Guide to union organizing

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(This guide was written for an electrical contractors association and there are frequent references made to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) who are the most active building trades union. However, direction contained within this document applies to all building trades unions and all contractor disciplines.)

Marshall J. Coleman

M.J. Coleman & Associates, Inc.

Greenville, South Carolina

December 2003



IBEW National Organizing Initiative……………. 3

Preface……………………………………………. 4

Section I Union Organizing……………………. 5
Section II How Union Organizing Works………8
Section III Legal Aspects of Union Organizing…13
Section IV Preventive Labor Relations…………. 22
Section V Unfair Labor Practice Quiz…………. 28

Answer Key………………………….32

Section VI Address of Edwin D. Hill, IBEW

International President, Sept. 2003…. 33

Section VII About the Author……………………39

IBEW National Organizing Initiative

In October 2003, at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Worker’s (IBEW) Organizing Conference, the president of the union outlined a long-term, aggressive strategic organizing plan to organize non-union electrical contractors.

He said, “Organizing is the IBEW’s number one priority and we expect it to be so for many years to come.”
Never before has a construction trades union embarked on such a wide-ranging strategic organizing initiative.
The mechanics of this strategic initiative even include penalties for reluctant local unions who frequently resist organizing initiatives locally.
This massive organizing initiative will be coordinated and managed by the International union in Washington to ensure participation and compliance with overall organizing goals in each region of the country.
Local unions will be given all the resources they need to be successful.

Read the complete text of IBEW General President Hill’s speech in

Section VI, page 33 of this guide

Any company that gets a union deserves it…and they get the type of union they deserve.”
When I read these words some 30+ years ago as I was beginning my career in the field of construction labor relations, I remember thinking that they were pretty harsh and couldn’t be true. I mean plenty of companies get tricked by the union and their questionable tactics, right? It couldn’t always be the company management’s fault, could it?
Well, I am here to tell you after nearly 35 years in this business and over 160 union elections, that it is almost always management’s fault. It is almost always about misplaced opportunities and priorities. It is almost always about management sticking their heads in the sand when they ought to have been paying attention. It is about neglecting the overall well being of employees and bad management practices.

In the vast majority of the cases, the union does not begin an organizing campaign against your company because it is there. The union begins organizing because they believe that the company is vulnerable and most frequently that information comes from your own employees.

In this guide, we will explain how the union organizing campaign process works. We will review the legal aspects of process and we will provide you with the tools you need to stop a union organizing attempt against your company before it even begins. You will have most of the tools you need to keep your company union-free.
The challenge is for you to implement these tools.
Understand this point clearly, keeping your company union-free is a management process, not a legal process and it starts long before the union ever shows up on your doorstep.
In the final analysis, we are talking about a battle for the hearts and mines of your people against an outside force that wants to destroy the way you do business.
In the final analysis, we are talking about quality of leadership (management)…yours!
As we move forward, it is my intent to share my real experience with you. It is a view from the practical, management perspective and based on experience gained in the trenches. I have managed people all my working life and I am not an attorney.
Marshall J. Coleman

December 2003

Union Organizing
Union organizing is an attempt by a union to influence a non-union company through the election process or other means to sign a union contract thereby becoming a union contractor.

Since the construction industry is the only industry where the owner of the company can sign a union agreement without the assent of the employees (vote), the union may try a multitude of tactics to bring pressure on the employer to sign what is called a “pre-hire agreement” and thereby avoid the election process. Some of these tactics may include but not be limited to: so-called “salting charges” (failure to hire union supporters), owner pressure, picketing, government agency pressure, etc.

