There’s been some speculation this week that with the Republicans picking up an important 41st seat in the Senate in 2009 (thus having enough votes to filibuster theorhetically), the prospects for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act have gone down, at least in the short term.  I’d add to that notion that proponents will have a tough time passing a bill in this economic climate that its opponents will say will hurt U.S. jobs. 

Two other considerations: Today’s unemployment numbers — while not that unexpected if you’ve been reading thcourtesy morgue file "factory" - NOT public domaine headlines — still sound and look bad.  In additiion, there has been negative publicity for unions arising out of the U.S. car makers rescue plan (though an interesting counter to this is suggested by this article.) 

But employers are fooling themselves if they think that this bill (or some form of it) will disappear. It may end up being delayed, but it is certainly not dead. Indeed, it may be modified significantly, to make it more palatable to the Senate.

What this means for employers is that they may have some more time to prepare for EFCA’s passage.  And employers who have not traditionally been targets of union organizing campaigns may find themselves unprepared.  Here are a few ideas to think about:

1.  Get HR Involved

  • Bad economic times and uncertainty in the workplaces create situations that unions may seek to take advantage of.  Laying off staff — particularly your front-line human resources employees — may only make matters worse.  Thus, educating your HR staff now about the bill should be among the top priorities.  
  • In doing so, review your current policies and practices to figure out where your vulnerabilities lay — and your strengths as well.  Perhaps you have a weak anti-solicitiation provision or a policy that allow for unfettered e-mail distributions.  And perhaps, your company would welcome a union.  Either way, take a broad look at your situation to determine whether your company is positioned to handle a union organizing campaign. 

2. Emphasize Compliance and Fairness

  • Make sure your HR staff AND your supervisors understand the importance of complying fully with applicable laws by treating employees fairly and in a non-discriminatory fashion.  Having prompt and effective communication is crucial in this process. In the absence of clear communications, employees will naturally insert rumor and speculation into it.   And don’t forget to educate your supervisors about the do’s and don’ts regarding unions.    Most importantly, make sure you aren’t creating legal issues where they shouldn’t exist; get outside counsel now to advise you on these types of issues and avoid potential pitfalls.

3. Develop a Strategy

  • Once you’ve taken stock of your policies and procedures and worked with your HR staff to emphasize compliance, consider developing a business plan as to how you will respond to potential organizing campaign by the union.  Educating your employees about EFCA and the potential card check provision should obviously be part of that strategy.  And develop and use an open-door policy that gives employees a place to go to answer questions they might have (or even an internal webpage that might address FAQs). 
  • Identify the people within the company who will be responsible for developing a quick-action response, if needed. Often times, employers learn about union organizing campaigns very late in the process.  Thus, develop a plan of action beforehand and work with outside counsel to be ready to go on a moment’s notice one you learn of a campaign.

There are plenty of other sources on the topic this week, including the Labor and Employment Law Blog and EFCA Updates, (And for more on the provisions of EFCA itself, Walter Olson has added his thoughts).  Obviously, there is much more to this topic than can be summarized briefly in a post. But for employes who don’t have unions, the time is now to start thinking about the effect that the bill’s passage may have on their businesses. 

(H/T for some links, Ohio Employer’s Law Blog)