Costco’s encouraging response to employee unionization, National Labor Relations Board alleges SpaceX illegally fired employees

Plus, a look at whether companies should speak up on social issues.

Greetings, comms pros! Let’s look at a few stories from the last week and see what we can learn from them.

1. Costco leadership responds to unionization in a constructive fashion

When a news story runs on how a large organization reacts to a unionization effort, there’s an expectation of pushback from the company in question around why a union isn’t needed. But when a group of Virginia Costco employees voted to unionize, the response from the company defied expectations.

According to Inc.:

Costco CEO Craig Jelinek and President Ron Vachris issued the above letter regarding the union vote, and it’s notable for the approach they took. Instead of defending the company, they addressed the real problem: The people who voted to unionize didn’t feel heard. They wrote, in part:

“To be honest, we’re disappointed by the result in Norfolk. We’re not disappointed in our employees; we’re disappointed in ourselves as managers and leaders. The fact that a majority of Norfolk employees felt that they wanted or needed a union constitutes a failure on our part.”

How refreshing is this? Costco’s leaders weren’t miffed by the employees’ attempt to organize but were instead concerned that the employees didn’t feel seen or heard enough and had to resort to a union.

Take note— this is a great example of smart leadership communications. There’s no blame placing, no accusations, just a simple commitment to doing better and language that comes across as genuine. The way it should be.

2. Federal government claims SpaceX fired employees critical of Musk

New year, new Elon Musk media stories. This time, it involves the National Labor Relations Board making an allegation that SpaceX terminated employees who were critical of Musk’s leadership. The NLRB’s complaint also accused the organization’s leadership of stifling the circulation of an open letter employees wrote.

“At SpaceX the rockets may be reusable, but the people who build them are treated as expendable,” Paige Holland-Thielen, one of the employees who were fired, told The New York Times. “I am hopeful these charges will hold SpaceX and its leadership accountable for their long history of mistreating workers and stifling discourse.”

It may be a new year, but the trend of less-than-stellar comms efforts at companies tied to Musk continues into 2024. The big lesson here is that a proper comms effort wouldn’t only help avoid a situation like this— it could also hold leaders to a higher standard of workplace conduct.

Open letters offer an opportunity for increased accountability, and ignoring them can often become a statement in itself. Savvy corporate communicators can point to this latest Musk-related gaffe as an example of what happens when you ignore many voices at once—and a reminder that everything internal eventually becomes external, too.

If comms is functioning as it should, your efforts will help leaders see that employee feedback is a gift, bringing foresight that can affect stakeholder sentiments both internally and externally.

That needed seat at the decision-making table for communications could have helped SpaceX and should serve as a lesson to others.

3. Workers care about companies stances on social issues: study

In an increasingly polarized and remote world, social issues are sometimes unavoidable in the workplace According to a recent study,  most workers want to know where their employers stand on the issues of the day, and the responses (or lack of them) that follow can be something of a dealbreaker.

Some of the highlights of the study included:

  • 75% of workers said that it was important for their organizations to take a stand on social issues, with 25% claiming that they’d become more loyal to their organizations due to the organization’s stance on social issues
  • 1 in 10 employees quit jobs or turned down offers because they didn’t align with a company’s stance on an issue
  • Two-thirds of workers said their company had made statements on social issues internally or externally over the last three years

It’s long been tacitly understood that people want to work for companies that take a stand on social issues, but this data goes a long way toward confirming it. These stats paint today’s average employee as someone who wants more than just a place that will cut them a check after working their 9-to-5 —  a workplace that functions as a mirror to reflect their values as well.

4. How about some good news?

Have a great weekend comms all-stars!

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

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