Owners of companies of all sizes and industries are concerned about the battle between organized labor and business over the Employee Free Choice Act. Most people think it's a struggle between fat-cat business owners and blue-collar workers who are tired of seeing their jobs shifted overseas and shrinking salaries.
Really, it's a war about power and money -- one that has been going on for over a century. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, workers were taken advantage of by steel mills and coal mines with long hours, poor pay and unsafe conditions. Workers pleaded, but most owners weren't listening. Eventually, the workers rebelled and along came powerful unions.
As time went along, unions started to flex their muscles by pushing for restrictive work rules and striking for more pay, while companies retaliated by closing plants and sending jobs abroad. The average American lost sympathy for unions, as he endured strikes and read about others being paid for not working. Now that greed has consumed both sides, there really isn't any sympathy for either.
What does the newest union battle mean for small to medium-size businesses?
First, I don't think the secret ballot will be removed.
Second, most workers realize this isn't the time to consider unionizing.
Third, unions are businesses and the cost to unionize small businesses, classified by the government as companies with fewer than 500 employees, is prohibitive. It's not worth the expense.
Fourth and most important, if employers are perceived to be fair, employees won't unionize.
How can employers prevent unionization? It's not complicated.
1. Share the wealth, meaning pay employees a wage they can afford to support their families.
2. Share financial information so employees know how the company is doing.
3. Don't tell employees you can't afford to provide fair salaries and benefits while you drive a top-of-the-line Mercedes and show off pictures of your $2 million vacation retreat.
4. Share with your employees salary-and-benefit surveys demonstrating how your company stacks up with rivals in your region. You can get this information through the local chamber of commerce.
5. Listen to employees' suggestions and implement some of them, making sure they get credit. Getting credit verbally, and possibly with a small bonus, makes for a better work environment.
Keep in mind that your employees may not be shareholders, but they are stakeholders. They may not have money invested, but they have their houses, possessions and retirement at risk. They trust the leadership to make good decisions.
If you want to see good examples of employee-employer relationships, look at the Ty company, which created and sold Beanie Babies. At the height of their popularity, management gave every employee a bonus that matched their annual salary. What type of relationship do you think they have with their employees?
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