These tactics may become part of an overall organizing campaign against a contractor but for the purposes of this guide we will focus on what we will call “pure union organizing” meaning the union’s attempt to obtain a vote, win the election, and force the contractor to bargain with the union over the wages, hours, and working conditions of his employees now being represented by the union.
This process from its initial phase of “card-signing” through the actual election shall be referred to as the union campaign. In later sections of the guide we will discuss, in detail, how the union campaign process works.
It is critically important that every contractor and employer clearly and completely understand the mechanics of the union campaign process. It has critical ramifications every single day in the operation of your business.
From a historical perspective, unions have been organizing since there were unions. In the 1930’s, the congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and formed the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to enforce the Act. The NLRA established the rules that govern the union election process. There are currently 53 offices of the NLRB across the nation and territories each having a specific geographic jurisdiction for enforcement of the Act.
Union organizing was the primary mode by which the unions obtained new members. Organizing activity peaked in the 1950’s but has continued as a primary weapon in the union’s arsenal against non-union employers.

However, in the mid-1970’s the construction building trades unions dramatically reduced their use of the organizing weapon. An organizing campaign in the construction industry was becoming rare except in a few areas in the country. The number of construction industry elections dropped from 947 in 1975 to 222 in 1995. Non-union contractors did not worry about getting organized because few unions were doing any organizing.

Other than a lack of strategic vision on the part of the union, the biggest reason for the drop in organizing activity was unquestionably political. And by political we mean local union politics.
Consider that in 1965 the union sector in the construction industry controlled over 60% over the market. By 1995, the union sector controlled only approximately 13% of the market. The unions had lost millions of jobs. Local business agents could not keep their members working and it was very bad politics for them to be seeking new “scab” members who were working when the old guys weren’t working.
So they stopped organizing for the most part for local political reasons.
The biggest result was that they forgot how to organize!!!
Organizing is an art. It takes skill and the guys that used to know how to do it are gone. Some of the biggest, baddest unions are very poor organizers right now but they will get better because they know they have to organize non-union contractors to survive.
The International Brotherhood of Electricians (IBEW) is one such union.
As stated in the opening, the IBEW’s Organizing Initiative is unprecedented. No construction union has ever attempted such a broad organizing strategic plan.
Further, the IBEW leadership recognizes a key flaw in their past attempts to get their local unions to organize and have established penalties up to and including stripping the local union of its leadership and replacing them with International union operatives that will get the job done. The international union is not concerned about local union politics. They don’t have to get elected to a position by the membership every year or so.
The simple intent of the IBEW’s Organizing Initiative is the win back the work. In addition, more members mean more dues ($$$) and with more members and dues ($$$) come more political power.

They have a strategic plan and they have a tactical plan for organizing the individual contractor. It is sinister and designed to catch the contractor napping.

So historically, we have come full circle. The other building trades unions are following the lead of the IBEW. Union organizing made the unions what they were in 1965(60% of industry sector).
Can they do it again? The answer to this question is unquestionably yes, if the open shop sector continues to stay asleep at the switch.

The first step in the organizing campaign process often begins with a call to the union hall from one or more of your employees requesting information about the union. The union in question most likely was not actively involved in much organizing but could not resist the opportunity to query the employees about where they worked and how they liked the company, etc. Of course, the union official would take the opportunity to communicate to them all of the “wonderful advantages” of being union. If the employees took the bait and expressed a desire to join the union, the union official’s likely response would be something like, “Well I tell you what. We aren’t really taking many new members right now but if you will help us organize your employer (XYZ Electric) we will make an exception for you and any other employees of XYZ Electric that will assist the union in organizing the company.
Now the race is on! The kickoff has begun! The hounds are out of the gate!

PHASE 1 has begun! Those two employees who you thought were not very good employees to start with now have a new classification… INSIDE ORGANIZER! These two employees will be instructed by their union handlers down at the union hall (OUTSIDE ORGANIZERS) to continue to do their jobs and give no indication that they are inside union organizers. At this point, they are not even to mention the union. Their job is covert and is to simply gather and report back to the union hall any and all information that might help the outside organizers commence overt organizing activity. The inside organizers in the initial phases are nothing more than intelligence agents reporting information like but not limited to: employee names/addresses, location of jobs, key management personnel, hours of work, employee irritants and chief complaints, etc.

