June 20, 2018
The Carolinas remain the least unionized region in the United States. New jobs continue coming to the area’s employee-friendly environment. By contrast, unions are struggling to retain current members and to recruit new ones. Their fight for survival and relevance in today’s economy has fueled new tactics, as shown by recent union activity in the Carolinas.
Unions remain a service provider; their primary service is collective bargaining. They shape and re-package that service in various ways, attempting to attract employee interest or support. The problem—for the unions—is that the vast majority of employees apparently do not want or need this service being sold by unions, as reflected by extremely low unionization percentages in the Carolinas ranging from about 2-3% of the private sector workforce.
Given the unions’ situation, they are using various strategies to recruit new members. The following are some examples demonstrated recently in the Carolinas.
Unions have broad, initial discretion to seek support within one group of employees or another. They typically aim to represent as many employees within a facility as possible, excluding supervisors and a few other categories. Basic math generally supports their goal: more unionized employees can mean more dues money for the union. On the other hand, for strategic reasons, unions sometimes seek to carve off a narrow group of employees, a “micro-unit,” and designate them as a separate, smaller bargaining unit. This strategy was recently used in the Carolinas following multiple failed attempts to unionize an entire site.
The legal standard governing micro-units is evolving. During the prior Administration, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) made it easier to create micro-units. Under the new Administration, the NLRB standard is returning to a more balanced approach that considers the interests of all employees, both those within the requested unit as well as those a union seeks to exclude. Through the litigation process, the NLRB will review whether its new standard is being properly applied by the various NLRB Regional Offices, including the one that recently approved the preliminary designation of a micro-unit at a Carolina employer.
In the past, unions sought to generate employee interest or support through various in person meetings such as at union halls, cookouts, or door-to-door visits. Those still occur, but unions increasingly rely on social media to recruit new members. Union websites and social media pages offer marketing materials and even supply electronic versions of union authorization cards. During the prior Administration, the NLRB welcomed the use of electronic union cards and established minimum guidelines for electronically signing the cards. Unions are using social media and electronic union cards during union campaigns in the Carolinas.
Unions are using other ways to unionize employees in the Carolinas. For example, unions have prompted employees, by sector (such as fast food workers), to stage public demonstrations in cities. Also, at least one union in the Carolinas has used boycotts and legal action in attempt to foster unionization.
With unionization rates at an all-time low in the Carolinas, unions are resorting to various ways to recruit new members. Non-union employers in the Carolinas should keep up-to-date about their legal rights and remain mindful of the latest union tactics.
Our Insights are published as a service to clients and friends. They are intended to be informational and do not constitute legal advice regarding any specific situation.