Management

Think Your CNC Shop is too Small for a Union? Think Again.

August 29, 2014

UnionWorkers.pngIf yours is a large manufacturing company you may well deal with a union. If not, you most likely have created a work environment in which the employees don’t feel the need to belong to a collective bargaining organization.

On the other hand, if yours is a small CNC machine shop, you may not give much thought to employee unions. You may even believe that, because of your small size, your employees can’t be unionized. That’s a mistake – potentially a big one.

According to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), it takes no more than 2 employees to form a bargaining unit to protect their rights in the workplace and collectively negotiate with their employer about salaries, benefits, and working conditions. Once two or more employees start down this path there is little the employer can do to stop the activity. Forming a union is protected by the NLRA so employees engaged in this venture cannot legally be disciplined or terminated.

Those engaged in forming a union must, of course, be direct employees of your company, not independent contractors. Supervisors, managers, and executives are usually excluded as well. However, you can’t simply give everyone a managerial title or declare them to be independent contractors to avoid unionization. The National Labor Relations Board and the IRS establishes criteria an employer must meet to classify workers in one of these categories.

If you don’t have a union in your shop and prefer not to see one formed, there are a few important steps you can take to minimize the risk:

  1. First and foremost, compensate your employees fairly. Unions typically happen because the employees feel that they are being abused or taken advantage of. Are you paying competitive wages? Is your benefits package in line with others in your market? Are your working conditions up to par? If not, either you are likely to turnover employees regularly, or you could be ripe for unionization.
  1. Look out for the health and safety of your employees. Smart CNC shops invest in good, reliable equipment with built-in safety features, and then maintain it properly. Providing adequate ventilation, installing mist collectors and tramp oil removal systems help keep the air clean and the factory floors free of oil. Making sure everyone has and uses proper safety equipment such as hearing and vision protection is also essential.
  1. Listen and act. We all need to be heard when we have a concern, and we want to know that our issues are being addressed. That’s why it’s so important to create a culture that encourages employees to bring their problems and concerns to their supervisors. It’s equally important that the supervisors take appropriate action when warranted and inform the employee what was done to address the issue, even if it’s something that can’t be changed.
  1. Insist on civility. In today’s world there is simply no room for hostile workplaces. Gender, racial, religious or ethnic slurs, bullying or disrespect for sexual orientation cannot be tolerated.
  1. Document all employee issues. A disgruntled employee who was disciplined for legitimate reasons may attempt to rally others to consider establishing a union. Having the facts on your side may help to diffuse the situation.

Common sense and fair treatment of all employees, codified HR policies and procedures, and ethical behavioral standards clearly communicated to your workers can create an environment that makes unionizing unnecessary.