The INSIDE (your employee) organizer’s right (limited) to organize IS protected by the federal labor law. The OUTSIDE organizer IS NOT protected by the law in most cases.
Outside organizers who show up in the employer’s place of business or jobsites should be dispatched. The employer is under no legal obligation to allow an outside organizer the opportunity to speak with or address the employees of the company on company time.
This PHASE 1 activity may continue a month, six months, or even years but eventually if the company appears to be fertile organizing ground PHASE 2 will begin.
In PHASE 2, the union switches from covert activity to a more overt type of activity. This will usually take the form of card signing. Armed with the intelligence from the inside organizers, the outside organizers will begin trying to get the most disenchanted employees to sign authorization cards. The union must obtain a minimum 30% showing of interest among the employee unit (group of employees) in order for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to issue a petition for election and order that an election be held at XYZ Electric.

I hereby AUTHORIZE _________________LOCAL UNION # ____ TO REPRESENT ME IN COLLECTIVE BARGAINING WITH MY PRESENT AND FUTURE AND FUTURE EMPLOYERS ON ALL PRESENT AND FUTURE JOBSITES WITHIN THE JURISDICITON OF THE UNION. This Authorization is non-expiring, binding, and valid until such time as I submit a written revocation to the union.

Name________________________________ Social security #___________________

Home address________________________________ phone______________________

City______________________ state__________ zip code________________________

Date of authorization__________________________________________________


Figure 1- Union Authorization Card (Usually size of post card 31/2”x 5”)

Most often, the inside organizers (your employees) have a somewhat limited role in the actual card signing process. Usually it is the outside organizer who is meeting with company employees after hours in bars, at home, etc. and getting the authorization cards signed.

It is the intent of the union to keep this process as secret as possible for as long as possible. The would like to get as many authorization cards signed as possible before the XYZ Electric management discovers the organizing activity.
It XYZ Electric does not discover the card signing it may go on for months or years. Some unions may have files on many companies and continue to add signed cards to the file over a very long period of time. When they think they have enough cards, they may choose to go forward with a request for an election petition from the NLRB.
However, if there is enough interest on the part of the employees of XYZ Electric the union may seek an election or the company may discover the organizing activity and force everything into the open. Either way, PHASE III commences.
In PHASE III, the union may request the petition for election from the NLRB but the union representatives may visit the employer to seek a pre-hire agreement (see Section I). The pre-hire agreement essentially preempts the election process and the employer agrees to sign a union agreement with the union without an election or the bargaining process. The union official will usually try to intimidate the company management by saying something like, “I have got the majority of your employees signed up and if we are forced to go to an election you are going to get beaten badly.”
Either way, the race is on and in the open!

We will discuss some of he finer points of in subsequent sections but from the time a petition for election is filed and issued by the NLRB, the election is generally held within 4-6 weeks barring unusual circumstances. The ensuing time is spent by both the union and company campaigning for votes and it is just that, a campaign like any other political campaign.

It is during this period that the company has the advantage over the union. Employers can “campaign” with company employees during work time. Since the union has no legal right of access to company offices and jobsites, they must rely on after-hours meetings.

Under most circumstances, the union almost always loses support during this 4-6 week period.
The employer is free to have employee meetings, send communications, and talk with individual employees during this period subject to some common-sense restrictions outlined in the National Relations Act. (Discussed in subsequent sections)
On an NLRB-ordered or mutually agree upon date, a very brief PHASE IV occurs…the election.
The election is usually held at the employer’s place of business during normal working hours. An NLRB official will conduct the election. Employees will file in and out during a specified time period. When the polls close, the ballots are counted by the NLRB official and disclosed immediately to interested parties. Some votes on either side may be challenged and those votes resolved later.
NOTE: Employees who previously signed union authorization cards are not required to vote for the union and may vote for the company.
The union must obtain 50% + 1 vote of those eligible voters voting to win the election. If the union does not obtain the requisite number of votes for a win, they are barred from submitting another petition for election for one year. However, they may continue their organizing activities immediately. This is not common in the construction industry.
If the company loses the election, the company is required by federal law to bargain in good faith with the union over the terms and conditions of a collective bargaining agreement (union contract). This is PHASE V.
It should be carefully noted that the law requires the company to “bargain”
, not to “sign” any proposed union contract.

