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Poll Shows More Employees Receptive to Union Representation

  • September 15, 2002

Americans are worried about the economy and their jobs, skeptical about corporate America in the wake of months of scandal, and more open than ever to joining unions, according to an independent, national survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO. For the first time since 1984 (when the AFL-CIO first asked) 50 percent of workers who don't already have a union say they would join a union tomorrow if given the chance. That number is up from 42 percent since last year.

The survey -- commissioned by the AFL-CIO -- was conducted by telephone among a representative sample of 800 adults and another100 non-managerial workers. According to the survey, workers today view unions more favorably than they have in the past two decades, with 50 percent of nonunion workers saying they wanted to join a union. Among those surveyed, 39 percent expressed negative views of large corporations, up from 25 percent last year, and 58 percent had a negative view of CEOs.

Labor experts say these numbers reflect a critical turn in the beliefs of workers that union representation is necessary to safeguard them from the excesses of corporate executives and the brunt of economic downturns. Labor leaders have used the Enron and WorldCom cases to persuade workers that a union would have been able to negotiate better pensions and severance benefits, and might have been able to press for more honest accounting and reporting methods.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, "People are angry that they're losing their savings to a corrupt corporate system they thought they could trust. That's why more Americans than ever say they would join a union tomorrow to improve their lives if given the chance."

Meanwhile, supported by the AFL-CIO, former WorldCom employees have asked the bankruptcy court overseeing the WorldCom proceedings to grant the company's request for permission to pay all remaining severance benefits owed to the13,000 workers who were laid off. They also have asked for lump sum payments, extended health benefits, and assistance with pay and personnel records to use in job searches.

Many employees, particularly younger workers, supervisors and managers, have had no real experience with a union and may not be informed about the costs, commitment, obligations, and restrictions of union membership. Employers may want to consider an educational initiative to give employees the appropriate context within which to view the attempts of organized labor to capitalize on the current climate of employee distrust and skepticism. Now is an excellent time for management training on the basics of unionization, the rights of employers and employees, the practical effects of dealing day-to-day with a union, and the identification of the early warning signs of organizing activity.

Employee relations are especially sensitive in a climate of corporate distrust. Employers are likely to see more employees with complaints about benefits, wages, personnel procedures, and generalized concerns about how they are treated. Identifying the areas of employee relations vulnerability and remediating the weaknesses are critical steps in working towards the goal of an issue-free workplace.

For the past 45 years, Jackson Lewis has advised employers on the benefits of positive employee relations and human resource practices. Through preventive training and vulnerability audits, Jackson Lewis has been able to help companies establish best practices, achieve employee relations goals, and preserve the rights of management.

©2002 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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