In a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (that is a newspaper for those of you that don’t follow them) a union representative was quoted as saying they are making organizing the South a union priority. Meanwhile the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is taking up a case that may have a major impact on the organizing tactics unions have started to use. If you are an employer in the South these are certainly issues you need to pay attention to.
The Push South
Unions have been on the ropes for a good number of years. With their traditional “marketplaces” of blue collar jobs going away, their emphasis on public sector unions, the fighting among unions, e.g., the SEIU leaving the AFL-CIO, and an increasing rise of millennials in the workplace, private sector union membership in 2012 was 6.6% according to the BLS. The reason they are pushing south is that as the economy recovers industry is building quicker in the south and this recovery includes manufacturing. Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas have experienced a revival of sorts, even in the auto industry. The UAW in particular is the union that has made organizing the South part of their growth strategy.
Things in the unions’ favor
There are some things working in their favor. First, in the recession many companies were foolish and forgot about things like common decency and took advantage of their employees. Some employees, when complaining about wages and other working conditions, were told “Tough, what are you going to do? Where you going to find another job?” Not the brightest employee relations strategy.
Another thing is that in big metropolitan areas many of the workers are no longer Southerners. They are transplants from the North and have brought with them the tendency to be more accepting of unions.
Things against the unions
There are a number of things that work against the unions being successful. These include:
- Most Southern states are “Right-to-work” states, which means employees do not have to belong to unions, i.e., pay dues, even if the company has been organized. Even Indiana has recently joined 22 other states to become a right-to-work state.
- I believe unions still have an image problem. Many people see unions as a part of the problem of the recession and just the general demise of industry in general.
- They are dealing with a new generation of workers, many that have entrepreneurial aspirations. That group of workers have not seen any benefit of belonging to a union.
- Management generally is a lot smarter, despite the occasional dumbass, and they understand employee relations better. Many of them consider retention of talent to be key to their success.
Supreme Court action
In this session of the SCOTUS one of the cases they are dealing with deals directly with the legality of a union organizing tactic. In the case of Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall, the court is considering if the union is violating a section of the National Labor Relations Act that prohibits corruption on the part of the union.
According to the article Labor union organizing tactic challenged by Sean Lengell, the case involves an employee who has challenged the way a union has attempted to organize his employer. The employer, an owner of a dog track and casino in Florida, basically gave no resistance to Unite Here’s organizing attempt in return for the support of the union in which offered to “run ads supporting a gambling ballot initiative the company wanted to pass. It vowed not to strike, protest, picket or otherwise disrupt the company’s business. In exchange, the company promised to make it as easy as possible for the union to organize its workers, including offering access to employee lists so that it could contact and recruit workers.”
Mulhall, the employee, said that this violated the section of the National Labor Relations Act which “prohibits employers from providing unions ‘things of value’ — a provision intended to prevent bribes, extortion and collusion.” A lower court ruled that there was no violation of the NLRA but an appeals court said the giving organizing help (i.e., no resistance) could be a “thing of value.”
Deal making with employers has been a tactic widely used by unions and if this method is shot down by the SCOTUS it could make future organizing much more difficult for unions. We will have to wait and see what the decision will be.