PHASE V, the bargaining phase can go on for years, easily months.

Approximately 70% of the contractors who lose elections never end up signing union contracts. Some go out of business, some enter into what is termed hard bargaining and reach impasse in their negotiations with the union.

However, the objective should be to never get your company into PHASE V or any other PHASE for that matter.
So, this is a simplified version of the union election campaign process. The only problem is that this process is never simple.
There are a few other considerations related to union organizing campaigns that will be covered in subsequent sections…like unfair labor practices.
However, there is one more important point that needs to be made before we leave this section.
In the future, the IBEW’s Organizing Initiative is pro-active and calls for the local unions to specifically target non-union electrical contractors. You can almost certainly expect them to initially target those contractors who they feel are most vulnerable. Their current average size target is the contractor with 12-15 employees. You can expect the target list for each local to range from 8-12 contractors per year for medium-sized markets.
So, the message is that the IBEW is not going to wait on your disgruntled employee to come to them anymore. They are making a list and the international union in Washington is making sure they pursue it.

The federal labor law as applicable to union organizing activity is at its most basic fairly simple and all an employer needs to know is the basics.
As previously stated, the National Labor Relations Act (1935) is the body of law that covers the union organizing process.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administers and enforces the National Labor Relations Act. There are 53 regional offices of the NLRB. These regional offices have the responsibility for administering and enforcing the Act within their assigned geographic areas or regions.

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act states that:

Employees shall have the right to form, join, or assist labor organizations (unions)… and shall have the absolute right to refrain from doing so.
This means exactly what it says, an employee has the right to join a union or not join a union. These are frequently known as the Section 7
rights or the rights of employees (to organize or not organize).
It does not mean that an employee can come to work everyday, organize for the union all day, and not work. This right to organize is limited to: those periods before and after work, during lunch periods, or other scheduled breaks during the work day or work time as legally specified.
Also, this phase does not mean that everybody in the company has the right to organize. For purposes of simplification, consider that under the National Labor Relations Act there are only two classifications…(1) Supervisors (2) Employees. Supervisor classification personnel are NOT protected by the NLRA and cannot vote in any election. Employee classification personnel ARE protected by the Act and can vote in any election.
To further simplify, in a construction company the employees referred to in the NLRA are typically mechanics (journeyman) and apprentices. Foreman may or may not fall into the employee category depending on their actual duties. The fact that an individual is called a foreman has little or nothing to do with which category the individual fall into. Titles mean little when it comes to categorizing foreman. The NLRB makes this determination based on the actual function of the individual in question.

Ultimately, if the company has anything to say about it, whether are not foreman are included in the employee or supervisor groups depends on how much trouble the company is in and whether or not they need their foreman to lead or to vote. This decision is an important one!

The foreman is a key player in keeping the company union-free. A foreman with some people and supervisory skills is the single-most important element in the labor relations equation. A good one is worth his/her weight in gold. A bad one can undermine every positive thing the management is trying to do to keep the company open shop.
Foremen with poor supervisory skills will get a company organized in a heartbeat! It takes more than good technical skills to be a good supervisor. The best electrician does not necessarily make the best supervisor.
Choosing the right supervision is among the most critical labor relations decisions management must make. For the positive labor relations health of the company choose the foreman wisely and carefully.
No single decision is more critical in staying open shop and deterring union organizers and union organizing campaigns.
We have stated that employees have the right to form, join, or assist labor organizations as guaranteed by the NLRA.
If those rights are violated by the employer or it is alleged those rights have been violated the employer may be guilty of a violation of the NLRA called an UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICE.

