The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Labor Group Says Union Organizing Growing Riskier

by Brendan Coyne

Dec. 12, 2005 – Firings, humiliation, intimidation, bribes -- all tactics outlawed by national labor laws yet long used by companies trying to dissuade workers from organizing a union. And, according to a new study, these obstacles have grown worse in recent years, contributing directly to the decline in union density nationwide.

The report, Undermining the Right to Organize: Employer Behavior During Union Representation Campaigns, compiled by American Rights at Work, workers’ rights advocacy group backed by the AFL-CIO, examined 62 organizing campaigns in and around Chicago. Researchers arrived at startling conclusions about employer anti-union actions and the success of organizing drives, but led to what labor activists consider potential solutions.

From hiring so-called "union busting" law firms and consultants, to threatening and firing union supporters, to bribing workers, companies in the Chicago area utilized an arsenal of legal and illegal tactics in their efforts to dissuade workers from forming a union, the report says. The data used in the study was compiled from first-hand accounts and government, academic and nonprofit studies. Armed with the results, labor leaders say they may have found a way to turn around the decades-long drain in membership.

"The decline in union density is a hotly debated topic among unions, workers and employers," the report noted, naming the two most commonly cited causes, the changing economy and the perceived irrelevance of collective bargaining. "An alternative reason for the decline in union density is the impact of employer anti-union behavior."

Released as part of an effort to equate labor rights with human rights, the report also dovetails with the National Labor Relations Board’s recent decision to tighten enforcement of its 46-year-old union reporting rules, an effort seen by many inside organized labor as specifically anti-union, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported yesterday. Additionally, the report comes as the AFL-CIO seeks to strengthen a push for changes in union recognition laws.

"Enacting the Employee Free Choice Act is an important first step towards guaranteeing that workers can exercise their democratic right to form unions and successfully negotiate contracts with employers," American Rights at Work chair David Bonior said in a statement accompanying the release of the report.

The act would allow for card-check elections, in which a majority of employees at any workplace need only sign cards authorizing union representation to gain recognition, rather than participate in a voting event. Union organizers contend that such elections protect workers from employer intimidation and are thus fairer than secret-ballot elections administered by the National Labor Relations Board, a federal government body.

"The current state of workers’ rights in America isn’t acceptable," Bonior added. "We’ve got to fix this broken system."

But unions face a good deal of opposition over card-check elections, as well as the "neutrality agreements" – in which employers promise not to interfere with organizing campaigns – that often accompany them. The Conservative Public Research Foundation called such provisions "an insult and an injustice to employees," because they allegedly marginalize the workers who do not want representation in the workplace.

"During the card-check process, workers are forced to sign cards in front of organizers, fellow employees and sometimes employers; a process that invites coercion, intimidation and threats in the workplace," the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), a pro-business lobby, maintains. Contacted by The NewStandard, a NAM communications associate said the group cannot cite research to support such conclusions.

According to a Congressional Research Survey earlier this year, workers win union recognition in about 78 percent of campaigns using card-check processes and neutrality agreements. The percentage of victories drops to just over 65 percent without them.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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