Building Trades

Union Busting Surge

Employers have been emboldened by the global economic and political climate to act more aggressively and more punitively against workers.

That’s the conclusion of “No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing,” a May study by Cornell University Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner.

The study finds that private sector employer opposition to workers’ efforts to form unions has intensified and become more punitive than in the past.

Employers are more than twice as likely to use 10 or more tactics — including threats of and actual firings, threats of and actual plant closings, harassment, disciplinary actions, surveillance, and alteration of benefits and working conditions — in their campaigns to thwart workers’ organizing efforts. At the same time, employers are less likely to offer “carrots,” such as unscheduled raises, positive personnel changes, bribes, special favors, social events, promises of improvement and employee involvement programs.

“It’s almost as if employers today have the attitude — we don’t care, we don’t have to care about the law, about public opinion,” Bronfenbrenner says. “We don’t do the carrots. We just do the stick.”

The report provides a comprehensive independent analysis of employer behavior in union representation elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), from 1999 to 2003. Bronfenbrenner finds:

  • 63 percent interrogate workers in one-on-one meetings with their supervisors about support for the union;
  • 54 percent threaten workers in such meetings;
  • 57 percent threaten to close the worksite;
  • 47 percent threaten to cut wages and benefits; and
  • 34 percent fire workers.

Even when workers succeed at forming a union, 52 percent are still without a contract a year after they win the election, and 37 percent remain without a contract two years after the election.

August 19, 2009

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