There are five different classifications for Unfair Labor Practices but the two types most frequently applied to the union organizing situation are Section 8(a)1 and Section 8(a)3 violations. Further,

Section 8(a)1- Unfair Labor Practice charges:
It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

These are so called “TIPS-related” charges. TIPS being an acronym for:

More detail on TIPS later. Most often, these campaign conduct charges do not involve a monetary remedy but can be very serious and result in an overturned election (even if the employer wins) if a pattern of misconduct can be proved against the employer.
Section 8(a)3 - Unfair Labor Practice charges allege:
It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization (abbreviated).
These are the money charges! If employer discharges a union sympathizer (or inside organizer), or forces them to quit or in any other way affect their tenure (duration) of employment back-pay liabilities may attach meaning that the employer may have to pay the individual a monetary remedy. This can be very expensive.
This type of charge is also applied in failure to hire situations that have been common among electrical contractors in recent years. These charges are erroneously but frequently called “salting” charges.
The bottom line is that if the employer discriminates against a union sympathizer the Section 8(a)3 charge is not far behind.

The filing of these unfair labor practice charges is part of the normal campaign conduct of the IBEW’s tactical organizing plan. If the employer runs the most pristine campaign ever run there will still be unfair labor practices filed by this union. Their purpose is two-fold being to intimidate the employer and to present a law-breaker image of the employer to the NLRB so maybe if the union loses the election the NLRB will think that so many violations have occurred and order a new election. The NLRB’s threshold of proof to file a charge is very low and little or no proof is required when the charge is filed. The truth of the charge will be investigated over the next weeks and months. Also, the union wants the employer to spend a lot of money defending the company and hope that will be an intimidating factor.

The IBEW will throw everything at the employer but the kitchen sink and sometimes the sink is included.
The challenge is to run the best campaign you can. Play by the rules and don’t take any stupid risks.
Remember TIPS!
NOTE: TIPS rules are especially important during a union organizing campaign.
Example: Don’t tell an employee that if he/she doesn’t quit supporting the union that they will be fired. 8(a)1 and possibly 8(a)3 violation
Example: Are you (employee) supporting the union? Do you (employee) know who is going to the union meetings? Do you (employee) know who signed authorization cards? Why are you (employee) supporting the union? 8(a)1 violation

Example: (Employer) I will give everybody here a $2/hour raise if we beat the union in the election. If you will quit supporting the union, I will make you the next foreman and give you a $5 raise. I will close this company if the union gets into this company! 8(a)1, possibly 8(a)3 violation and most of these examples will get the employer a re-ordered election from the NLRB even if the company won the first election.
Example: An employer hanging around outside the union meeting to see which of his employees would attend the meeting. A foreman who routinely leaves the jobsite for lunch but starts having lunch with the crew when he learns union organizing has begun. (past practice), 8(a)1 violation
Use your God-given common sense and you will be OK. Don’t get intimidated and be afraid to say anything. That is exactly what the union wants you to do. If the employer shuts up and is afraid to communicate the union has already won…cancel the election!

The law clearly allows you to communicate with your employees. There is another section of the National Labor Relations Act that is appropriate to share with you at the time.

The National Labor Relations Act - Section 8(c) states:
The expressing of any views, argument, or opinion, or dissemination thereof, whether in written, printed, graphic, or visual form, shall not constitute or be evidence of an unfair labor practice under any of the provisions of this Act, if such expression contains no threat of reprisal or force or promise of benefit.
Lovely words! This simply means that you can legally communicate with your employees in almost any form as long as your communication does not contain a threat, coercion, or promise of benefit. (Remember TIPS!)
Personal note: In my career I have been involved in hundreds of union organizing campaigns and have incurred thousands of unfair labor practices but never once have I had the NLRB order a new election. I tell you this only to emphasize that the IBEW will file charges no matter how “clean” you are. They are trying to intimidate! Just know the basic rules, don’t do anything really stupid and legally you are going to be OK.

