The goal of not becoming unionized in an organization is an understandable one. From the perspective of an HR professional, there is flexibility in a non-union work environment; however, being a specialist in HR and LR for over thirty years has led me to the conclusion that management gets the union it deserves. Applying some basic HR practices and programs can be beneficial in reducing the risk of unionization, but it does not guarantee it.
Hebdon Brown, in his book Industrial Relations in Canada, outlines four management responses to a possible unionization drive:
- Union Acceptance
- Union Resistance
- Union Removal
- Union Substitution
Most companies will respond in one of the four ways listed above. I am going to focus on strategy number three, Union Removal.
Many of you have heard of the concept of Moore’s Law of Technology, which states that the speed and capability of computers can be expected to double every two years. We have all seen this in action as we made advancements from the large personal computer to the compact processing power of an Apple Watch. These advancements would not have been possible without the concept of Moore’s Law of Technology.
I am going to suggest a new law, with respect to unionization, called, “Rick’s Law of Union Avoidance.” The Law of Union Avoidance is not scientific; in fact, it is very antidotal as the data only has supporting research of n = 2. Nevertheless, his Law of Union Avoidance is the inverse of Moore’s Law of Technology, and shows that as the gig economy increases, the speed of union avoidance will double. My supporting research is as follows:
- A Walmart Store was unionized in Jonquière, Quebec in 2004; six months later, the Walmart head office decided to close its operations and shutter the new store.
- When Foodora (an app-based food delivery company) was unionized in 2020 in Ontario, their head office decided to shutter its operations after only three months.
As you can see, it took Walmart six months from union certification to close its store and Foodora only three months to close its business after union certification. The speed of a company’s closing down after unionization is speeding up, thus Rick’s Law of Union Avoidance.
Governments, and how they design and enforce labour laws, have a dramatic impact on overall union density rates in the workforce. This can be illustrated easily if we compare unionization rates in Canada and the United States. Canada, which has more positive union certification laws than the US, has a unionization rate of approximately 30% whereas the unionization rates in the US are approximately 10%. Essentially, what companies can and cannot do with respect to accepting or rejecting unions is very jurisdictionally dependent.
1. Research the union certification process in Quebec and compare it to two other Canadian provinces. Create a chart that shows the similarities and differences in the union certification process for all three provinces.
2. Imagine you are an HR employee of an organization that wants to open a new manufacturing plant in Canada. Prepare a presentation that will explain to your VP of HR which provinces would be most susceptible to unionization.
3. Compare and contrast the American concept of a “Right to Work State” versus the union certification process in your local jurisdiction.