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A Recruiting Strategy to Counter the Threat of Unions and the EFCA

by Jan 26, 2009, 6:45 am ET

The recruiting function is constantly looking for ways to improve its business impact and unfortunately, just such an opportunity is about to hit them right in the face.

By now, everyone’s most likely heard of the impending Employee Freedom of Choice Act that will make unionization significantly easier.

As a recruiting professional, have you contemplated what role recruiting can play in maintaining a “union-free” environment at your organization?

Think about it! What better way to ensure that an organization will remain union-free than changing the recruiting, branding, and hiring process so that your organization is more likely to attract new hires who naturally (without any direct influence from management) wouldn’t want to join a union?

Hiring For Tendencies Is a Common Practice

It is common to design recruiting and hiring processes to select individuals with certain mindsets or behavioral tendencies.

Southwest Airlines, for example, has been written up in numerous books and articles for how they successfully attract and hire individuals who naturally behave and act in a certain way. In the case of Southwest, its hiring process targets candidates who naturally put the needs of the individual customer before their own.

Southwest is not alone. A range of organizations, from the FBI to Disney and Google, have all designed recruiting processes that identify and hire individuals prone to certain behaviors and actions. So why not adapt that recruiting concept to focus on individuals who prefer an independent work environment?

The Time to Act Is Now

Now is the opportune time to act before union-related publicity increases to the point where the spotlight is continually on any union-avoidance activities and while most recruiting functions are facing a reduced hiring load.

Rarely do recruiting leaders have as much time as they have now to strategize and to reengineer their processes.

The goal is to redesign your recruiting and hiring processes in order to improve the chances of attracting and hiring individuals who, when given a choice, have a higher probability of selecting independence over “big brother” group action (i.e., unionization).

Don’t Have A Cow

Upfront, you need to realize that it’s ok for management to resist unionization. Most firms rely primarily on the “traditional approach” which focuses heavily on anti-union propaganda campaigns among existing workers.

However, there’s no reason why that approach can’t be supplemented by an effective recruiting campaign that proactively acts “on the front end” before workers are even hired.

Now, I’m not suggesting even for a minute that you go out and purposely hire only “union hating” new employees, because that actually would be illegal.

What I am suggesting is that recruiting can make a major contribution in maintaining your workforce’s flexibility and competitiveness by revising your firm’s employment processes so that they now include elements that “naturally” attract more independent-thinking workers.

Incidentally, I started my working career as a card-carrying union member and now as a professor, am currently represented by a union, so don’t automatically assume that I don’t understand the value unions can provide.

However, I would remind you that as an HR employee, if your executives choose to go down the “maintain a non-union environment road,” it’s your responsibility to make sure that recruiting makes a substantial contribution to that effort.

Start With Market Research

After getting management’s approval for the overall concept and strategy, identify the types of personalities, demographic groups, and regional locations where you’re likely to find a large percentage of “independent thinkers.”

Work with psychologists, sociologists, and market researchers in order to identify the types of individuals and the “traits” that are common among independent thinkers. After you better understand what it takes to excite and attract them, refocus your recruiting process and materials.

Refocus Your Employment Brand

The next step is to shift your “employment brand message” so that it better highlights the elements of working at your firm that would get the attention of your target candidates. That could include emphasizing the fact that your firm excels in flexibility and allowing your employees to make independent decisions.

In reverse, remember that an over emphasis on security, seniority, and great benefits in your branding campaign might actually attract individuals that prefer a unionized environment, where those features are often heralded.

But branding your organization with characteristics you cannot possibly deliver and have no intention of attempting to deliver will do more harm than good.

If you want to remain union-free and the employer attributes most likely to attract and retain a workforce committed to that status are not attributes that characterize your organization, you may just need to change!

Recruitment Advertising

Work with your recruitment advertising agency and vendors to see if they can help you in repositioning your recruiting collateral so that it focuses on attracting the type of individuals that you are now targeting.

The content of your ads, positioning of your ads, and your position descriptions as well might also have to be modified so that they better attract a more desirable target audience. A little research can help you find out whether you are more likely to find a higher percentage of your target candidates in specific demographic groups, age groups, geographic regions, etc.

Screening Processes

Tread lightly in this area, because you don’t ever want to directly confront the issue of whether applicants are pro-union. All you can reasonably expect to accomplish in the assessment area is to “screen in” a larger percentage of individuals who have characteristics and traits that make them both great workers and a preference for remaining independent.