But also never forget that the object to the whole campaign exercise is to win the election.
Following are some examples of what might be considered acceptable or unacceptable activity by management/supervisors:

  1. Do not ask employees at the time of hiring or thereafter whether they belong to a union or have signed a union application or authorization card.

  2. Do not ask employees for an expression of their thoughts about a union.

  3. Do not ask employees about the internal affairs of unions such as meetings, etc.; but some employees may on their own walk up and tell you of such matters. You may listen but should not ask questions to obtain additional information.

  4. Do not urge employees to try to persuade others to oppose the union or stay out of it.
  5. Do not discriminate against the employees who actively support the union by assigning undesirable work to them.

  6. Do not discipline or penalize the employees who actively support a union for an infraction which non-union employees are permitted to commit without being disciplined.

  7. Do not intentionally assign work or transfer employees so that those active in behalf of the union are separated from those you believe are not supporting the union.

  8. Do not make any work assignment for the purpose of causing employees who have been active on behalf of the union to quit their jobs.

  9. Do not take any action that impairs the status of or adversely affects an employee’s job or pay because of his activity on behalf of the union.

  10. Do not transfer any employees because of union affiliation.

  11. Do not engage in any partiality favoring non-union employees active in behalf of the union.

  12. Do not select employees to be laid off with the intention of curbing the union’s strength or to discourage affiliation with it.

  13. Do not threaten or actually discharge, discipline or lay-off any employee because of activities in behalf of the union.

  14. Do not make statements to the employees to the effect that they will be discharged or disciplined if they are active in behalf of the union.

  15. Do not threaten loss of jobs, reduction of income, discontinuance of any privileges or benefits presently enjoyed, or use of any intimidating language that may be designed to influence an employee in the exercise of his right to belong or refrain from belonging to a union.

  16. Do not threaten a third party any of the foregoing acts of interference.

  17. Do not make a statement that you will not deal with the union.

  18. Do not promise employees a pay increase, promotion, betterment, benefit or special favor if they stay out of the union or vote against it.

  19. Do not conduct yourself in a way that would indicate to the employees that you are watching them to determine whether or not they are participating in union activities.

  20. Do not spy on union meetings such as parking across the street from the union hall to watch employees entering the hall.

  21. Do not visit the home of employees for the purpose of urging then to reject the union.

  22. Do not ask employees how they intend to vote in the National Labor Relations Board elections.

  23. Do not prevent employees from soliciting other employees to join the union during their free time on company premises so long as they both are not supposed to be performing their assigned work. This includes free time such as breaks and lunch.

  24. Do not help employees to withdraw their membership from the union.

  25. Do not take any part in the preparation or circulation of anti-union petitions.

  26. Do not prohibit employees from wearing union buttons or insignia or from displaying union buttons or insignia on their personal belongings.


  1. Emphasize to the employees the benefits that they presently enjoy that may not be available under a new union contract.

  2. Tell employees that you or any other management members are always willing to discuss with them any subject of interest to them.

  3. Tell employees that you and the company prefer to deal with them directly rather than through an outside organization regarding problems arising day-to-day.

  4. Tell employees about their legal rights.

  5. Tell employees that merely signing a union authorization card or application for membership does not mean that they must vote for the union in an election.
  6. Tell employees that they are free to join or not to join any organization without prejudice to their status with the company.

  7. Tell employees that the company opposes the principle of compulsory union membership.

  8. Distribute articles containing information about unions or facts revealed through congressional hearings.

  9. Actually campaign against a union seeking representation of your employees.

  10. Enforce company rules impartially and in accordance with customary action, irrespective of the employee’s membership or activity in a union.

  11. Tell employees that no union can make a company agree to anything it does not wish to or to pay any more than it is willing to do.

  12. Tell employees about known racketeering, communist participation or other undesirable activities in the union, only tell established facts.

  13. Tell employees that the local union will probably be dominated by the International Union.

  14. Tell employees about any misleading or untrue statements made by an organizer, by handbills or any medium of union propaganda and give the employees the correct facts.

