I recently wrote about how unions are becoming more aggressive and using tactics like NLRB approved bannering campaigns and have been paying close attention to union sponsored political recalls, boycotts, and striking for recognition. The media is reporting these events like they are revolutionary tactics. In spite of UAW’s President Bob King proclamation to play nice with foreign automakers, the UAW wants to organize. They will organize unless the foreign automakers (targets) try to resist their attempts. In spite of what many think, these types of tactics are commonplace in the union world. When I was an Organizing Director, we had multiple strategies to choose from depending on the industry. There are some industries that are more susceptible to pressure than others (like hospitals, long term care facilities or any place where public perception or public inconvenience can affect the outcome of the business).
When I was an Organizing Director, I had worked on merger between the Steelworkers with the Retail Workers of Canada. With the labor laws in Canada it was very easy to organize supermarkets and smaller chain stores, but we had issues in our attempts in the U.S. I decided to put more pressure on some supermarket chains to get them to give us card check recognition. There is a much better win rate when an employer is organized in lieu of the workers where the union can dictate with more ability when establishing rules for contract negotiations. I knew the smaller chains would be easier targets. The year prior, I had put together a task force for the purpose of responding to the organizing requests we were receiving from numerous retail employees. This team was responsible for identifying the common issues across the United States, identifying working conditions associated with the different chains (or in the case of smaller owners, “store blocks”) The team also began to assemble comprehensive data on salaries, financial stability and benefits in each category and region. We created a full report on the retail industry with side by side comparisons on all relevant data. This data was extremely important for many reasons and served as our “road map” to implementing our strategy for attack. Lastly, but not least, the data was used so we could, at a strategic point, cherry pick weaknesses in benefit packages to targeted employees during organizing drives.
Once we had an accurate and vivid picture of the industry and completed calculating our employee support, we utilized our data and human resources to target the most vulnerable chain. Our first target was a small to midsized supermarket block. By working with employees and quickly building an internal organizing committee within the seven stores we decided to target we found that our major problem with this campaign was that the employee turnover rate was higher than we anticipated and although our internal employee committees were strong, we knew that we had to strengthen our hand before moving with full force.
We called the state AFL/CIO office and the Central Labor Council (CLC) for support and man power which we received. The CLC had better connections with the community and media since they were localized to the area we were targeting.
When we were ready, we approached the President of the seven store block with a list of demands. First we demanded to be recognized with a majority of employees sighing authorization cards, and we also demanded a timeline to start contract negotiations and binding arbitration if negotiations came to an impasse.
We were told to leave the office and the police was called by management stating we were trespassing. This is exactly what we expected and were hoping for. We had a plan in motion because we knew this would be their “logical” maneuver.
- We set up a “work to organize strategy” where no one worked at a pace that was deemed “unsafe”. In other words, we made sure the workers worked at a bare minimum pace.
- All the workers questioned everything that they were requested to do to make sure they fully understood “what was expected of them”.
- All “safety issues” were reported to OSHA, and any health violations in the butcher shop were all reported with photos to the health department.
- Of course we had to do what was “best” for the public, so “we made sure” that the media was updated on any such violations.
- Our supporters from the labor councils started a web page highlighting these problems and were warning people not to shop at these stores.
- The company was also put on the AFL/CIO and CLC boycott list and employees of the stores were guests at local union meetings to ask for their members support in the boycott and spreading the news through their communities.
- There was also a contact person to talk with consumer groups to report complaints by union members who did shop at the store. This contact person had complaints which were being directed by my organizers.
- Local radio shows were asking for workers and union officials to come on the show and talk (of course we always asked management to participate but they always rejected the invitation which made them look bad but we knew that coming on would be worse for them).
- Religious groups were getting involved with our boycott.
- Most of the workers were Mexicans so we had the Latino groups demonstrating against the stores as well.
One day we were called in for a meeting with the management of the company and we were hopeful that they would give in to our pressure. We knew we were making them lose money but the meetings became shouting matches and nothing was accomplished. We knew they were close to breaking down and we calculated their bottom line was down by over 50%, so during the busiest hours we had supporters at all seven stores go in and spray skunk oil and deer urine inside each store. The smell was so bad there were customers outside telling other customers to stay out. All the stores were closed down within minutes. People outside were talking. The rancid odor left them with the impression that they had bad produce or rotting meats. The store management had to inspect the food. We made sure the health inspectors were called, as well as the media. The whole thing was covered by the local TV news stations. They reopened two days later, realizing that they lost more of their customers. Again, we reached out to them to try to settle. At this point we knew we were breaking their will to fight. We told them that would help get your business back if you give us recognition and agree by our rules on contract negotiations. They still held on to their desire to attempt to “beat us”. We decided to keep the pressure on, this time we came on harder than ever. Two weeks later, we had woman put the pungent skunk oils and deer urine into squirt guns, cut holes into the corner of their purses and spray all the stores. We made sure it was even stronger and more disgustingly rancid than the first time. We finally had them at their breaking point. We pushed harder each time they resisted and within five months after the second “stink” attack, we had a contract signed.
To tie this story into pressure tactics used by the unions today, they are resorting to this type of mindset once again in 2011. Remember, these things really happened but when you are an organizer or an official in labor you live by a significant rule within the union: “Do what you need to do to organize, but don’t get caught.” I never got caught and neither did my team. The management knew it was us, but they couldn’t prove it.
Unions are masters at getting away with this type of behavior. This is why it rarely makes the news. You may hear about public displays of pressure like bannering and strikes. This is by design. There is much more to the “pressure plan” built into the union design that you need to be aware of than public pressure. I should know, it was me who orchestrated many of these tactics. Today, I am on your side. Today, I am ready to work side-by-side with you (management) to ensure events like this don’t happen at your organization. This is why I share my Confessions, so that you are informed and ready to fight in a war that you have a chance of winning.