In April, Business Insider reported that Whole Foods kept tabs on stores likely to unionize through an interactive heat map based on scores derived from more than two dozen metrics. A June Vox story about Amazon’s workforce describes a similar heat map, with executives keeping tabs on potential unionization “hot spots” via a calculation that relied on employee survey data, timing of the last pay raise, and dozens of other factors.
But Amazon isn’t the only company doing this sort of work. Thanks to a glut of tech platforms that deploy sophisticated methods for collecting and analyzing employee data, pinpointing groups of employees who are likely to unionize is a capability within reach for any employer.
Though employee surveys and the data analytics applied to them are commonly used to monitor things like employee engagement and workplace culture, at least two employee survey platforms also use data collected through surveys to pinpoint the store locations, departments, and demographics of employees that are most likely to unionize. Littler Mendelson, one of the largest employment and labor law firms, told OneZero it is actively considering building a similar tool.
Under the National Labor Relations Act, employers are not allowed to question employees about their union activities or membership in a way that may restrain or coerce them, for instance in a context that offers benefits if they don’t join a union or threatens to fire them if they do. Directly asking workers whether they are favorable to a union could open a company up to legal challenges, but a regular survey with more general uses such as assessing engagement and potential turnover is less likely to raise red flags.
“With our platform, they can literally log into the platform… and say, ‘We see that 20% of that group is at risk of unionization.’”