When managers are made aware of a union campaign and if they’re against it, they’ll probably begin rolling out a series of nonsense arguments against your effort.

It’s important to know how to beat back these common, bad-faith takes that they’ll probably have up their sleeves, one of which is: “a union will change company culture.” It’s the notion that your workplace has a distinct, accessible community — “You guys know I have an open-door policy,” they might say — and that introducing a labor organization will change the general vibe for the worse.

Most effective lies begin with a kernel of truth: yes, it’s true that a union will change your workplace, but if those changes mean higher wages, better benefits, and more of a say in determining the conditions of employment for you and your coworkers, then be aware that management is trying to get you to vote against your own interests and livelihood.

Here’s how they may frame this half-truth and how to rebut it when talking with your coworkers.

“A union will change our company culture. Plus they're bad for the general atmosphere.”

There’s a simple reality you have to keep a grip on: you perform labor, which is how and why your boss makes money. Without a union representing you, managers get to dictate what you’re worth without your input. Also, the espresso machine and foosball table they installed to get you and your coworkers back in person after the pandemic are not culture. Don’t let them pretend that a weekly company happy hour at the corner bar makes up for a starvation wage either.

You need health benefits that meet your collective needs, a wage that justly compensates you for your labor, and safe and equitable conditions. A union is a tool through which you can achieve these reasonable goals.

Remember: Management will always have a bottom line. You should too.

“C’mon, you know I have an open-door policy. Why would you want all that union bureaucracy to get in the way of what we’re building here?”

Open to whom and on what topics? Sure, their door may be wide open during March Madness bracketing, and a colleague or two may feel comfortable to walk in and talk about the tournament from time to time, but we all know this cordial spirit may not apply to the colleague you know who’s looking to request additional parental or medical leave.

An open-door policy means you as an individual must go in and leverage your relationship with management as a means of justifying a raise, time off, or any other benefit. A union enshrines these and other rights in a contract, making sure that the open door swings wide enough for everyone.  

“Be careful. If you unionize, you know your job will be less flexible.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Only in a world where your union’s bargaining unit decides to negotiate away equitable scheduling would this be true. But with a well-run union, you get to set priorities for the terms of your employment rather than just having to accept whatever conditions your boss decides to give or take from you.

Milton (played by Stephen Root) and his coveted stapler in the 1999 film Office Space. His boss will go on to take it without asking. Don’t let your boss exploit you. Care of: GIPHY

Bottom line: union culture > company culture

Arguing to preserve company culture means fighting to continue the exploitation of you and your colleagues’ labor.

Also, unless you decide so, your boss is not your friend and your coworkers are not your family no matter how many times you may hear otherwise. Of course, you can like a manager who is kind or grow close to a colleague across the hall or warehouse. But the default structure of the vast majority of American workplaces is one of a dictatorship. Boards of directors and management teams meet behind closed doors to make life-altering decisions about the earnings and benefits for a group of people they may barely know.

Without unions or worker co-ops, we’re left late-night googling articles like this Fast Company one about post-pandemic workplace realities called “How to ask your boss to let you keep working from home.” With a union at your side, you get the opportunity to set a culture of dignity and can organize to make sure company-wide policies addressing workplace concerns like the one above are a part of your contract.

An office ping pong table, free snacks bowl, or casual summer Friday can’t replace the possibilities you’re afforded when negotiating the collective terms of your quality of life.

That’s a workplace culture worth fighting for.