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Union Busting – The Legal Way

By March 21, 2017November 5th, 2019Employment Law, Practice Management

You’ve heard about how bad unionization is.  You are told that more and more dental offices are becoming unionized.  And, you’re scared.

Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Here are some practical tips on how to avoid unionization at your dental practice or how to deal with staff if they start talking about unionization without landing yourself in hot water.

Pay and Culture

Think of your employees as assets, not liabilities.  They make your business run smoothly and many patients return because of them.  So, what’s the best way to treat your employees? Well here are some tips:

  • Pay your employees fairly and competitively.  When deciding on how much to pay an employee, think about industry standards and about how much is a fair living wage for someone in the position you are hiring for. Also know that paying above-average rates may mean that you attract and keep above-average employees.
  • Promote a culture of fairness at the practice by treating everyone equally.  If you clearly favour one employee over another and treat them much better, pay them better, give them better benefits, more time off, etc. the ones who are left out will notice; and they will begin to feel outcast; and they will begin to  resent you. The inevitable result: job dissatisfaction.
  • Provide for an effective complaint and investigation procedure where employees have an outlet for their grievances.  By giving employees a chance to be heard you are essentially validating their  emotions which is a cornerstone to job satisfaction and employee morale.

Communication Before Organization Effort

Communication with your employees is absolutely vital at every stage of the game.  And before there is even whispers about unionization you have to ensure your employees are informed and feel like they are heard:

  • Explain unpopular decisions (because inevitably, you’ll have to make some of these).  Don’t just spring bad news on employees and tell them “because I said so”.  That’s old school boss mentality and it won’t get you any brownie points with the staff.  Your staff are human and if you explain the reasoning behind your unpopular decision, they will, 99% of the time, understand and eventually become accepting.
  • Be caring and compassionate.  If an employee needs some extra TLC, give it to them (but be careful, doing this all the time could be seen as playing favourites!).  For example, if an employee informs you that they are ill and cannot attend work for a few days, don’t simply ask for a doctor’s note and end it there, even though you are legally entitled to it.  Ask if they are OK.  Ask if there is anything you can do to help (within reason).  In other words, be human.  Be kind.
  • Listen to your employees when they have something to say. To dismiss employee opinions off hand is to invalidate them and it shows them that you don’t have respect for what they have to say. So, for example, if you are instituting a new procedure and you don’t want an employee’s opinion, or if you don’t intend to take employee advice on the procedure, it doesn’t matter – just listen. Then you can explain why you are proceeding the way you are and ask them nicely to comply.  Plus, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that your employees have good ideas too from time to time!

Communication After Organization Effort

If you find yourself in the unenviable position of having your employees begin to organize, then there are still measures you can take to try and dissuade unionization which don’t involve the illegal tactics of “union busting”:

  • Assure your employees that their status (union or non-union) will not affect their positions. Assure them that, even though you may not agree with it, you will respect their legal right to unionize, if they so choose, and that their positions are safe.
  • Union organizers may use scare tactics and untrue statements to persuade employees to unionize.  Correct any untrue or misleading statements made by the union or employees who are pro-union.  Providing facts or correcting misleading facts is not illegal.
  • Ask questions about the nature of employees’ dissatisfaction and lay the groundwork for addressing future concerns. But be careful it is illegal to grant benefits if doing so may affect the vote or appear to be in any way a persuasion to vote against unionization.
  • Provide your employees with some facts about unions generally which may dissuade them from joining such as the perils of strikes, lock-outs, paying union dues, etc.
  • Some specific unions have poor track records. Giving your employees the facts about the particular union may dissuade them from joining.  For example, some unions (which will remain unnamed here) have used uncouth tactics to persuade employees to unionize, they have forced themselves on employers and employees in ways that are unwelcome.  Telling these stories may strike a chord with employees and make them think twice about who they are getting in bed with.

You might think that most of this is common sense.  And it is, for the most part, but even the nicest and most well meaning dentists may have trouble managing their employees in a way that avoids unionization. Navigating unionization (before and after a unionization vote) is tricky business.

Please note that the information provided herein is not legal advice and is provided for informational and educational purposes only. If you have any questions about unionization or need advice about your rights/responsibilities as an employer, please contact us today – we are your legal dental team.

DMC