Although Nathan Shefferman introduced some basic psychological techniques into the union avoidance industry, they were fairly crude. Building upon his work, a new generation of professionally trained industrial/personnel psychologists, more overtly focused on combating unionization than their predecessors, introduced sophisticated behavioural and social science techniques into the union avoidance industry and provided the industry with greater legitimacy.
Industrial psychologists developed techniques that have allowed employers to screen out potential union supporters, identify hotspots vulnerable to unionization, and structure the workplace to facilitate the maintenance of a non-union environment. They provided employers with detailed “psychological profiles” of likely union supporters and opponents, and conducted regular “audits” to determine a firm’s vulnerability to unionization.
Industrial psychologists play a major role in union busting activities. Between 1974 and 1984, one firm established by one industrial psychologist:
…had trained over 27,000 managers and supervisors to “make unions unnecessary” and had surveyed the attitudes of over a quarter of [a] million employees in over 400 organizations… [the psychologist claims that] 4,000 organizations and almost one million employees have participated in [the firm’s] surveys, seminars, and consulting, and that he has had only one client fall victim to unionization…
While many union busters focus on attacking unionization efforts, many industrial psychologists provide a complementary service called union prevention. One union prevention specialist believes his clients are so adamant that unionization efforts never get a foothold in their factories, that:
…if one of their plants were the subject of a failed organizing campaign, the company would fire the plant manager, line manager and HR manager…
Only in the United States has the struggle between management and labor resulted in such a “contingent of mercenaries” who specialize in breaking strikes. However, union busters have recently begun to diversify their personnel, and to seek markets in other countries.
In the U.S., organizing campaigns increasingly involve immigrant workers. One union busting agency claims that over half its consultants are minorities or women. The agency has hired African-American consultants for campaigns aimed predominantly at black employees. It boasts consultants fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Tagalog, Creole and several dialects of Chinese, allowing it “access and acceptance in virtually any employee group.”
Private sector unions in the United States have declined, partly as a result of union busting campaigns. Some union busting agencies are therefore seeking international markets. Since 2000, at least one agency has established an international division which operates in Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Germany. The agency tells clients that its international division enjoys an international reputation for “eliminating union incursions.” As in the United States, the agency prefers to do its work in secret where possible, training the employer’s supervisors to implement its tactics. Unions in countries outside the United States have faced campaigns by the agency without realizing who they were up against.