Faced with membership and revenue declines, union leadership must find ways to increase the rank and file.

Organizers are not waiting for disgruntled employees to approach them. They will approach employees first to persuade them that authorizing a union to represent them is in their best interest.

Even if you think you have the most loyal, dedicated and satisfied employees on the planet, don't be surprised if an assertive union organizer personally contacts your employees.

Let me suggest a proactive counter strategy: address this subject with your employees first — before the union does. Let your employees know your position with regard to unions before unions have a chance to put you on the defensive.

Your people will be better served if they know why you believe that everyone benefits without unions at your dealership.

How do you raise this subject with your employees? Here are some tips:

  1. Be sure you have a complete understanding of what is legally permissible to say, and what is not.

  2. Tell your first-line supervisors what you are doing and why. It is essential that you gain their support first.

  3. Be open and honest with your employees. Anything less will provide ammunition for the potential union organizing movement.

  4. Engage your employees in a discussion by explaining that you would like to talk to them about unions, that “union” is not a dirty word and that it is unfortunate that employees and management are so reluctant to address this issue with each other. Tell them you feel it is important that they get all the facts on both sides of the story, so they can make an informed decision that is right for them and their families should they ever be asked to consider being represented by a union.

  5. Let your employees know that if there is ever anything you say that they don't believe, they should make you prove it to them. But they should also make the same demand of the union.

  6. Explain your dealership's philosophy: you are not anti-union, but pro-employee, and from an employee relation standpoint you would rather resolve issues directly with employees without working through a third party.

  7. Remind employees that your dealership's success has been rooted in their ability to create and retain loyal customers by delivering high quality, value added services. Explain that you must maintain the flexibility to respond to changes in customer demands, which can be difficult when working through a union agreement.

  8. Don't union bash. That doesn't work anymore, and employees won't accept that. If people have a strong belief in something, the way to change that belief is not to insult their thinking, but to engage in honest dialogue.

  9. Tell your employees that unions have become aggressive in their organizing tactics, and staffers should not be surprised if a hungry union salesperson approaches them. Explain how declining memberships and union dues have made union organizing more aggressive.

  10. Explain their rights, including the right to refrain from union activity.

In the end, union avoidance has more to do with your dealership's working environment. Are your employees focused on the dealership being successful or are they distracted by poor leadership, poor employment practices and dissatisfaction with wages, benefits and working conditions?

Remaining union-free is really about your people feeling confident that they can openly and honestly talk with you and that you are not hiding anything from them. This is completely within your control.

Steve Smithmeyer is founder of Practical Human Resources Education and Development (PHRED) & Associates. It helps auto dealers attract and retain productive employees. He is at info@phredworks.com/509-844-6951.