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Recognizing Signs of Employee Dissatisfaction That Lead to Union Organization

Which employees are most likely to seek union assistance in the workplace and/or file claims against their employer? The answer, of course, is those who are dissatisfied with their work environment. In general, employees who feel they are respected and treated fairly at work, and enjoy a positive work culture, are less likely to turn on their employers. For this reason, it only makes sense that employers should work to foster a healthy work environment where employees feel valued and engaged.

However, despite an employer’s best efforts, there is always the risk of a disgruntled employee with an axe to grind, or an aggressive union that targets an impressionable workforce. Therefore, it pays to be on the lookout for signs that trouble may be brewing in your workplace.

Obviously, if an employer starts seeing pro-union graffiti, clothing, buttons, leaflets or authorization cards on its premises, it is likely that a union organizing campaign is already well underway. However, there are other, more subtle cues to watch for, including the following:

  • Employees start visiting areas in the workplace they normally do not visit or congregating with employees with whom they normally don’t have much interaction.
  • A significant increase in the rate of turnover.
  • Exit interviews indicate that employees are attempting to escape an unpleasant environment.
  • Employee group discussions immediately stop when a supervisor approaches.
  • Employees begin spending more time on their breaks.
  • Strangers appear and linger on the premises or in work areas.
  • Employees no longer talk to their supervisors.
  • Employees start asking about improving terms and conditions of employment.
  • Employee complaints to co-workers and management increase.
  • A division develops among employees.
  • Employees begin using a new technical vocabulary such as “protected activity” and “unfair labor practices.”
  • Applicants applying for jobs who do not have relevant experience and appear to be willing to work for lower status or pay than their record would suggest. This can be a sign that union organizers, or “salts,” are attempting to infiltrate the employer to organize from inside.

Some of the common reasons employees seek out union assistance include protection against inconsistent, unfair, or arbitrary treatment by supervisors. Employees also turn to unions for a sense of belonging they may not get from their work environment. Of course, the perception of more job security, better wages and working conditions, and more of a voice in management decisions are also reasons employees turn to unions.

Unions typically appeal to people with certain personality types. Therefore, it is helpful to be aware of various personality traits in the workplace, so employers know who may be most vulnerable to union organizing efforts. The four primary personality types most susceptible to being influenced by a union are as follows:

  • The marginal employee whose mediocre performance will be “guaranteed” through the union’s claims of job security.
  • The dissatisfied employee who is inclined to believe the organizers’ claims that the union will correct all of management’s “mistakes.”
  • The impressionable employee who is only hearing claims from the union and nothing from the employer.
  • The follower who only turns to the union because others are doing so.

Employers can minimize the chances that a union will infiltrate their workplace by staying attuned to the needs and desires of their workforce. Of particular importance is the role played by front line supervisors. It is important that these supervisors be engaged with their employees, because they are the ones who both set the tone for an employee’s immediate work environment and are the best tools for gauging employee satisfaction. Being responsive to employee concerns and immediately addressing signs of disgruntlement can play a significant part in avoiding unionization, as well as various claims filed by employees against their employer.

If you have any questions about this legal update, or require assistance putting union avoidance measures in place, please contact Brian Waterman at bwaterman@buelowvetter.com or 262-364-0257, or your Buelow Vetter attorney.

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