Union-busting tactics are as old as time itself. For as long as there have been trade unions, there have been terrified industrialists who will do anything to make collective bargaining power disappear.
Whether it’s hiring armed Pinkertons in the 19th century to “protect” businesses from workers trying to feed their families or union “avoidance consultants” brought on to convince workers that a pizza party is an acceptable substitute for a raise, the goal of the owner class has largely remained the same: to dissuade and intimidate workers out of organizing.
So how do you spot these union-busting tactics before it’s too late? We’ve compiled this list of common union-busting tactics to ensure you and your coworkers are well-prepared to endure anything your boss throws at you when it comes time to organize.
1. The “Educational Meeting” Union-Busting Tactic
Employers, by law, cannot interrogate their employees about their support of unions; however, they can and will try to push the boundaries as far as they can without breaking the law.
Corporations have spent nearly $340 million annually on union avoidance consultants and mandatory captive audience meetings to exhaust and intimidate workers out of unionizing, especially during organizing campaigns.
Although union-busting is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act, “captive audience meetings” are legal, and they can come in several covert forms. Amazon has been known to aggressively utilize this strategy such as during the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse campaign last year.
These meetings can come in the form of individual or group meetings, mass emails, or even fliers in bathroom stalls. During these meetings, employers will often frame themselves as benevolent or even friendly allies and unions as an unnecessary and nefarious third party, getting between workers and the company.
It is important that we familiarize ourselves with the myths and rhetoric commonly spouted by management. One of the most pernicious myths frequently utilized by employers is the notion that unionized workers don’t get paid as much under union contracts. This is blatantly false, all relevant data suggests that unions consistently raise wages. When unionized workers are compared with similar non-unionized counterparts, data shows union wages are about 12 percent higher than that of nonunion wages.
2. The “Think of Us More Like a Family” Union-Busting Tactic
When campaigns get serious, whether it’s signing authorization cards or preparing for an election, employers will sometimes try and tug at the heartstrings.
We’ve all heard “this workplace is a family…yada yada” you get it. Don’t fall for it. Understand this union-busting tactic for what it really is: a desperate attempt to maintain the workplace status quo and emotionally manipulate workers.
Organizing a union is not harming your supervisor or your manager, though they may try to convince you it is, nor is it personal. It is about having your voice heard, it’s about protecting the lives and livelihoods of you and your fellow coworkers.
Not only is it well within your right to organize a union, it is essential. According to the Economic Policy Institute, employers in the United States have been charged with violating federal law in 41.5% of all union election campaigns.
If unionized workplaces are as ineffective and inadequate as employers make them out to be, why would companies go to such lengths to prevent them from being organized?
3. The Bribe as a Union-Busting Tactic
Another common and equally desperate union-busting tactic is temporary bribery.
Sometimes, as a means of instilling a false sense of trust and security, employers will promise change in the form of wage increases, health insurance benefits, improved working conditions, or reasonable scheduling hours. In this case, employers will attempt to replace the role of a union and present themselves as fair negotiators.
These concessions, while tempting, are not negotiated by union contract and are thus conditional and temporary measures. Power and control ultimately remains in the hands of the employer who could promptly retract those concessions whenever they deem fit.
What you and your coworkers need is guaranteed, long-lasting protection and union representation, that is the only reliable way to hold your employers accountable and make effective changes in your workplace.
It’s easy to lose momentum or urgency in the face of easy concessions, the best way to prepare for the boss’s bribery is to inoculate yourself and your coworkers to the “boss campaign,” in other words, anticipate how your boss will react to your organizing, and prepare yourselves to remain steadfast in your approach.
4. The “Divide and Conquer” Union-Busting Tactic
One of the most effective ways to seed discontent or derail a movement is to pit workers, who would otherwise share common interests, against one another by weaponizing hierarchies and social class. If this seems like the similar manipulation of the broader working class, it’s because the methods are almost identical.
In the context of the workplace, employers will almost always try to position one group of employees against another with union supporters on one side and pro-company workers on the other. Employers will often further subdivide the workplace along any social lines they can, whether it be amongst departments, racial groups, or sexes.
The key to overcoming the divide-and-conquer strategy is intersectional solidarity. United, workers are strong. Your union can offer democratic solutions to workplace misconduct and exploitation, including addressing the gender pay gap and racism within the workplace.
Stand firm with your comrades, understand the needs of your marginalized coworkers and ensure that their grievances and demands are represented in the campaign and contract.
The truth of the matter is, to your employer, you are simply a commodity to be exploited for profit. You and your fellow coworkers are more than a disposable piece of machinery, and you deserve better.
5. The “Convenient” Store Closure Union-Busting Tactic
Let’s say you’ve won your election and your union is successfully recognized. First of all, congratulations. Secondly, it’s important to understand that you are not completely out of the woods yet.
One final union-busting tactic employers will use is the store closure or layoff strategy. It is one of the more drastic measures, but it is not uncommon. Employees at Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, and other chains across the country have reported that companies consistently target unionized workplaces for abrupt closures and union organizers for removal.
As workers seeking to organize unions, it is essential that we accept this outcome as a possibility and strategize to fight back. As mentioned in previous examples, worker solidarity is at the center of collective bargaining, so be prepared to support your coworkers and go on the picket line if necessary. Democratic mass action in the form of picketing or going out on strike are effective ways to pressure management into hearing your demands. Remember, they’d do it for you.
How to Counter Union-Busting Tactics
It’s important to remember that engaging with the boss is a scary prospect for the vast majority of workers. That’s why it’s vital to prepare yourself and your coworkers for confronting someone with direct power. EWOC has an organizing guide designed to do exactly that. Follow the link and equip yourself with the tools necessary to become an effective workplace organizer and talk with an EWOC organizer by filling out the Get Support form below.