By: Perry MacLennan
A Starbucks location at Pelham Road in Greenville became the first Starbucks location in South Carolina to vote in favor of unionization. The store joins approximately 20 other Starbucks locations across the United States that have voted to join a union called Starbucks Workers United. Other Starbucks locations in South Carolina have scheduled votes to come soon.
The Starbucks union movement is receiving much media attention nationwide. Unionization rates have been declining for years, and experts are wondering whether the recent developments at Starbucks (and Amazon) are signaling an actual shift or are anomalies. Union organizers are hopeful that the high-profile nature of the Starbucks union drive will impact other workplaces, but that remains to be seen. In South Carolina, union-represented workers make up only 2.2% of the entire workforce, and there is little to no evidence that a broader shift toward unionization is taking place here in South Carolina.
However, all human resource professionals should have a basic understanding of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the federal law governing workers’ right to collective action. The NLRA prescribes a set of rules that companies must follow in response to employee collective action and also prohibits companies from enacting certain policies and procedures that could interfere with those rights. These rules apply to union and non-union workplaces alike. One example of an otherwise valid policy that could violate the NLRA is a social media policy that prohibits employees from making any negative statements about the company online. Such a policy could be construed to prevent employees from conversing with colleagues about the terms and conditions of employment, which is protected collective action.
Moreover, regardless of whether union activity is likely an issue for your workplace, worker discontent poses a threat. Unhealthy inflation is reducing workers’ buying power even as wages are increasing. The “Great Reshuffling” caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic is still evident as workers are quitting at historic rates. South Carolina employers would be wise to continuously seek employee feedback and actively seek engagement opportunities with workers. As remote work has increased for some, so has isolation from colleagues and management. One of the best ways to reduce turnover, decrease the likelihood of union activity, and maintain productive employees is to give them a meaningful voice in the organization.
If you have questions about this topic or other employment law matters, please contact a member of the HSB Employment Law practice team.