  15. Tell employees about any experience you may have had with unions.

  16. Tell employees anything you know about any union or its officers.

  17. Tell employees your opinion on union policies and union leaders, even though in uncomplimentary terms.

  18. Tell employees of the disadvantages that may result from belonging to a union such as loss of income because of strikes, requirement to serve on a picket line, expense of dues, fines and assessments.

  19. Tell employees that the law permits the company to hire permanent replacement for anyone who engages in an economic strike.

  20. Tell employees about the National Labor Relations Board election procedures, the importance of voting and the secrecy of the ballot.

Think you understand about unfair labor practices yet? Go to the Appendix and take the Unfair Labor Practice Quiz (answers included). Good Luck!!!

Winning a union election is only second best! Truly winning is never having an election at all!
Preventive Labor Relations is simply a program of proactive labor relations policies and initiatives implemented within the company to thwart or mitigate the damage from union interference. Preventive Labor Relations programs/initiative are used to foster a positive labor relations climate with the company that also yields better productivity, cost reduction, and an overall better work environment for all employees of the company.
Preventive Labor Relations is a bastard child in most companies! Few owners bother to do anything about their labor relations until the union shows up at their doorstep.
This is especially unfortunate because if management of most companies had of exercised a little strategic thinking and implemented a Preventive Labor Relations program, the union probably would have never shown up on their doorstep. This is certainly true from the union organizing perspective.
There is one thing for certain! When the contractor has to engage the union, the price of poker is going to get very expensive!
Prevention is the only way to be truly effective against union interference whether it be in the employment (hiring) process or the union organizing campaign. Oh, it feels great to win that election against the union until you realize what it has cost you in loss productivity and disruption not to mention the thousands and thousands of dollars spent to win the election. Not included are the more thousands you will spend on fighting the unfair labor practices generated during the union campaign. Even after the contractor wins the election the IBEW is not going to let him loose! And the paying can go on for years and years!

With a sound Preventive Labor Relations program implemented at your company, you never let the union get a toehold in your company. The beauty of this approach is that it is centered on management practices that you implement and manage yourself. Therefore, there is little or no cost involved. The ultimate goal is to never have to face an IBEW organizing drive or other related union problems.

Following are some of the key elements of a solid Preventive Labor Relations program for a construction company that should be implemented at any construction company:

You do not have to be a labor lawyer. This is not rocket science at the basic level. Key points:

  • Employee have the right to organize (before/after work, lunch, & breaks)

  • Inside organizers (your employees) are protected by law/Out-side organizers (union business agents, non-employee organizers, etc. are generally not protected

  • It is a violation of the law the threaten, interrogate, promise benefit or spy of employees lawfully exercising they right organize (see bullet one above)

  • As long as you do not violate the point above, you are free to express your opinion and make statements about the union as you see fit. It is very important that you do communicate with your employees on the union matter.

  • Union must get at least 30% of your employees signed up (authorization cards) to get an election

  • Union must get 50% + 1 vote of those employees voting to win the election

  • The IBEW will file unfair labor practice charges against the contractor no matter how clean a campaign the contractor runs


  • Knowledge is Power! Obtain good intelligence on the local with jurisdiction for your area

We do an incredibility poor job knowing the enemy. Each chapter should maintain a file that contains at minimum the following:

  • Federal Labor-Management – 2 forms (LM-2) – complete detail, including financial on any union. Available at: (This is the U.S. Dept. of Labor, not the NLRB.)

  • Current and past union contract

  • Union by-laws

  • Tendencies file (who have they tried to organize and how did they do it?)

  • Complete history of all elections and petitions, and attempts to organize

  • Develop and Implement a Formal, Written Employment Procedure

This is to protect the contractor for the most expensive type of unfair labor practices. Even one of these charges for failure to hire a union member or supporter can cost you thousands. Several can cost you millions!

