If the proposed Employee Free Choice Act becomes law, I suspect that many smaller business owners have assumed that they won’t be a target. Under the old logic, if you employ around 50 people or less, you are probably right. But the problem is that the old logic no longer holds true. Unions earn “revenue” in only one way, through dues. The only way they earn dues is through increased membership. Naturally, they will want to target the bigger employers first (more bodies = more members = more dues), but it won’t take them long to get to you, especially since EFCA makes it so much easier to organize. So to deny you are a target is risky and naive.
Acting as if you are at risk, on the other hand, provides the “burning platform” for change inside your company. If it takes the unions a little time to make their way to you, be sure to use the time to build engagement with your employees and the best way I know how is by utilizing Lean methodologies. In the event that EFCA doesn’t pass (don’t bet on it) you will be that much further ahead of the game by engaging your employees in improving their jobs and in direct correlation, your business.
I would like to share a short story of how I used Lean in a similar situation but the result was 180 degrees from EFCA.
At a point in my not too distant past I had multi-plant manufacturing and operations responsibility for both union and non-union plants. One of the union plants had a strong plant manager. Together we established a vision for the plant, put a good team around him to support and help him run the operation. Additionally we introduced Lean and began to engage the entire operation in both problem identification and problem solution and waste elimination. We actively listened to those producing the product and sought their input on how to not only improve the operation but to also make their jobs better. We implemented a new communication process where we frequently updated the workforce on happenings throughout the division as well as the entire company (ie: new customer accounts, financial performance, customer complaints), established lunch feedback meetings with the plant manager, required supervisors to engage their teams in the improvement process and hold face to face performance review sessions. Our focus was to make sure everyone was treated like valued, contributing team members rather than just an employee making a widget.
The efforts of this transformation produced numerous financial benefits for the plant and company but also yielded an unexpected result for the team members. Through this transformation the culture changed which in turn grew an effort, led by union members, to decertify the union at this site. The vast majority of the membership felt very good about the leadership, the future of the plant and company and did not feel the need to be represented.
At the end of the day, I firmly believe that making sure you have good leadership in place who are truly engaged with the workforce, utilize methodologies like Lean you won’t have to worry about EFCA or anything else like it that may come down the pike. Instead, you can keep your focus and energies on doing what you want to be doing and that is continuing to grow your business.