With the April 30th deadline for the changes to the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) union election case procedure fast approaching, I have been flooded with questions by many companies about what exactly the future business landscape is going to look like – but I am mystified by how many companies have yet to formulate an effective union avoidance strategy.
In the 1990s, when I moved from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union to the United Steelworkers of America (now the USW) and took the position of international organizing director, I immediately started assisting an aggressive expansion movement into Canada. I assisted the USW in merging with Canadian unions in retail, wholesale, rubber and aluminum workers to quickly become Canada’s largest private sector union. Canada was the perfect location to diversify our membership, with its election cycles averaging between 5 and 10 days from petition / application to election.
We immediately trained and hired many new organizers to meet the needs of the massive organizing assault that was in the works, and figured out the best strategies to devote our efforts to. First we concentrated on organizing within the newly merged industries and went after the companies where we already had represented members. We also brought in union organizers from the U.S. who were experienced in the industries we were going after. We formed assault-style teams to quickly overwhelm our targets; with a 5 to 10 day election turnover, it was easy to distract management teams and deplete company resources, costing them tens of thousands to millions of dollars within a very short time frame. It was very cheap and easy to commit small teams to strategically frustrate and confuse management.
Retail stores were some our first targets. We wanted to hit a large grocery store chain, so we pinpointed 15 out of 92 stores across Canada to start out with. We sent salts (infiltrators) to get hired and assist established support in these stores, giving us a breakdown of all the stores in the chain. Our data reports gave us a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of each management team, as well as information on their demographics, income and turnover rate. We spent almost four months in those first 15 stores building internal support using our research. We also decided to send salts to another 12 stores, including the chain’s flagship store, to create a distraction when the time was right.
We created a detailed calendar of events to fill the days from when the petition / application was filed until the election. We had age, sex and race charges ready to file before we even filed any petitions / applications for election. Our goal was to file all elections simultaneously. Our next move was to deflect attention from our real targets by exposing organizing activities in the 12 stores that we were using as distracters.
Our goal was to get the company to exhaust their management resources by having the employees directed by the salts to flaunt organizing activity in these 12 stores. These stores were strategically picked to be a far distance from each other to make it impossible for any one group of corporate campaigners to hit more than one store a day. This also kept their legal teams tied up with multiple charges being filed, while at the same time we hit their other stores with disruptions such as protests and demonstrations against unfair treatment to their employees. We were known to hit the stores with skunk oil to close them down and force them to hire PR companies to do damage control for their corporate image. In the midst of this, we filed petitions / applications for the 15 stores that were our true targets, and hit them with a flood of charges. Five to ten days later, we had elections and won all 15 stores. It was very easy to do. Given the short amount of time for the election process, it would be nearly impossible for any company to recover from that type of internal destruction within that amount of time. In the first two years, my team’s win rate was 90% in organizing, and the money saved by not having long campaigns was tremendous.
While working for the unions, I overlooked 1000+ organizing campaigns, so I can say with some authority that the biggest cause of union-organizing activities is the breakdown of communication, resulting in anger and frustration. Unions win well-executed organizing campaigns by destroying the relationship between employees and their management teams, making the work atmosphere ripe for the unions’ propaganda. Unions spend their time before the election petition is filed undercover, and when they have sufficient support they file and simultaneously attack the public image and reputation of the target employer. Fictitious charges flow and the union organizers do everything in their power to keep the company distracted and the employees angry. This is easily accomplished, but the problem was always keeping the high energy levels sustained for 42 days. In my example above, that problem was avoided because of Canada’s short election cycle. While I was a union official, we often spoke of the carnage we would release on companies in the U.S. if we had a Canadian-style election timeline, since quick assault organizing teams could go after unsuspecting companies and hit them hard and fast after the preliminary work was done internally.
The NLRB has also stepped up putting pressure on companies by forcing field agents to scrutinize any ULP charges filed against management. We have received internal confirmation that direction has come down from Washington D.C. that the normal rules of evidence are out the window, charges that in the past would have been thrown out for lack of merit will now been given a new life, and management now has a bigger burden to demonstrate innocence of charges thrown at them.
Now is the time to get ahead of the curb and insulate your company against union infiltration.
Union Says right-to-work law violates free speech
New laws in Indiana have adopted right-to-work laws, prohibiting labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues, or representation fees. Since these laws have been passed, Unions have spoken up and said that these laws should be turned down on account of the union’s freedom of speech being infringed upon. The attorneys for the union are citing the Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee case, which reduced restrictions for corporate campaign spending. (http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_08_205 )
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150’s attorneys have filed a 45 page brief with numerous arguments against the new law amendments. Included in these arguments, includes the point that by not receiving dues from all the workers, they are no longer receiving the same funding for political speech. They are claiming that the state has actually sided with the corporations, and restricting a channel of speech-supporting finance.
On April 26th there is a hearing set to be held revolving around the state’s motion to dismiss this lawsuit. Later this month they plan to use the Citizens United Ruling that struck down restrictions that were previously placed on corporations’ and union spending for endorsing, advertising and other various uses for political speech.
Many critics are pointing out a fair amount of flaws and weakness in the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150’s argument. Some third party lawyers that are quoted in the article say that the Union never used the first amendment argument in their original argument, which is the position that would give them their best chance to win this case. However, since they did not begin with this point in their case, it is out of line. Others were quoted saying “ The Free Speech is for you to speak…it’s not that you have the authority to have others pay for it.”
It’s curious– how much of the Citizens case will hold to the unions cause in this situation. Many lawyers have said that this would “turn Citizens United on its head” or that it there would be surprise if “Citizens United will bear the weight they’re attempting to put on it”. Furthermore, if this case is brought to a Supreme Court hearing and the Union wins their case, this would alter labor law perhaps in a greater fashion than even the new amendments coming from the NLRB at the end of this month.
While some call this a stretch, it is a topic that is hot, and it has the potential to affect the labor environment on a national level.
Between the Rust Belt States considering Right-to-Work laws for the first time, and the NLRB amending the National Labor Relations Act, essentially changing labor law for the first time in 50 years, the rules for the conflict between Corporations and Unions will have the potential to change drastically.
Michigan right-to-work campaign link