Let your paper (policy/procedure) speak for you. If you think you can convince a NLRB investigator that you didn’t do anything unlawful using your charm, common sense, and good looks, you have got a rude awaking on your horizon.
If you have a legally based policy/procedure that you follow consistently, you will be well on your way to winning.
Remember, the basis for most labor law is consistency!

  • Do not let employment (hiring) drive your company

    • You many need people but do you need an organizing drive because you made quick judgments

    • Think! Remember the math- only 30% to get an election

      • Develop trust- if they like you they will never vote against you!

      • Maintain adequate tools, material, and equipment for your

Nothing frustrates a workforce more than not having the tools to do the job. Frustration leads to anger and anger to vulnerability to the union sales pitch.

  • Create “emotional ownership” in the company

Emotional ownership in a company is a very big deal for the employees of any company and a major weapon in fighting the union. The union is trying to convince your employees that if they join the union the union will “take care of them”, guarantee them a future, and protect them from the management of the company. You must beat them to the punch! You convince your employees that they don’t have to have a union to get all of those things. Show them they have a future, that you care about their future, and you will take care of them. IT IS NOT ABOUT WAGES, FOLKS!!!

  • Favoritism

Nothing will destroy your company quicker than favoritism or perceived favoritism. A manager can destroy all credibility by seeming to favor one employee or group of employees over others. This issue will be more union card signed than any other because you are messing with an individual’s “self worth.” Be very careful here. Think how each and every decision will be perceived by all employees. And you know nothing you do is secret.

  • Talk to your people about the company position on unions

You would be amazed at how many union campaigns I see get started after the employees fall prey to the organizers pitch that “ the owners don’t care if you sign the card” or “ this card is just to get a vote.” You can still vote against the union if you don’t want one.” Remember, if the union doesn’t get 30%, the petition never gets filed and the formal organizing campaign never commences.

  • Do not have an obsessive, narrow-minded focus on wages

and benefits as the key to good employee relations
As I have previously stated, I have been involved in over 160 union campaigns. In the final analysis, wages and/or benefits were not primary issues in any of these campaigns. IT AIN’T ABOUT WAGES, FOLKS!!!

  • Know the composition and dynamics of your work force

    • Typically, 80% of the union’s support is most often from employees who have been with the company less than 1 year or from 1st or 2nd year apprentices

    • Remember the math! (30% for election; 50% + 1 vote to win)

  • Unqualified supervision will kill you!

We are talking foreman. It is frequently said that when employees step into the voting booth in a union election. They are not voting for or against the company as much as for or against their supervisor.

Poor, unqualified supervisors cause elections or can win elections. This is a fact based on my experience.

  • Recognize that labor relations is a management function not

a legal function and requires attention like all of the other

management functions in your company.

  • Don’t get caught up in the “I don’t have union problems”

Of course, you don’t have union problems but duh, no contractor has union problems until they have union problems for heaven sakes.
A more appropriate question then is “am I vulnerable to union problems?”

I am sorry to say that the majority of you are vulnerable and I know this because I have over 400 contractor clients and I get many, many calls from contractors who are in serious trouble. They didn’t have any union problems either… until they had them of course.

So now, we have given you a basic road map to protect your company from the IBEW’s organizing initiative. If you implement these Management Practices…you are going to be O.K. If not, you can do nothing, wait, and gamble. But according to President Hill of the IBEW, the price of poker is going to get a lot higher soon.
It matters little what the union is offering your employees.
What matters most is personal leadership or simply put, whether or not your employees believe in and respect you as a leader who cares about their well being and livelihood. They must feel you have their best interest at heart.
And this most basic premise goes right to the heart and soul of whom you think you are and the perception your employees have of you.
If these two perceptions are parallel and positive, your company will be a tough nut for the union to handle and the union will turn its attack on a weaker sister (company).
If the contrary is true, you are going to have a lot of problems and you will probably lose in the end!
In the final analysis, if your employees really like and respect you they will never vote against you!

Any company that gets a union deserves it…and they get the type of union they deserve.”

Section v


(including correct answer sheet)
What can you do? What can’t you do?

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