Unionization of manufacturing industry flat but tactic reinforced by Pro-Labor NLRB


Despite the low rate of unionization in the private sector nationwide and consistent unionization rates in the manufacturing industry in recent years, the external environment for work organization remains aggressive.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, for the 2020 calendar year, the unionization rate in the private sector fell to 6.3%, one of the lowest points in history. In the manufacturing industry, union membership has remained relatively stable as a percentage of those employed in the private sector at 8.6% in 2019 and 8.5% in 2020. However, unions are increasingly aggressive in their approach, style and tactics. They are also supported by a new worker-friendly National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Developments which include the new composition of the NLRB have resulted in aggressive initiatives in favor of workers on the part of the NLRB and its Advocate General. Therefore, companies in the manufacturing industry need to remain vigilant and take action to minimize their risk and overall vulnerability to unionization.

There are many policy actions employers can take to reduce risk. Possible considerations when companies plan for a more aggressive organization in the manufacturing sector and initiatives to support the work of the NLRB include:

  1. Understand the general climate of the organization’s labor relations. One key to staying problem-free (and union-free) is to understand the labor relations climate at each of the organization’s manufacturing plants in the United States. A vulnerability assessment and scorecard can help identify areas for short-term intervention and long-term success in remaining union-free. Such an assessment can be as simple as walking around the plant and asking supervisors for information about the employees under their supervision. If the supervisor is unable to provide detailed information about each employee they supervise and what motivates them in the plant, this may indicate a disconnect between management and the workforce and potentially heightened vulnerability.

  1. Understand the vulnerabilities to union organization through business relationships. Manufacturers should analyze their business relationships with external organizations and determine whether there are inherent vulnerabilities in union organizing based on these relationships. These business relationships may include the supplier of raw materials, logistics or transport companies delivering the finished product, temporary agency employees assigned to the plant for seasonal and additional workers, and organizations that are sources of applicants. employment in the community. The fact that these organizations up and down the supply chain are unionized can be an indicator of an inherent vulnerability in manufacturing plants.

  1. Examine job classifications and plant organizational structures. Where there are micro-bargaining units in a factory, the employer will have to negotiate with one or more unions over small portions of its workforce. This produces operational inefficiencies for the employer. Companies can analyze and make subtle changes to job classifications, tasks, and organizational alignment to improve the voting unity possible should they ever be faced with union organizing. Manufacturers may consider, among other changes, streamlining the number of job titles in the plant, rotating employees frequently between different areas of the plant, or minimizing pay differences between classifications and s ” ensure that similar policies and procedures are applied to all plant employees. Companies today can make changes that reduce the risk that a union might get sufficient expression of interest from a small group of employees, thereby forcing a union election. Likewise, by making these changes today, manufacturers can also increase the total number of employee votes in order to win the overall election. For example, instead of having manufacturing positions that are unique to various production areas within the plant, the company might consider reducing classifications or job titles to just a handful of production positions. and different manufacturing, including processing, quality control, sanitation and maintenance. .

  1. Invest in community engagement on factory sites. Much of this country’s manufacturing plants are in rural America. Often, communities have a direct influence on encouraging or discouraging union membership in rural America. Investing in rural areas where manufacturing plants are located and remaining a good community citizen can help reduce vulnerability to unionization by building strong community support. Examples include investing in local media and advertising through the local newspaper or online media, investing in local non-profit organizations and business and civic groups, investing in schools in trades and community colleges; and the establishment of a year-round presence by the organization’s senior leadership.

  1. Conduct salary and benefit analysis to ensure the company’s overall compensation remains competitive. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many manufacturing plants were understaffed and had to take advantage of existing employees to help meet customer demands. Unions have tried to capitalize on the challenges of the workforce during this difficult time. Employees are not paid enough, should receive a “risk premium” for increased risks and long hours, and should receive additional benefits, and paid time off is part of union complaints in their offers to attract members. Manufacturers can help reduce this risk by performing salary and benefits analysis and investigation, so they can start taking action to reduce identified gaps or develop and communicate to the entire workforce. implement creative appreciation strategies.

The external union environment should continue to evolve over the next few years and become more aggressive. Manufacturers may want to consider these and other proactive measures to reduce overall vulnerability to unionization.

Jackson Lewis PC © 2021Revue nationale de droit, volume XI, number 307


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