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10 Audacious Tactics from the Union-Busting Playbook

Anti-union companies have become increasingly aggressive in their union-busting activities. We took a look at their playbook and pulled out some of the top tactics workers everywhere need to be aware of.


Editorial art created by Cagle Cartoon in 2011 is still relevant in New York City construction today. -- Cagle Cartoon

Union-busting has a long and bloody history. For as long as workers have been organizing to win decent wages and fair treatment, employers have been fighting to undermine them. The organizing efforts of previous eras were often countered with violence. Employers enlisted strikebreakers— sometimes referred to as “goon squads”— to beat, bash and bust up strikes and union drives. Many workers died, countless more were injured. But thanks to their courageous efforts, we now have weekends, the eight-hour work day, child labor laws, and many other other benefits we take for granted today. 


Physical violence no longer the go-to tactic, but make no mistake— anti-union companies are as ruthless as they’ve ever been when it comes to coercing and intimidating workers. They have their own goon squads, clad in neckties and wielding clipboards, that prowl company hallways and break rooms. 


Unfortunately, the numbers suggest their efforts are working—  nearly 50% of workers want union representation, yet only 10% are in a union.

Thanks to the courageous efforts of organizers, we now have weekends, the eight-hour work day, child labor laws, and many other other benefits we take for granted today


An ad from IRI Consultants, one of America’s top “labor relations” firms.

To help inform and empower workers everywhere, we looked at the union-busting playbook used by anti-union companies and highlighted 10 audacious union-busting tactics: 


Hiring Union-Busting Consultants

Employers— many of whom claim that they have no money for raises or benefits—  spend thousands of dollars per employee each year on union-busting lawyers and ‘labor relations' firms. They exploit legal loopholes, train management, and deploy a suite of sophisticated techniques to quell union activity, including many of the tactics outlined in this list.


Investigating and Profiling Employees

Anti-union companies will compile dossiers on workers, documenting their personality, temperament, motivations, ethnicity, family background, spouses' employment, finances, health issues, and more. This information can be used in order to spot potential ‘troublemakers,’ and as leverage to coerce employees to vote against unionization. 


Stoking Division Among Employees

Union-busters may try to turn workers against each other by strategically doling out perks, punishments, raises, and responsibilities unfairly between employees in a way designed to create resentment. Their goal is to stoke division and prevent employees from coming together to unionize.

‘Astroturf’ Anti-Union Campaigns

Union-busting companies will often disguise their efforts as a grassroots, employee led movement. They will create fake anti-union websites or employee organizations and will even recruit or bribe employees into doing their anti-union bidding. 


Captive-Audience Meetings

These meetings are usually mandatory and take place during work hours. Employees are made to watch anti-union videos and are fed false anti-union talking points like: “after paying your union dues, you’ll end up making less than before” or “unions will take away your right to speak for yourself.”


Creating a Hostile Work Environment for Pro-Union Employees 

This can involve singling out union supporters for unfair criticism, unmanageable work schedules, or undesirable tasks. The goal is to force these pro-union employees out of the company without having to fire them.

Union Guy Letter.png

Direct mail sent by anti-union groups like the National Right to Work Committee, portray unions as thuggish, corrupt organizations. Meanwhile, worker pay in "right to work states" is below that in states where unions are allowed to prosper.

Targeted Messaging Campaigns

This can involve sending mailers, making phone calls, or using social media to target employees with anti-union messaging inside or outside of work. Union-busters have even been known to contact the families of pro-union employees with their anti-union messaging.


Scare Tactics & Fear Mongering

Union-busters will implicitly or explicitly threaten the jobs of employees voting to unionize. For example, companies have been known to park moving trucks outside on the day of a union vote to send a message to employees that their vote could cost them their job. 


Turning Supervisors Into Spies 

Supervisors are the eyes and ears of upper-level management. Companies may train supervisors to monitor employee behavior and report any signs of union activity. This can include reporting conversations between employees about unions and noting any signs of union literature or organizing materials.


Breaking the Law

When all legal (or semi-legal) options have been exhausted, union-busters may break the law in order to prevent unions from being formed. Many companies view the fines and legal fees associated with busting unions as a cost of doing business. A common example is firing an employee who is attempting to organize. While this is technically illegal, union organizers will tell you it happens all the time. 


The right to unionize is supposed to be federally protected. But because of the power of anti-union interests, it can be nearly impossible to do so. Workers need to keep fighting. But the  government needs to do its part and pass enforceable laws to deter companies from engaging in anti-union tactics.  Only then will we close the gap between workers who have union representation, and those who want it.


Mark Colangelo is a writer and blogger.

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