Union busting
Union busting is a wide range of activities undertaken by employers, their proxies, and governments, which attempt to prevent the formation or expansion of trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

s. Union busting tactics range from subtle to violent, and from legal to illegal, including sowing discord amongst union members, challenging unions in courts of law, strike breaking
A strikebreaker is a person who works despite an ongoing strike. Strikebreakers are usually individuals who are not employed by the company prior to the trade union dispute, but rather hired prior to or during the strike to keep the organisation running...

, lockouts
Lockout (industry)
A lockout is a work stoppage in which an employer prevents employees from working. This is different from a strike, in which employees refuse to work.- Causes :...

, physical confrontation and intimidation, the sponsorship of anti-union organizations, or preemption through the creation of employer-controlled trade unions
Company union
A company union is a trade union which is located within and run by a company or by the national government, and is not affiliated with an independent trade union. Company unions were outlawed in the United States by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, due to their use as agents for interference...

. The right to join and form trade unions is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Great Britain

Following the repeal of the Combination Laws
Combination Act
The Combination Act 1799, titled An Act to prevent Unlawful Combinations of Workmen , prohibited trade unions and collective bargaining by British workers. An additional act was passed in 1800 ....

 in 1824, workers were no longer prohibited from forming organizations or collective bargaining
Collective bargaining
Collective bargaining is a process of negotiations between employers and the representatives of a unit of employees aimed at reaching agreements that regulate working conditions...

, although significant restrictions remained. In 1832 the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers was formed in Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

 to challenge declining wages (members of the organization agreed to only work for wages of a set amount). In 1834 a landlord complained about the group and key members were subsequently charged and convicted under laws prohibiting the swearing of secret oaths and sentenced to seven years penal transportation
Penal transportation
Transportation or penal transportation is the deporting of convicted criminals to a penal colony. Examples include transportation by France to Devil's Island and by the UK to its colonies in the Americas, from the 1610s through the American Revolution in the 1770s, and then to Australia between...

 to Australia. This sentence invoked a movement to defend the members, who were released in 1836 and 1837. The workers became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs
Tolpuddle Martyrs
The Tolpuddle Martyrs were a group of 19th century Dorset agricultural labourers who were arrested for and convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. The rules of the society show it was clearly structured as a friendly society and operated as...

 in reference to the village where the organization began and their treatment.

United States

Union busting in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 dates at least to the 19th century when a rapid expansion in factories and manufacturing capabilities caused a migration of workers from agricultural work to mining, manufacturing and transportation industries. Conditions were often unsafe, workers often toiled in dangerous environments, women worked for lower wages than men, and children were employed, often for long hours. Because employers and governments did little to address these issues, labor movements in the industrialized world were formed to seek better wages, hours, and working conditions. The clashes between labor and management were often adversarial and hostile and were deeply affected by wars, economic conditions, government policies, legislation, and court proceedings.

Although companies may influence unions through bargaining, labor relations, and by other means, employer-controlled unions in the United States have been outlawed since the National Labor Relations Act
National Labor Relations Act
The National Labor Relations Act or Wagner Act , is a 1935 United States federal law that limits the means with which employers may react to workers in the private sector who create labor unions , engage in collective bargaining, and take part in strikes and other forms of concerted activity in...

 of 1935, which requires that an employer may neither assist (as in the event of unions competing to organize the company), nor dominate any labor organization.

Union busters

Union busters is a term widely used by labor organizations and others to describe individuals and/or organizations such as labor lawyers, labor relations consultants, and/or industrial psychologists who are either opposed to unionization or engage in practices designed to stop workers from forming trade unions, or from remaining in trade unions. When corporations confront organizing drives, they may hire a labor relations consultant. Because unions depend on the support, confidence, and good will of its members, some labor relations consultants target those qualities in strike breaking or union avoidance campaigns.

The union avoidance industry consists of four main groups which frequently coordinate their activities: labor consultants, law firms, industrial psychologists, and strike management firms. These agencies advertise services related to their ability to navigate the labor laws of a country in order to defeat union organizing drives, to defeat strikes, or to decertify unions. The term union buster may be applied to any agency that undertakes such projects. The term may also be applied to employers who undertake such actions on their own initiative, or who hire union busting agencies in order to accomplish the same goals.

Most labor relations attorneys and consultants participate in multiple disciplines such as bargaining, arbitration and mediation, and compensation analysis. The specialty of union busting (or counter organizing) is not always evident from a consultant's website.

