Creating an illusion

The second imperative of a union avoidance campaign is to humanize the executives in the eyes of workers. The goal is to portray the company as benevolent, compassionate, and caring.“ [At union busting seminars]… managers learned the tricks of evading the so-called union problem: by appearing to listen to their employees and to encourage openness, by making policies simple and clear, and by relaxing some rules. And yes, they were tricks. Sleight of hand. Perception was more than a tool for me: it was the whole game… the objective was not to empower the employee, as I pretended, but to shut him up… ”

Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster.

Management must temporarily submit to the guidance of consultants concerning all communications with employees. Examples of management’s newfound kindness are publicized to all employees. Through surveys and interviews, the union buster develops a definite insight into who in management is trusted and liked, and who is not. The former are brought forward and become the new face of the company during the union organizing campaign, while the others are coached on masking or overcoming their dislikeable characteristics. Absent such transformation, their visible role is diminished.“ Give the workers just enough rope so that they believe they are off the leash, just enough to fool them into scorning the union. The golden rule of management control, as I taught it, was: incorporate dissent, institutionalize it. They would find, I promised my disciples, that dissension won’t be half as attractive to the masses once the rebels are sitting down with the bosses…

…the cunning manager should embrace his workplace rebels. Be grateful for them, I offered, for they are your most effective shield against the union. If you can convince the activists that they’ll accomplish more, perhaps have more power, without a union, why, you’ve won the war. ”

Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster.

Managers or owners may be asked to visit worksites and exchange jokes, gossip, and laughter with workers. The theme of company-as-family prevails, with the union portrayed as an upstart outsider. Only after a union organizing drive is defeated, might company executives be allowed to return to their “tyrannical” ways.

Supervisors at the point of attack“ The foreman, the front-line supervisor, has the worst job in any business—watched and hounded by upper management, mistrusted by his workers. He is alone in the middle, with no one to turn to. The supervisor’s isolation and vulnerability make him the ideal tool for union-busting campaigns. ”

Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster.

U.S. Labor Law confers certain reporting requirements on labor consultants who communicate with employees. For this and other reasons, consultants typically remain behind the scenes and operate through first line supervison. If supervisors fail to cooperate, or if they sympathize with the union, they may be fired.[25]

Supervisors are usually required to attend daily interviews conducted by well-rehearsed consultants who arrive with a carefully prepared chart for each worker, with all available data on the employee’s finances, sexual activities, and loyalty to the company included. Pairs of consultants may present supervisors with a good cop/bad cop routine in order to gain cooperation and information. A promise of confidentiality may be conveyed to the supervisor, but it is “a bold and cruel lie” because all useful information is routinely passed to executives, circulated as a damaging rumor against pro-union employees, or filed away for future use. If supervisors only pretend to cooperate, or if there is some question about performance or loyalty, they may be subjected to interrogations by multiple consultants who will use intimidation and blunt threats of dismissal—all perfectly legal if directed at management employees. Supervisors are told that their future with the company depends upon them personally halting the union organizing campaign. Ultimately, many supervisors can be badgered into begging for their jobs—not from consultants or from upper management, but from employees scheduled to vote in the union election.

Unions sometimes seek to include foreman positions, “junior supervisor” positions, or “layout operator” positions in the bargaining unit during a union organizing drive. The tactic may depend upon the job responsibilities actually performed by employees in these positions, but also upon the particular loyalties of these groups. A union buster recognizes that the process of destroying pro-union sentiments in a work force depends upon having a proportionally significant number of supervisory staffers charged with that task. It doesn’t matter to the union buster whether the sentiments of these staff members are pro-union or not — if they are not to be extended the protection of the bargaining unit, then their demonstrated loyalty to the company and its goal of defeating the union campaign can be made a condition of employment. Thus, positions of work group leadership or lower management often become contested positions in organizing struggles. If the bargaining unit established by the union’s petition for a union election does not allow the union buster sufficient management staff to launch a counter-organizing campaign, then the union buster may seek to redefine the bargaining unit through appeals to the NLRB. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows some lattitude for this, in that it declares a supervisor not just to be someone who can hire, fire, or transfer employees, but also someone who can effectively recommend any of these actions.

Declare innocence; comply with the law; blame the union.

In a counter-organizing campaign, image is crucial. When federal law could be useful — even if such rulings injured the work force — union buster Martin Jay Levitt bent it to his will, pretending to have no other option. Meanwhile, inconvenient federal requirements were falsely portrayed as treachery by the union.

For example, Levitt was fighting an organizing drive in a nursing home. The first level of nurses (LPNs) made up a significant proportion of the workforce, and there weren’t enough of the next higher level of nurses (RPNs) to effectively launch a counter-organizing campaign. The LPNs had been a driving force behind the union effort because they felt they were “neither paid nor respected as skilled professionals.” Levitt recommended to the company lawyer that they contest the inclusion of the LPNs in the bargaining unit before the NLRB, and this was successful. Thus, the pro-union LPNs were declared management for the sake of defeating the union. Levitt then composed a letter explaining this hostile maneuver to the nurses, blaming the action on the federal government, implying that the company had no role in their change of status, and portraying the good intentions of the company in complying with the law. The letter then asserted the required loyalty that is demanded of all management employees.

Levitt then informed the pro-union LPNs that they would have to give up their contacts within the union, ostensibly so that — as management — they wouldn’t violate federal labor laws prohibiting spying. Levitt admits in his book Confessions of a Union Buster that he used spies, informants, and saboteurs whenever it suited him, but as a union buster he withheld such details from the nurses.

In contrast to this assertion of management’s innocence in such matters, the union buster portrays the union as devious and sneaky. While addressing a group of supervisors whom he wanted to help destroy a union, Levitt characterized a strike vote by only those who had signed authorization cards as a fraudulent act by the union. He wanted them to believe that the union was “stacking” the vote, and therefore could not be trusted. In truth, limiting the vote to employees who have signed cards is required by federal law.

[From Wikipedia]


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