Work Behind the Scenes

  It’s time for a closer look at the anti-union consultants who have been a prominent feature of the labor-management landscape since the early 1970s, quietly developing, marketing and fine-tuning their programs and tactics on behalf of employers. Their basic goal and the fondest wish of those who hire them is, of course, to keep unions out of workplaces or to decertify established unions. When negotiations can’t be avoided or delayed any longer, they take a new tack: meet with the union but try to make bargaining as onerous and excruciating as possible.

In extreme cases, the employer-consultant team will not only “go through the motions” of bargaining, but will fabricate some crisis that provokes the union to strike and allows the employer to replace the entire work force with people who are younger, cheaper and “more flexible’ (that is, easier to control).

Union people from the local level to the largest internationals have long sought to counter such brazen aggression and regain a level playing field for genuine collective bargaining. Knowing the enemy who may be hiding behind the boss is often the key to success for organizers.

They Work Behind the Scenes

Always assume that the union-busting consultant has sold your boss on a “3-C” strategy: conceal, camouflage, and operate clandestinely. Rarely will the consultant reveal himself during a “preventative campaign,” certainly not to anyone eligible to vote in a representation election. Realizing that to occupy center stage is to reveal the employer’s and his own motives, the consultant will stay behind the scenes, advising corporate officers and middle managers on what to say and how and when to say it.

The mountain of anti-union propaganda to which workers are exposed during the typical consultant’s campaign bears witness to this. For a union, any opportunity to expose the fact that an employer has engaged the services of an anti-union law firm should be seized.

Jackson Lewis: They (Literally) Wrote the Book

Jackson, Lewis, Schnitzler & Krupman, founded in 1958 and headquartered on Park Avenue in New York, is a national “labor and employment law firm” which represents management exclusively. With 20 offices in 11 states, more than 300 lawyers and annual revenues of nearly $40 million, they are formidable indeed.

One of the first outfits to refine the techniques of “coaching” management on preventing unionization, Jackson Lewis is also one of the few bold enough to write a book on the subject. But don’t look for “Winning NLRB Elections: Avoiding Unionization Through Preventative Employee Relations Programs” on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Jackson Lewis won’t even sell the book, now in its fourth edition, to individuals, let alone to unions.

The 253-page volume, billed on its back cover as “the best and most comprehensive publications on how to establish and maintain a union-free workplace,” actually doesn’t reveal more than the broad outlines of what a capable consultant’s “bag of tricks” contains. Still, it illustrates much of the basic posture union busters recommend when confronting unions.

The Search for Soft Spots

Just as any good union organizer needs to size up a company early on, so too does the cagy consultant search for evidence of your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Such information comes from government-required filings such as LM2 forms and other public documents. In addition to the names and titles of union officers, they disclose the locations of union offices, membership size and details of a union’s structure and finances.

You can count on the consultant to publicize everything he can find about the union’s dues rates and initiation fees. He’ll also do his best to distort the reality that dues are necessary to provide collective bargaining and contract administration services, arbitration hearings, educaton, job training and strike assistance.

In their zeal to portray unions as “outside third parties,” consultants will direct payroll departments to deduct the maximum dues amount from employees’ checks during an organizing campaign, and then reissue the deducted amount in a separate check. “This is what you can expect every month if the union gets in,” they’ll proclaim.

This type of paycheck ploy is often used just before a vote on representation. Long before that, your union should have already conducted frank and thorough discussions of dues and especially of how contract benefits won by your union will more than compensate for the amount deducted. Some prospective members may not even realize that dues aren’t collected until after a contract is negotiated and ratified by the membership!

Finding Out About Fines

It’s a glorious day for your consultant foe when he discovers any history of fines or assessments imposed by your union (or perhaps even some other union) on individual members. He can then circulate a flyer asking, “Can you guess the amount of the highest fine the union ever imposed on one of its members?”

The “quiz” can become a contest in which the worker making the closest guess wins a TV set or some other prize. Even though the chances of getting fined by your union are right up there with getting struck by lightning or winning the big jackpot in the lottery, you should be ready to respond to these questions before the other side brings them up.

We’ve all read newspapers and seen TV news reports cluttered with references to “union bigs” and “union bosses.” Expect to find these terms in the materials generated by consultants; after all, their own prosperity depends upon perpetuating the myth that all unions are run by greedy fat cats whose only concern is squeezing out more dues dollars to pay for limousines and Las Vegas junkets. Remember: the consultant wants his client’s employees to think of a union as “just another business, only worse than most.” The best way to avoid ever being compared to a greedy business is never to act like one!

Tim Lally


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