The name chosen by the group of labor unions that recently separated from the AFL-CIO reveals their plan and foreshadows the challenges to come. The so-called “Change To Win” coalition consists of several of the largest and most aggressive unions including the Teamsters, SEIU, UFCW, UNITE HERE, the Laborers, the Carpenters and the United Farm Workers. These unions currently represent nearly a third of all union members in the country, and in 2004, they filed nearly half of all NLRB election petitions. In addition, their win rate in these elections is daunting. Led by the SEIU, which won an amazing 75% of its elections in 2004, the unions in the Change to Win coalition together won nearly 60% of their NLRB elections. And the key reason for their departure from the AFL-CIO was a desire to dedicate more money and effort to organizing.

What does this union schism mean for employers – many of whom may have come to view labor unions as an afterthought? We predict the following:

  • An increase in union organizing in key sectors: The Coalition has stated it will dedicate to organizing the tens of millions of dollars in dues that used to go to the AFL-CIO. In addition, the unions in the Coalition have repeatedly expressed the need to cooperate and occupy the field in targeted sectors. Thus, employers in healthcare and facility maintenance services (SEIU), warehousing, distribution and transportation (Teamsters), food processing, grocery and retail (UFCW), hotels and restaurants (UNITE HERE), textiles and clothing (UNITE HERE), construction (Carpenters and Laborers) and food production (Farm Workers) can expect a significant increase in coordinated organizing activity.
  • A general increase in union organizing: For years, the AFL-CIO has had no competition for new members. With the Coalition as a “lean and mean” competitor that is not restricted by the AFL-CIO’s anti-raiding provisions, the remaining AFL-CIO unions will have to increase their own organizing efforts to compete. The construction, health care, food processing and hospitality industries are likely to experience this first. But unions that focus on other areas also will see renewed efforts as the UAW, Steelworkers/PACE, CWA, IBEW, AFSCME and other large and powerful AFL-CIO unions seek to protect their bases in manufacturing, government, call centers, services and construction.
  • Corporate and grassroots organizing tactics: The unions in the Coalition developed some of the most successful organizing strategies used by unions today. These and other creative efforts will continue. Corporate campaigns designed to pressure employers into neutrality or card check recognitions will increase. This may include consumer boycotts, negative publicity campaigns, international pressure from foreign unions/governments on employers owned by foreign entities, internet and email blasts, lawsuits and governmental investigations (e.g., OSHA, DOL and EEOC), and shareholder resolutions. Grassroots efforts designed to create a “class warfare” mentality, such as those pioneered by the SEIU and UNITE HERE, also are likely to be used. By hiring dedicated and aggressive organizers and focusing on an increasing immigrant population in certain sectors, minority and women’s issues, and the reported gap between the “working class” and “wealthy,” the Coalition is likely to seek the support of community groups, religious organizations, and politicians to create a union movement modeled after the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
  • Coordinated and intensified bargaining: Employers with unions, particularly those in economic sectors occupied by the Coalition, are likely to see increased difficulties in collective bargaining as Coalition members seek to “raise the floor” for members. Coordinated bargaining positions similar to those taken by UNITE HERE in hotels on the east and west coasts, the SEIU in hospitals and nursing homes in California, Connecticut, Nevada and the Southeast and the UFCW in grocery stores throughout the country will expand.

Due to the likely increase in union activity in the near future, we are advising all of our clients and professional and industry associations to take steps to prepare. These steps include:

Dust off your employee relations programs: The best method to avoid unionization is to maintain positive employee relationships and good HR practices. Forgotten or seldom-used incentive programs, open-door policies, grievance procedures, supervisor training initiatives and wage/benefits benchmarking programs should be reviewed and updated.

Conduct an employee relations audit: Employers in key economic and geographic areas and those who are partially unionized or have recently experienced union activity should evaluate areas of concern and vulnerability. Better to catch problems now than after being targeted for an organizing campaign.

Make sure management is prepared: Employers should incorporate employee-relations and union avoidance training into supervisory training programs. A good training program will raise awareness of the causes of unionization, and will teach supervisors about “warning signs” that an organizing drive has begun. It will also teach them about legal steps that they can take to resist an organizing effort.

Develop a formalized labor relations program: Employers and industries – especially “high-risk” ones, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels, and the construction, distribution, textile, and food processing industries -- should develop formalized labor relations programs so that, if targeted, a plan is in place to minimize response time.

"Change to Win” is just the beginning of a dramatic change in the union structure that has been in place since the 1970s. We expect to see more unions defect from the AFL-CIO, and others will probably merge and combine efforts to solidify their bases. In response, employers should take immediate efforts to evaluate their organizations and to protect themselves and their employees so that they do not become the “losers” in a confrontation with Change to Win.

Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLC has counseled employers, exclusively, on labor and employment law matters since 1946. The firm represents Fortune 500 corporations and small companies across the country. More than 100 lawyers work with clients to provide cost-effective legal services and sound preventive advice to enhance the employer-employee relationship. Offices are located in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Virginia, Missouri, and Texas. For more information about the firm's labor and employment services, visit www.constangy.com, or call toll free at 866-843-9555.

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