Firms and organizations which specialize in countering trade union organizing drives typically work with a company's management and supervisors to focus on techniques intended to influence worker attitudes to dissuade any sort of collective action
Collective action
Collective action is the pursuit of a goal or set of goals by more than one person. It is a term which has formulations and theories in many areas of the social sciences.-In sociology:...

s. During a union certification election, these consultants may encourage employers to view the campaign as a failure of management rather than a vote for or against joining a trade union. Consultants may advise management to solve workforce issues before labor unrest occurs in order to stem the tide of organizing activity with the intention of "making unions or third party representation superfluous."

However, some analysts remain skeptical of such portrayals by labor relations consultants. According to former management consultant Martin Levitt, "When CEO's hire labor relation consultants to battle a labor union, they close their eyes and give the consultant run of the company." And John Logan, a labor expert at the London School of Economics
London School of Economics
The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university specialised in the social sciences located in London, United Kingdom, and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

, believes that while union avoidance consultants and law firms pay lip service to "preventive" or "positive" labour relations, most of them are actually hired for the specific purpose of counteracting union organizing efforts.

Changing focus of union busters

There are many Labor Relations consultancies in the United States. While some are very diverse, others specialize in specific industries such as Health Care, Manufacturing, Aerospace, Utilities, public sector, etc. Although many work only in the United States, others are established in international markets such as Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.

In both the U.S. and Europe, organizing campaigns increasingly involve immigrant non English speaking workers. According to John Logan, at least one agency has an established international division which has been operating in Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and Mexico. Since recognition procedures changed in the U.K. it has expanded to the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany and Asia. it employs consultants fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Tagalog, Creole and several dialects of Chinese, allowing it "access and acceptance in virtually any employee group and [it] enjoys a reputation for eliminating union incursions."

Examining conditions in the late 1990s, John Logan observed that union busting agencies helped to "transform economic strikes into a virtually suicidal tactic for U.S. unions." Logan further observed, "as strike rates in the United States have plummeted to historic low levels, the demand for strike management firms has also declined." Because of the decrease in the manufacturing sector and resultant decline in union members and unionized organizations, as well as the decreasing number of strikes, contemporary union busting agencies have developed union avoidance programs aimed at non union companies which (instead of focusing on strikes and decertifying existing unions) is focused on "preventing" worker interest in unions by training managers and supervisors in techniques called "preventive labor relations". Some corporations spend considerable resources employing professional consultancies to audit their organizations in order to determine issues before their employees seek union representation. They train their supervisory staff about how not to commit infractions that would trigger unrest and card signing.

How organizations find union busters

Clients may seek out labor consultants based on experience, track record, language skills, and reputation. Labor laws differ from one nation to another, therefore global experience with international labor relations law may be a factor. The E.U has recently seen an influx of counter organizing activity largely due to U.S. companies establishing satellite divisions on the European continent and Asia. Some multi-national corporations have pre-established relationships with U.S. consultancies.

In 1980, most union busters acquired clients through a network of labor lawyers. Some companies keep labor relations consultants and attorneys on retainer. Others may monitor government NLRB offices where NLRB petitions for recognition or elections are filed by unions which reveal organizing drives before management knows about them. Advertising through websites and direct mail are additional means of contact.

Historically, some agencies sent secret operatives into a prospective client's factory without permission. A report was prepared and submitted to the manager, revealing conspiracies of sabotage and union activities. Such aggressive and disreputable tactics no longer seem common, nor necessary, in order for labor relations specialists to find clients.::cn}}

Methods of union busting

Many unionized employers, and the unions that represent their workforce, periodically engage in negotiations in order to establish the rules governing issues such as wages, hours, and working conditions. This may be a contentious process, in part due to the possibility of escalation, which may include various types of job actions that move the focus away from the negotiating table and seek to punish the corporation with a boycott or strike, thereby gaining leverage at the negotiating table.

Employers make preparations for possible union strategies, just as unions plan job actions to pressure employers. Some of these activities and preparations may be considered routine. For example, manufacturing companies may develop a strike contingency plan which includes stockpiling product before the contract expires, in order to maintain sales during a work stoppage. This action may also intimidate union members into not striking.

Some union avoidance practices are passive. Management may seek diversification of the workforce, hiring different ethnic groups and even communities that speak different languages, in order to inhibit worker solidarity.

Other corporate activities may be aimed at gaining advantage beyond simply concluding negotiations successfully or winning during a job action. A corporation may seek to weaken or destroy a union, using the job action as justification. Labor legislation has limited the methods that corporations may use to discipline a workforce, and has decreased the number and variety of economic tools readily available to unions. In some cases, the methods employed by union busters have become more subtle.

