Employers with both unionized and union-free employees face a unique set of issues. While preserving an environment where its union-free employees do not perceive the need for a union, the employer must bargain in good faith and maintain good relations with the union-represented employees. Tricky, yes, but impossible, no.
Many employers successfully execute this delicate balancing act by carefully analyzing the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement and understanding what union-free employees value most in their jobs. Since successful union organizing is typically grounded in a failure of communication between employees and management or the reality or perception of unfair treatment by management, the same concepts of positive employee relations which benefit union-free employers also may prevent further union expansion within the partially-unionized workforce.
These concepts and practices include:
- peer grievance review as a preferable alternative to the binding third party arbitration process typically found in a union contract
- communication vehicles which provide union-free employees with more direct and timely communication than collective bargaining provides unionized employees
- regular employee recognition and appreciation events
- where lawful, slightly higher wage increases than those negotiated in the union contract with an announcement of the increases after the effective date of the contract
- where lawful, comparable employee benefits with (for example) a slightly higher employer match for employee contributions to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan
Regardless of the method, a partially-unionized employer will be in a better position to limit further union incursion by demonstrating in actions and words that employees do not need a union to assure fair and consistent treatment. There is no substitute – not even better economics – for treating employees with dignity and respect.