Protecting Employers Since 1985

Union Organizing–“This Is An Emergency!”

Nancy Joerg heard me talking on the phone with a client the other day. She liked the advice and asked me to write a commentary for our next Wessels Sherman Client Alert. The subject that I was discussing with a company president was one that doesn’t get much attention these days-union organizing.

Union organizing in the private sector is down dramatically. The numbers are startling. No more than a few decades ago, we saw about 8,000 union organizing petitions filed by labor unions across the country annually. (These are the traditional petitions to bring about an NLRB election.) Today the number is about 1,300 annually. For quite a few years, I have been writing about the reasons, and our readers are familiar with the undeniable factors at work. But, a new phenomenon has developed.

Now, when union organizing develops, it usually is really serious. Labor unions today simply don’t have lots of organizers out there pounding the pavement looking for new targets. They don’t have the money to do this. So, when there is organizing activity, it is usually the employees who have contacted the union, not the other way around. That’s trouble. Back in the days when union campaigns were far more frequent and unions were all over the place trying to stir up trouble, we tended to use a “watch and wait” strategy to see if there was any employee interest. We didn’t want to overreact. That’s questionable strategy today. If you are hearing union talk, it is serious. It is a call to action, not watch and wait.

What caught Nancy’s attention were my comments about recent really good responses by some of my clients. I related to the client tales of potentially tough union organizing campaigns nipped in the bud by swift decisive action. One company president was at the scene the same afternoon rumors were heard. Another, early the next morning. In both situations, all that was needed were meetings with employees and a good line of communication established. No illegal threats, promises or interrogation. Just plain old good communication. In talking with my concerned company president, I bemoaned the fact that all too many of my clients don’t understand and put a trip to the plant on the calendar for perhaps next week if they can get around to it. That’s too late.

My bias today is for swift and decisive action. Every time we have been able to get our client’s best communicator on the scene with a sense of urgency, the union talk is nipped in the bud. Sometimes it’s hardly more than showing the flag as they say. And, it can easily be done without running afoul of NLRB ground rules. When I ended the phone call, the company president was getting in the car for the hour long drive to the plant. I have every confidence that there will be no union organizing petition filed with this group!

Questions? Contact Dick Wessels in our St. Charles office at (630) 377-1554 or by email at

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