Union officials and left leaning politicians are always quoting the dreadful reasons there needs to be change in the NLRB labor law. Most of the reports quote Kate Bronfenbrenner, who is the Director of Labor Education Research at the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. Her latest report shows that during a five year period 34% of the elections involved the firing of employees for supporting union activities. In 57% of elections, employers threatened to shut down all or part of their facilities. In 47%, employers threatened to cut wages and benefits. In 63% of campaigns, supervisors met with workers one on one and interrogated them about their union activity or whether they or others were supporting the union. In 54% of the elections, supervisors used these one-on-ones to threaten individual workers.
Her new data indicates that employers are more than twice as likely as they were in the 1990s to use ten or more tactics (including threats and firings) to thwart workers organizing efforts, and they are more likely to use more punitive and aggressive tactics such as interrogations, discharges and threats of plant closings, while shifting away from softer tactics such as social events, promises of improvement and employee involvement programs.
The media is constantly quoting these polls but never questions how these reports are compiled and how the results are calculated or even questions the integrity of the organization doing the poll.
I have (as a former union director of organizing among other positions) over 750 national organizing campaigns under my belt and I can say from my personal experience working in the field with unions across the country that these figures are inaccurate fabricated lies.
It is the organizing department’s responsibility to try to demonstrate abuses from management whether they exist or not. This is part of the organizing strategy and an attempt to get a second bite of the proverbial apple. If a union can demonstrate they have a majority of support (signature cards) in the voting unit and the company violated NLRB law enough then they might get the vote overturned or maybe in rare instances receive a bargaining order. We would file charges for the purpose making the voting block feel we were protecting them; when we started organizing a company we first inoculated the internal organizing committee and make them think they had much more power under the law then they actually did and work to spread the message to the rest of the voters. We wanted them to be solely focused on winning the election (and not let the company dissuade them or repair the issues that led them to want union representation in the first place). In other words escalate the problems. In order to accomplish this we needed them to be insubordinate. Taking over meetings was a hurdle that was required. We had union supporters challenge management in front of coworkers, finding the weak link in the management team and pushing them into making mistakes, and bringing the anger and distrust to a boiling point right before the election.
Ms. Bronfenbrenner also states that there are fewer unfair labor practice charges (ULP’S) than there were in past years but only because “filing charges where the election is likely to be won could delay the election for months if not years; workers fear retaliation for filing charges, especially where the election is likely to be lost; and the weak remedies, lengthy delays and the numerous rulings where ALJ recommendations for reinstatement, second elections, and bargaining orders have then been overturned, delayed, or never enforced, have diminished trust that the system will produce a remedy”.
This is a misconception. First of all, the union filing charges can request that the election proceeds without delay and in fact, union’s have preprinted form letters for this process, if the election is likely to be lost then any smart organizer who can count would pull the petition, and once again most charges are just to create the illusion the union is fighting for them, How is it that her report concludes negative conclusions from positive data?
“Union Organizing 101” begins with an inoculation process to find ways to discredit the company, attack its moral authority and corporate image. We always had contacts to support us at the OSHA board and would make sure there were safety violations to be found. We would search for past EEOC violations and/or look into issues that could be construed to look like current EEOC charges. Keeping the company management on their heels and responding to our charges was the key to winning an election. We attacked the company from every direction and followed Richard Trumka’s definition of a corporate campaign which was also used in non corporate campaigns. Trumka stated, “Corporate campaigns swarm the target employer from every angle, great and small, with an eye toward inflicting upon the employer the death of a thousand cuts rather than a single blow”
Always remember the union’s key to winning an election is how well they train the voters prior to the management knowing anything about the campaign and keeping them motivated.
When I was a union official I met Kate Bronfenbrenner at many union conferences across the country where she was paid to come and speak. I remember when we had a meeting in 1998 to discuss cutting her off because we were angry at her writing the book “Organizing to Win” based on access we allowed her to have to union officials and organizing departments across the country sanctioned by the AFL/CIO. We felt she was exposing part our game plan but the decision was to continue working with her because she could still be a tool. She has a clear pro-union bias and owes the union’s big time but the truth is we always thought she was very pompous.
We were in a war with management and we were ready to do whatever it took to win, Kate was just another tool to attack them.
What I ask is: Where is the flip side of the coin? Her report on the union abuses and attacks on employees who don’t support the union, how many employees are afraid to report threats and intimation from coworkers and union organizers because this also was a main part of the organizing strategy and if the management intimation is so bad then why according to a BNA PLUS (May 12, 2009) report did unions average a 68% win rate in 2008 (and it is even higher in the Health Care industry). Her conclusions mainly are based on surveys giving to union organizing employees and organizing department heads and is it any surprise how they answer? As a organizing director, I have received many of these surveys and we always had a good laugh over the answers we gave and even as early as six months ago, after forming and operating Permanent Solutions Labor Consultants for 8 years I received a survey from her and Cornell University about a representation election my department headed in 1999, I now have this framed in my office.
My conclusion is that I reject her findings on the depth of management abuse at its core and I am perplexed as to why these findings are not scrutinized and how a study so flawed could be used as proof that the most dramatic changes to the NLRB ACT in 70 years needs to take place in the form of the EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act)