Businesses engage customers and clients online more than ever. Now, your online strategy needs to include a plan to combat union organizing. Unions have been ahead of the game on using social media and the internet to support their organizing campaigns. One of the reasons for that was the cost involved with the campaign. However, even small employers now have available to them powerful tools in the form of social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and micro-websites, that are either free or cost very little.
Employees are Demanding It.
While doing my share of labor work, I do quite of bit (and enjoy) trial work. I have seen how the frequency of life being conducted online and the use of smartphones and tablets has effected juries. Juries now demand some sort of visual interaction with the case. An attorney that uses technology (it could be as simple as a power point) to demonstrate her case to a jury not only is more engaging but appears better squared away than her adversary relying on paper documents, legal pads, and poster boards.
Moreover, while strictly prohibited, does anyone really think some jurors are not going home at night and googling the lawyers, the parties, and the issues in the case? Sure, the Judge rightfully warns jurors against the use of the internet to research anything about the case during trial – and that includes when they are home – that is like telling someone not to think about a polar bear sitting on the beach drinking a pina colada. Jurors – as many lawyers forget – are people. (No, I am not advocating setting up an online strategy for potential jurors who may google your case against the Judge’s instructions.)
Winning a union election (or any election) is like a jury trial. Its about persuasion. Your employees that will decide whether you become a unionized workplace are no different than jurors or voters in a political election. Your side must engage and persuade. Given the depth and breadth of political campaigns’ use of the internet and social media, which are just an uber-sophisticated version of a union organizing campaigns, it is surprising that more employers do not utilize the power of these vehicles to win an election. Can you imagine a modern political candidate conducting an election without the use of some online strategy?
Furthermore, employees are likely fact checking everything use say about the unionization effort during a captive audience meeting by going online. Employees are now doing their own independent research on the information both sides present to them. However, unlike jurors, they are not prohibited from doing so. In fact, employers that have the right social media and online tools in place should be encouraging employees to do so. Therein lies the tremendous opportunity for employers.
Captive Audience Meetings are Not Enough.
The old school approach to opposing a union organizing effort was fairly predicable. Employers would hold captive audience meetings, hope their employees paid attention, and discuss some aspect of the union that they think would cause an employee to vote No. Following the presentation, some employers would give the employee some literature to review on the topic. Employers would often use hokey handouts and play much maligned videos.
Captive audience meetings still play a role. However, their effectiveness is placed on steroids when combined with an online and social media strategy. At the conclusion of the meeting, employer should encourage employees to go online to learn more. Employees can convey an exponentially more amount of information using this combined approach. Employees can digest this information on their time and when they are ready to pay attention to it.
Employers need to remember the facts are on your side. The trick is getting the facts to employees.
What does the approach look like?
First, employers need to engage all of their employees on social media and provide them with the same information they are providing in the captive audience meetings. Nearly every employee is on some social media platform. Furthermore, they are not just using social media daily but several times daily. Social media is 100% free and it provides the employer the opportunity to personally engage with the employee and provide him or her with specific information they feel is important. If an employer does nothing else it should be to set up sites on Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter to engage employees. Of course, employers can’t just set it and forget it, they still must ENGAGE.
There is another benefit that comes with social media engagement. It can be used as a tool to gauge the strength of your opposition campaign. Polling or interrogating employees on how they intend to vote in an upcoming union election is an unfair labor practice. If severe enough it could cause an employer be directed to bargain with a union. So, you cannot conduct an online poll through social media of your employees thoughts on unionization.
However, social media can act as a sort of de facto poll. All social media tools have some sort of mechanism whereby the reader can “like” a post or follow your site. Social media tools also provide for a person to forward the post to his or her followers in the form of a re-tweet or re-post. Social media users can also comment on your posts. Likes, follows re-tweets, follows, and positive comments can provide an employer within invaluable data on the effectiveness of its campaign.
Second, employers need to set up a webpage that provides employees with information on all of the reasons why they should vote No. The webpage should have links where employees can find additional information about the union that is seeking to organize them. But website are expensive, right? Wrong. Several blog platforms (I recommend WordPress) are free. An employer could probably start an effective website dedicated to providing employees with information about the union for less than $100 and have it up and running in a few hours.
Again the key for these tools to be extremely effective is engaging users and generating great content. Therefore, employers need to dedicate someone to making sure employees are engaged through social media, that the right information is reaching these employees, and the webpage contents powerful content.
Beyond the Basics
Being present and engaging on social media and online are basic but effective. Employers looking to invest a bit more time and more (but not that much more) money can consider the following.
- Targeted Facebook ads. If you give Facebook a list of users they will target ads to them. I have seen this run as low $30 per month.
- Text messages. You can send your employees text messages with information about the campaign. Although, I would find these extremely annoying.
- Encourage employees to set up their own pages. While employers are prohibited from providing employees assistance in opposing the campaign, employers are free to encourage employees that oppose unionization to set up there own social media pages on Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter.
One final thing. The importance of using social media to engage employees is only going to grow with millennials entering the workforce. This generation was weened online. I have no data to support it but if you have a large younger workforce and you are not engaging employees online I bet you will lose a election 100% of the time.
Also, employers need to be careful with engagement. Providing employees with information is perfectly legal. However, if employers make certain comments to employees or what will happen if the employer becomes unionized, they could face an unfair labor practice charge. While the mediums have changed, the message needs to stay the same.