some of the lowest turnover in the hospitality business. They are an example of how organizations can successfully maintain satisfied employees and avoid union encroachment.
But what if attempts at appeasing employee concerns fall short and workers are successful at voting a union into the workplace? Despite best efforts by employers, this unionization still happens sometimes. So employers should be prepared to work in good faith with union leaders on the terms of a labor contract.
In the next part of this series, we will discuss bargaining philosophies and strategies that employers should consider when negotiating with unions.
About the Author
Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.