"Dirty tricks"

A number of tactics used in union-busting are considered underhanded, including incrimination and falsification. Some corporations have been accused of illegal practices such as tapping the phone of a union organizer, and exploiting managers' racial, class, and gender prejudices and fears.

However, many tactics employed by corporations are more subtle. For example, federal labor law requires the employer to provide the union with the names and home addresses of all union election eligible employees. A labor consultant may advise the company to provide nothing more than the very minimum necessary legal address requirements, which do not include zip codes, apartment numbers, or street designations such as Street, Avenue, Drive, or Place. The union is forced to spend significant resources to translate the minimal required legal addresses into usable addresses, and may therefore fail to contact many potential members.

Corporate relations with management and labor

In response to some such government-required action, the company sends apologetic letters to the employees, portraying such actions as an inconvenience or an invasion of privacy rights, the blame for which is laid at the doorstep of the union. Descriptions of the union often include threatening or derogatory connotations, while management is often portrayed as humble, caring, and righteous. For example, Levitt notes that some letters might emphasize the costs of joining a union or the possible loss of jobs arising from a strike.

Labor relations consultants put the union on the defensive by criticizing its leadership and forcing the union to spend hours defending itself during meetings rather than organizing the union's planning efforts or campaign strategy. The workers won't find the time to discuss their own issues if they're sufficiently bombarded with the "twisted disinformation" sown by the union buster.

But the well-orchestrated anti-union campaign is also nuanced and calibrated to human emotion. After all the employees and supervisors are exhausted from the fight over the upcoming election, the union buster may offer a "give us a chance" letter which is a "tearful, apologetic plea" for an apparent truce. It creates an impression that management recognizes its mistakes and has learned its lessons from the organizing campaign, and that in alerting management to the problems, the union — portrayed as a self-serving group of outsiders with their own agenda — can serve no further useful purpose. This offer is typically timed so that its impact is felt just before the election.

Intelligence operations

Either side in a labor negotiation is likely to perform better during confrontations if it is well-informed, or if it can place operatives in key positions. Corporations have resorted to seeking intelligence on union activities, often by employing informants, labor spies, and saboteurs
Labor spies
Labor spies are persons recruited or employed for the purpose of gathering intelligence, committing sabotage, sowing dissent, or engaging in other similar activities, typically within the context of an employer/labor organization relationship....

. A plant can be used to disrupt meetings, question the legitimacy and motives of the union, and report the results of the meetings to management. Such behavior is illegal, but difficult to prove in court.

Some actions of operatives are prankish, yet effective. In 1980, union buster Martin Jay Levitt conducted a counter-organizing drive at a nursing home in Sebring, Ohio
Sebring, Ohio
Sebring is a village in Mahoning County, Ohio, United States. The population was 4,912 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA Metropolitan Statistical Area....

. He assigned confederates to scratch up cars, then blamed it on the union. The deed occurred as part of a campaign to portray the union as a threat to nursing home residents. Creating and exploiting a prolonged climate of fear was key to destroying the union's credibility.

Intelligence gathering may be ingenious and deceptive. The week before a union election, the labor consultant may announce an innocent-sounding election-week pool among managers and supervisors. Each person contributes a dollar, with the possibility of winning a one hundred dollar prize, by recording the number of "no" votes they're predicting for the union election. The consultant now has a barometer of confidence from all participants. Those who predict a lower number of "no" votes may reflect areas of the workforce into which the union avoidance campaign can pour resources in the days just prior to the election. While participants are likely to view such a poll as nothing more sinister than a sports pool, in reality it circumvents labor laws that prohibit management from conducting straw votes among employees during an organizing drive.

Legal actions

Labor consultants use rules and regulations to impede an organizing drive. Delays and jurisdictional changes may be sought to obstruct union plans for a quick and straightforward campaign. If the union focuses on one division of the company, lawyers may disrupt such plans and dilute the vote by petitioning the National Labor Relations Board
National Labor Relations Board
The National Labor Relations Board is an independent agency of the United States government charged with conducting elections for labor union representation and with investigating and remedying unfair labor practices. Unfair labor practices may involve union-related situations or instances of...

 (NLRB) to include other divisions. If the union seeks to include foreman or "junior supervisor" positions in the bargaining unit, union busting lawyers may file on that issue. Even the jurisdiction of the NLRB to oversee an organizing drive may be challenged. Protracted delays could turn the organizing campaign into a war of attrition, and such battles are almost always won by management.

