After decades of declining membership, recent years have shown some growth in the ranks of organized labor, primarily because unions are utilizing new organizing techniques. "Unions have become much more sophisticated," says Bob Braun Jr., president of Braun Consulting Group Inc., a personnel and labor relations firm in Seattle. They're not as confrontational, and they're using the Net and other technology to present their message, explains Braun.
Braun says the issues that drove union growth 40 to 50 years ago-wages, safety and discrimination-have been addressed by federal labor laws, which has significantly reduced the need for unions. To survive, unions have had to change their approach. "What they're selling these days is respect, the lack of arbitrary treatment, issues that are subjective rather than objective," says Braun.
And they're aggressively targeting small employers, often those with as few as 30 employees, because those companies are typically easier to organize. "It can be extremely expensive, anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000, to resist a union," Braun says. "A small employer may not have the resources to fight and may make the business decision that they're better off just to roll over and voluntarily recognize the union."
Braun says the union rhetoric that they can't get a foothold in companies where employees are treated well and are happy is just that-rhetoric. "They go out there and sell people on the idea that they're being abused," he says. "Union organizers are highly trained salespeople; they know exactly what they're doing, and anybody who doesn't believe this is making a mistake."
In a news release issued earlier this year, the AFL-CIO said its Organizing Institute trained more than 2,000 organizers in 1999, one third more than the previous year, and that the labor movement has doubled the resources spent on organizing in the past four years. (Representatives of the AFL-CIO did not return repeated phone calls requesting an interview for this article.)
What should you do if you find your company the target of an organizing campaign? Braun advises contacting an expert in labor relations immediately. "Don't wait. Don't think you can take care of it yourself," he says. You'll need guidance from someone who understands the intricacies of both labor laws and organizing techniques.
And don't think you're too small for unions to bother with. Says Braun, "Companies in the range of 30 to 100 employees are prime picking for unions today."
Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 13 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.
- Braun Consulting Group Inc., (425) 883-3022, www.braunconsulting.com