There are, of course, numerous vendors that specialize in hiring for “fit,” so work with them to see if they have valid and legal ways to target your “assessment” toward traits that are shared both by excellent workers and by individuals with independent leanings.

One of the biggest complaints unionized labor voices about being in a union is that negotiated work standards and seniority-based pay systems are not fair. Focusing your assessment efforts to identify individuals who have historically been frustrated with organizations that define equitable as equal could be a good start. Of course, only if your organization doesn’t do that as well.

Other Employment-Related Approaches

Here are additional actions to consider:

  • Increase the percentage of your workforce classified as contingent workers. Not only are contractors easier to release, working with them for a period of time makes it easier to assess whether they “fit” your independent-minded profile before you act to convert them.
  • Re-design your employee referral program so that it educates your workforce about the types of behaviors and personalities that you’re now targeting.
  • Begin targeting your recruiting at specific firms that are known for attracting and retaining employees that have a long history of independence.
  • Work with consulting and law firms that specialize in maintaining a “union-free environment” to better understand best practices and what other approaches may be acceptable under the law.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re facing unionization efforts or not, focus your recruiting efforts on these independent-minded workers because the traits they possess might by themselves be valuable to the business. Their willingness to try new things and to innovate is likely to be higher than many recruits.

If you’re going to act, now’s the time, before labor laws and policies change to make it more difficult to use recruiting as another “union-free environment” maintenance tool. If you are looking for an opportunity to act strategically and outside the box, this is it.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • Laurie Ruettimann

    Yeah, let’s put time and energy into hiring independent employees who just happen to dislike unions. Yup, let’s hire people like us: those who believe in the father-knows-best, paternalistic tendencies of companies.

    * Let’s not hire employees who challenge the status quo and push our organization to new heights. We’ll succeed by avoiding friction!

    * Why don’t we avoid hiring employees who disagree with us and stop trying to hire people who may otherwise compensate for our intellectual deficits?

    * Let’s craft an employee workforce that thinks a certain way, acts a certain way, and holds specific beliefs that are parallel to our sacred values.

    Yup, Dr. Sullivan, you nailed it.

  • Keith Halperin

    As I mentioned in my response to Jessica Lee’s recent ERE article, I view the possible passage of EFCA and other pro-worker legislation as a beginning of the rollback of the tide of harmful pro-business legislation over the past quarter century, during which we have seen the stagnation of wages and earning power for ordinary Americans, the loss of health and pension benefits to additional millions, and a great increase in the economic inequality of the American Economy. Whatever problems may have been caused by organizations representing individuals typically earning under $50,000 and working in corporations, they pale in comparison with the losses generated by the organizations representing those typically earning more than $200,000 per year and running the corporations- look where decades of a self-regulating, winner-take-all economic policy have gotten us. Does anyone actually believe that we would now have the modest wage-and-hour, health-and-safety, and anti-discrimination policies we possess through the actions of the “free market”? If you do, I have a nice international orange suspension bridge to sell- bargain price. The market is a great tool for creating wealth, but not so good at making sure everyone has enough or is treated fairly. I personally look forward to supporting a government that works toward making sure no one gets left behind.

    IMHO, it all comes down to power- “countervailing power”:
    Balancing of the market power of one group by that of another group. For example, market power of manufacturers may be balanced by the market power of retailers, and vice versa. Concept of countervailing power was proposed by the US economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) in his 1952 book ‘American Capitalism.’

    I interpret this to mean that if we want to avoid any groups (business, labor, government, churches, organized crime, etc.) from becoming too powerful, we need other powerful groups competing against them, and that we all benefit from this balanced competition. We’re now in the painful process of seeing what happens when this isn’t the case.

    Keith Halperin,

    Former Member, SMWIA Local #359, Tucson, AZ
    Son of NEA Chapter President, Portales, NM
    Nephew of UFT Organizer, NYC, NY

  • http://www.jessicaleewrites.com jessica lee

    i think this is a great, positive, pro-active approach to combating organizing efforts, and addressing the EFCA. in this spirit, i think employers should also consider how are they giving their employees a voice. organizing campaigns arise when people are disgruntled and frustrated and by in large, a lot of this has to do with an utter lack of communication or really poor communication. by making sure your staff have a voice and being keenly attuned + what you write about, i think it could make a heckuva difference. thanks for writing about the issue from this angle.

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