Since the recession hit at the end of 2007, and as people become more concerned with job security, the prospect of unionization in the restaurant industry has grown.

“Only 22 percent of the disengaged employees [surveyed] said they would not vote for a union,” says Don MacPherson, president of Modern Survey. “If disengagement continues to rise, we expect the desire to unionize to grow right along with it.”

David C. Whitlock, a partner at Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson LLP, says union efforts are increasing, but it is not due to the economy. “The increase in unionization efforts is directly tied to the current administration’s pro-labor policies and administration of roles by the [Department of Labor] and [National Labor Relations Board].”

Unionization typically begins with unhappy employees. TJ Schier, a franchisee of Which Wich, outlines a handful of mistreatments that encourage employees to seek union help: managers who do not treat people fairly or run with a heavy hand; managers who do not provide merit-based increases to performs; and those who do not listen to input from the employees themselves.

“If the business holds up their end of the deal, there should be no need to unionize,” Schier explains.

Furthermore, Whitlock points out that unions can operate undetected and then suddenly surprise the employer with a demand for recognition.

“The best defense is open, effective, two-way communication with employees,” Whitlock says.

MacPherson backs up Whitlock’s assertion with a handful of steps to ensure a lack of interest in unionization begin with the recognition of personal accomplishment:

  • Recognition/person accomplishment: Recognition is the most powerful tool a manager has to motivate an employee, because it reinforces behavior that the organization wants, it’s free, and it can be provided daily. Instead of looking at an employee as a waiter, an extraordinary manager sees him as responsible for providing a healthy, delicious meal to someone.
  • Development: Most working adults have a desire to get better at what they do. So, development does not necessarily equate to training; it might simply mean giving someone a challenge they have never tried before. It could mean letting the kitchen staff create a new dish the restaurant has never served before.
  • Future: Belief in the future of the organization is now the most important driver of employee engagement. Before the recession, recognition, personal accomplishment, and development reigned king. The change is largely attributed to employee insecurity toward their jobs and the economy in general. Employees want to know they are safe and secure. They need the leadership of a winner.
  • Compensation: People need to be paid fairly to be engaged. Unfair compensation will drive disengagement.

“Often people are hired because of their experience or skills,” MacPherson says. “Those are important, but making sure that the new hire is a good cultural fit with the organization can be even more important.”

Whitlock, Schier, and MacPherson were panelists at this year’s Dine America conference. Food News Media hosted the executive leadership conference earlier this week in Atlanta. 

By Sonya Chudgar

Finance, Industry News, Labor & Employees, Legal, Philanthropy