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Union busters, union-avoidance strategists and labor-management consultants that employers hire have one objective: to keep unions out of the workplace. They help employers maintain union-free work environments by developing strategies designed to call into question the integrity of organized labor and to demonstrate to workers that they are better off without union representation.
Union representation often begins when a union organizer approaches workers who appear to be dissatisfied with their working conditions. He or she interacts with them to cultivate a relationship that may culminate with the union being certified to represent the workforce. Provided the union meets certain conditions, such as obtaining signed authorization cards from at least 30 percent of the workers, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board authorizes the start of a campaign. Campaigns last approximately six weeks, during which time both the union and the employer lobby for support among the company's employee base. Employers often engage the services of management consultants -- sometimes referred to as "union busters" -- to assist the company with developing a strategy that will result in winning the support of their employees to sustain a union-free work environment.
As a union representative, you may have an edge on a union buster's campaign strategy. Under normal circumstances, an employer isn't aware that you have filed a representation petition with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board until the board agent determines that you obtained signed authorization cards from a solid 30 percent of the employee base the NLRB considers has a "community of interest." Community of interest means the employees are potentially eligible to belong in a bargaining unit. It's not until after the NLRB determines whether a union has enough valid signatures that the employer receives notice that a labor union filed a petition to represent its employees. During this period, the organizer may identify de facto leaders in the workplace to serve as catalysts for the movement to gain union representation.
All labor unions must submit a Form LM-2 Labor Organization Annual Report to the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. The LM-2 substantiates money coming in and money going out of the union treasury, including salaries for union leaders and organizers. Union busters pore over financial records to identify questionable activities and spending. They use this information to develop a strategy that compels employees to take a closer look at the organization that will potentially be handling their monthly dues. Stay one step ahead of union busters -- review union financial data and draft responses to anticipated inquiries about transactions, loans, income and liabilities.
In addition to requiring labor unions' financial data, the OLMS handles union investigations through its enforcement authority to levy criminal and civil penalties. Many investigations end with a conciliation agreement and union busters use this information to formulate strategy that casts a negative light on organized labor. The key to handling union busters -- who are resourceful and talented researchers -- is to gather information related to unfair labor practices charges as well as OLMS's investigatory materials. Being the first to expose this information is the best way to counter union-busting strategy that focuses on misconduct. Also, sharing this information with employees demonstrates transparency in union activities and practices.
Employers have the right to deliver their messages to captive audiences, which means they can call a mandatory staff meeting to discuss the company's efforts to improve employee relations. Fundamental to captive audience speeches is that union busters often write them. They tell their clients, the employer, what to say during all-staff meetings, carefully avoiding language and phrases that would violate any section of the National Labor Relations Act. Monitoring union buster influence in captive audience speeches is difficult; however, maintaining an inside track with employees who support the union helps uncover the kind of information the employer provides to its workers.
- U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards: Voluntary Compliance Agreements 2013
- Union Busting Playbook: Eight Things Employers Do to Block Unions
- Union Busting Playbook: Glossary
- Union-Busting 101: Exposing the Union Buster
- National Federation of Independent Business: How to Survive a Labor Union Organizing Campaign
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.