Many unionized employers, and the unions that represent their workforce, periodically engage in a process called negotiations, or bargaining, in order to establish the rules governing issues such as wages, hours, and working conditions. This may be a contentious process, in part due to the possibility of escalation. Escalation may include various types of job actions that move the focus away from the negotiating table, and place it in the economic sphere. Confronted with perceived intransigence, the union may seek to punish the corporation with a boycott or a successful strike, thereby gaining leverage at the negotiating table.
Employers make preparations for possible union strategies, just as unions plan job actions to pressure employers. Some of these activities and preparations may be considered routine. For example, manufacturing companies may develop a strike contingency plan which includes stockpiling product before the contract expires, in order to maintain sales during a work stoppage. A strike contingency plan may also have a secondary purpose: to intimidate union members into not striking.
Other activities may be aimed at gaining advantage beyond simply concluding negotiations successfully, or winning during a job action. A corporation may seek to weaken or destroy the union, using the job action as an excuse.
Labor legislation has limited the methods that corporations may use to discipline a workforce, and has decreased the number and variety of economic tools readily available to unions. In some cases, the methods employed by union busters have become more subtle and more devious.
Dirty tricks“ Union busting is a field populated by bullies and built on deceit. A campaign against a union is an assault on individuals and a war on truth. As such, it is a war without honor. The only way to bust a union is to lie, distort, manipulate, threaten, and always, always attack. ”
Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster
Martin Jay Levitt opens his book, Confessions of a Union Buster, with a description of a consultant’s campaign against the United Auto Workers (UAW). A black assembly line worker was a particularly ardent union supporter. Company executives considered her the driving force behind an organizing drive. One night before the union election, a bomb threat was called in to the factory. Two plant managers identified the recorded voice as that of the pro-union worker, who was immediately fired. With co-workers wondering “what kind of union could corrupt such a stalwart character” as their former co-worker, the vote went against the union. Levitt, himself a union busting consultant at the time of the incident, knew the assembly line worker. He observed that the voice on the tape didn’t even sound like her voice. He “immediately recognized the bomb threat ploy as a typical union buster’s trick,” and testified in court that some of the other “consultants had hatched the bomb scare scheme when their anti-union campaign was on the verge of collapse.”
Levitt also describes blatantly illegal practices such as tapping the phone of a union organizer, and also tapping into managers’ racial, class, and gender prejudices and fears. During the 1970s and 1980s, the union avoidance industry was “an overwhelmingly white, male business, and relatively few firms employed multilingual or minority consultants.”“ We deftly used [videos and other tools] to awaken within the mostly white supervisor corps a hatred of blacks, fear of violence, contempt for women, mistrust of the poor, and, of course, a loathing for the union that brought together all those despicable elements… with a few well-chosen remarks, we tapped the fears that resided in the hearts [of the supervisors]. ”
Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster
However, many “dirty tricks” are considerably more subtle. For example, federal labor law requires the employer to provide the union with the names and home addresses of all union election eligible employees. A labor consultant may advise the company to provide nothing more than the very minimum necessary legal address requirements, which do not include zip codes, apartment numbers, or street designations such as Street, Avenue, Drive, or Place. The union is forced to spend significant resources to translate the minimal required legal addresses into usable addresses, and may therefore fail to contact many potential members.
Every such government-required action of the company is an excuse to send apologetic letters to the employees, portraying such actions as an inconvenience or an invasion of privacy rights, the blame for which is laid at the doorstep of the union. In each letter, every word is carefully planned. Descriptions of the union always include threatening or derogatory connotations, while management is always portrayed as humble, caring, and righteous:
Subsequent letters detailed the union’s policies on dues, fees, fines, and assessments, divulged union rules and disciplinary techniques, warned that a strike would ruin the company and jeopardize jobs, and otherwise argued that the union would poison [the company].
The union is not allowed access to the work force during their eight hours of work each day, but the union buster can occupy as much of that time as is considered necessary. The aim of the union buster is a “war of saturation bombing” in which half-truths and accusations put the union on the defensive. Forcing the union to spend hours defending itself during meetings means there’s no time left for the union’s planning efforts, or for campaign strategy. The workers won’t find the time to discuss their own issues if they’re sufficiently bombarded with the “twisted disinformation” sown by the union buster.
But the well-orchestrated anti-union campaign is also nuanced and calibrated to human emotion. After all the employees and supervisors are exhausted from the fight over the upcoming election, the union buster may offer a “give us a chance” letter which is a “tearful, apologetic plea” for an apparent truce. It creates an illusion suggesting that management recognizes its mistakes and has learned its lessons from the organizing campaign, and that in alerting management to the problems, the union — portrayed as a self-serving group of outsiders with their own agenda — can serve no further useful purpose. Management really has changed, and management deserves a chance. This offer is typically timed so that its impact is felt just before the election.
[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]