2016 02 02 union noLast year, the rules for unionization campaign were changed. Unions have now a better shot at mounting a successful campaign to organize your employees. This is of particular concern to home care employers. Although fragmented, the industry is being targeted by the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) and its long-term care division.

Last summer, a client asked me to deliver a session on union awareness to the entire staff, including the caregivers. This type of proactive step brings awareness of what a union campaign looks like, and what unionization could mean for employee relations in your agency.

Speaking from experience

During the union awareness training last summer, a nurse came forward. She shared her experience of working in a long-term care facility where the SEUI was voted in by employees.

She explained that the union rep. was mainly concerned with getting dues paid. Ironically, negotiations with management resulted in pay raises being capped for higher paid employees. Bust most destructive of all, the atmosphere at work changed and many employees decided to leave. She was one of them.

Why worry about unionization in home care agencies?

The Service Employee International Union (SEIU) Healthcare is leading a campaign “Fight for Fifteen” across the country. Last year, home care workers joined striking fast-food employees with demands for higher wages. Although minimum wages are increasing in many states and localities, higher wages are an attractive proposition for minimum wage earners like caregivers.

Organizing campaigns

Unsuspecting caregivers can be approached by union organizers in your agency’s parking lot, at the grocery store or at church. The union’s objective is to get at least 30% of your caregivers to sign authorization cards. This entitles the union to hold a ballot in your workplace for or against unionization.

2016 02 02 union auhtorization card

Authorization cards look pretty harmless (see example to the left). They might have bright designs and disguise their main purpose through confusing language and fine prints. Caregivers might sign them, not understanding the consequence of their signature. Educating employees on what an authorization card looks like and what it means home care employers are essential to remain union free.

The consequences of unionization

When 51 percent of employees vote in favor of union representation, the union represents 100 percent of employees. There are many consequences and most are not well understood.

The first consequence is financial – Although unions campaign on the theme of wage increase, employees have to pay union dues, whether they are in favor of the union or not.

Unions make promise but can’t guarantee outcome – The payment of dues are a certainty. It comes out of the employee’s paycheck every pay period. The outcome of negotiations on pay and benefits is in the hand of the agency owner.

Who your union representative is matters – Union organizers do not represent employees in the workplace. They are the engaging personalities promoting the union. Once the union is voted in, employees are represented by a union representative who might or might not be qualified to represent their interests.

Tips for employers

  • Know your employees’ concerns and respond to them. By creating a positive work atmosphere where employees know their concerns are addressed, unionization is not attractive. If wages are an issue, show your employees how you rank in your industry and with comparable employees.
  • Educate all staff, including caregivers, on the benefits of working for your organization. By promoting the benefits of working for your agency, you are fending off the appeal of unions.
  • Educate all staff about the downsides of having union representation. Chief among them is the adversarial atmosphere brought by union representatives, not to mention the need to have a union rep present in every interaction with the company.

For more on the changes to the union campaign rules, read my article on the topic here.

If you want to be proactive and avoid union taking hold in your agency, consider union awareness training during your next employee meeting. Contact me to schedule your session.