It is no secret that I was once the “enemy”. I spent many hours persuading employees to “believe” that the union was the key solution for all of their problems. Now that I run a company that goes toe-to-toe with very same unions I once collaborated with, I am always asked how employees go from being upset about issues (or concerns) to calling a union organizer for “a voice”. Have you ever wondered how a union organizer gets the workers so emotional that they will do almost anything to defy their company to the point of being insubordinate to management? There are a few principles that have to take place before an organizer can get their teeth into your workers minds.
First, remember that union support and organizing campaigns are built one pebble at a time. Long before any organizer has spoken to your employees, the breakdown of communications has been an important ingredient to the buildup of mistrust between the supervisors and the employees. Every time the frontline supervisor insults, degrades or ignores a worker the pebble starts to multiply, every time policies and benefits change without explanation, every time a supervisor stops listening to workers it multiplies. The union’s job is to identify these issues (which can be different for every worker. A good union organizer knows that when left unchecked, the pebbles will grow until it becomes a brick wall.
In 2000, while organizing an Aerospace parts manufacturer, my team and I received three separate calls from employees requesting a meeting to discuss unionizing the workforce. We started researching the employer before that first meeting. During our research, were surprised at the amount of trouble this company had been in with OSHA. They had a negative safety record and a serious quality control record which led to some high profile newspaper articles about malfunctions caused by their parts. We agreed to help them organize but insisted that the workers met our conditions which meant that they would meet the goals we set for them.
Getting a list of all the supervisors and everything known about them was the first things we requested. As we nurtured the internal organizing committee we started receiving all the requested data about the supervisors. We moved forward with the campaign and when we had about 70% support from the employees. The company was completely surprised, they had no idea we were even talking to their employees.
As soon as we filed the petition we started a character assassination campaign against their supervisors. In just weeks after our initial meeting with the internal organizing committee, we had started to gather intelligence on these supervisors. We followed them to the local bar where they would visit on their lunch breaks and after work. Thursday night was their favorite nights because afternoon and midnight shifts would meet. We knew the supervisors historically had drinks on Thursday’s before returning to work.
Alcohol and the workplace was a union organizers favorite tactic. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. We would photograph this “activity” with date and time stamps. We also would capture images of their vehicles and license plates. We brought a few women to flirt with some of the supervisors which made it a sure thing that they would visit the bar more often. We had photos of them interacting with these women in compromising positions. This was not the first or last time that we used this tactic. It worked before, would work on this occasion and we stood ready to use alcohol and women again to win an election.
Right before the petition was filed there was another report of a quality breach and more OSHA charges were being filed, we knew that this would catch the attention of the local media since they had recently reported on the malfunctioning parts before. We wanted to attack the company’s character in public. We invited a local reporter in to view our evidence and come to the bar to see firsthand why this company’s safety record was so bad and how this could lead to a disaster if something was not done to stop it.
After the petition was filed, the internal organizing committee sent a statement to the Board of Directors informing them that the petition was filed as a last step effort to address the plants dangerous safety record and that they needed to recognize the union so they could move forward to prevent any more accidents. Of course all this was cc’d to the newspaper reporter. Within two days, the company was received the proof of the dangerous activity that was occurring at the bar between shifts. Most of the supervisors were caught working after a few cocktails.
The newspaper called the company and asked for a statement the day before the article was to be published and received no comment. During the next week all the photos from the bar were “leaked”. During this time there were many more calls to OSHA citing safety violations. We brought safety experts in to meet with the employees about how we could help the company get a handle on the safety problems. At the same time, the company was still feeling the sting from the accusations and photos of the supervisors at the local bar. The supervisors were discredited and we knew it. We invited the company to a public debate about the safety issues and challenged them to come. Of course we knew they wouldn’t show up, so we painted them as cowards who weren’t interested in the health of their employees. The company brought in other supervisors from their other plants to take over the duties of the supervisors in the plant we were organizing, we quickly discredited them as well and depleted their recourses by holding safety meetings for their workers at other plants and having supporters post flyers inside the other plants detailing the organizing election. The company could not recover from the negative press and the safety problems. We left management with no choice but to spend more time concentrating on damage control and less time focusing on the election. They never had a chance.
A good union organizing department will begin the election process by looking for weaknesses within the company structure. Time is the most important thing a union will need to exploit these weaknesses. Their goal is to keep the target company off balance, if they can, to create a theme. In this case the theme was the safety and quality issues with the finger pointed at the supervisors who came into work after a beer or two. The ultimate goal of the union is to destroy any relationship and trust between management and their employees. Unions thrive in chaos and their charging call was and continues to be VICTORY BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.