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How to avoid mistakes in 'foreign' territory


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Labor attorney James Sherman, of Wessells Sherman in Minneapolis, said hospitality workers make ripe targets for unions. “Organizers come in and make all kinds of promises. Sometimes they even distribute what we call a ‘Santa’s wish list,’ asking employees to write down what they want—higher wages, paid vacations, retirement plans, etc.—and give the impression that their wishes will be granted if they join. Of course, the unions can’t guarantee these results.”

Crash course

But when a union organizer approaches a small-business owner or franchisee, “the employer is literally in a foreign land,” Sherman said, and can make costly mistakes. He advises a targeted franchisee to find a local labor lawyer, “to give front-line supervisors and managers a crash course in what they can and cannot do under the rules of the National Labor Relations Board. Employers can, for example, tell workers what a union contract might mean, that it will put a third party in between them and management and that future terms and conditions of employment will be decided on a group basis, not on individual needs.”   

What not to do

What employers can’t do, Sherman said, is remembered by the acronym T.I.P.S:

You can’t threaten ringleaders with firing or by saying you’ll close down if the union vote wins. You can’t Interfere with union organizing attempts nor can you make Promises to workers of concessions you’ll grant if they reject the union. Finally, you cannot conduct surveillance of organizing meetings or votes.

If a union calls for a boycott of your franchise and sends supporters to hold picket signs and pass out handbills, you can’t try to stop them.  

If they impede your customers’ ability to get in or out of your premises, Sherman said, “You’ll have to go into court and ask for an injunction against them. Boycotts are most effective in the hospitality industry, where you need those daily customers.”

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