If the organizing struggle can be made to last long enough, it demonstrates to workers that the union is not in control and they will lose faith in the process. In one delaying effort a lawyer hired a photographer to take thousands of photographs of a factory, purportedly to show that the voting unit was improperly defined. Each photo was introduced into evidence individually, a tedious process that took days.

Many of the methods for defeating unions have been practiced by union busters for a very long time. For example, Harry Wellington Laidler wrote a book in 1913 which reported the use of delaying tactics and provocation by an undercover operative of one of the largest union busters, Corporations Auxiliary Company
Corporations Auxiliary Company
Corporations Auxiliary Company was a corporation created to conduct "the administration of industrial espionage", essentially, providing labor spies who could propagandize, sabotage, or act as goons in exchange for payment...

. They would tell prospective employers,

Once the union is in the field its members can keep it from growing if they know how, and our man knows how. Meetings can be set far apart. A contract can at once be entered into with the employer, covering a long period, and made very easy in its terms. However, these tactics may not be good, and the union spirit may be so strong that a big organization cannot be prevented. In this case our man turns extremely radical. He asks for unreasonable things and keeps the union embroiled in trouble. If a strike comes, he will be the loudest man in the bunch, and will counsel violence and get somebody in trouble. The result will be that the union will be broken up."

Favoritism and division

Consultants may direct management to establish "Vote No" committees of pro-company employees charged with the responsibility of rewarding loyal workers. Such workers may receive special favors, extra time off, and other bonuses. Pro-union workers are forced to undergo ever-tighter scrutiny, and are confronted with scurrilous rumors spread by the anti-union campaign. Whenever the union attempts to hold constructive meetings of potential union members, a group of anti-union employees may be sent by union busting consultants with instructions to disrupt the meeting and put the union on the defensive. The anti-union employees might shout and sneer, or ask hostile, misleading questions. Some of them may be tasked with jotting down profuse notes whenever someone speaks to make pro-union workers uncomfortable. The company gains from any divisions or animosity created by such tactics, for the union can be blamed for driving "a wedge of hate into a once unified work force."

Creating an illusion of progress

After questioning the usefulness and motives of the union, the second imperative of a union avoidance campaign is to humanize the executives in the eyes of workers. The goal is to portray the company as benevolent, compassionate, and caring. According to former union buster Martin Jay Levitt, managers might learn at seminars ways to market themselves through the alteration of perceptions, such as appearing more open and caring by relaxing certain rules.

Management temporarily submits to the guidance of consultants concerning all communications with employees. Examples of management's changes in procedures are publicized to all employees. Through surveys and interviews, the union buster develops an insight into who in management the union likes and trusts. These members of management become the new face of the company during the union organizing campaign while the others are coached on masking or overcoming their dislikeable characteristics. Absent such transformation, their visible role is diminished.

"Give the workers just enough rope so that they believe they are off the leash, just enough to fool them into scorning the union. The golden rule of management control, as I taught it, was: incorporate dissent, institutionalize it. They would find, I promised my disciples, that dissension won't be half as attractive to the masses once the rebels are sitting down with the bosses...the cunning manager should embrace his workplace rebels. Be grateful for them, I offered, for they are your most effective shield against the union. If you can convince the activists that they'll accomplish more, perhaps have more power, without a union, why, you've won the war.

Managers or owners may be asked to visit worksites and exchange jokes, gossip, and laughter with workers. The theme of company-as-family prevails, with the union portrayed as an upstart outsider. Only after a union organizing drive is defeated, might company executives revert to their previous conduct.


United States labor law
United States labor law
United States labor law is a heterogeneous collection of state and federal laws. Federal law not only sets the standards that govern workers' rights to organize in the private sector, but also overrides most state and local laws that attempt to regulate this area. Federal law also provides more...

 confers certain reporting requirements on labor consultants who communicate with employees. For this and other reasons, consultants typically remain behind the scenes and operate through first line supervision. If supervisors fail to cooperate, or if they sympathize with the union, they may be fired. Their unique position between management and fellow workers makes the front-line supervisor isolated and vulnerable to exploitation in union-busting campaigns.

Supervisors are usually required to attend daily interviews conducted by well-rehearsed consultants who arrive with a carefully prepared chart for each worker, with all available data on the employee's finances, sexual activities, and loyalty to the company included. Pairs of consultants may present supervisors with a good cop/bad cop
Good cop/Bad cop
Good cop/bad cop, known in British military circles as Mutt and Jeff and also called joint questioning and friend and foe, is a psychological tactic used for interrogation....

 routine in order to gain cooperation and information. A promise of confidentiality may be conveyed to the supervisor, but all useful information is routinely passed to executives, circulated as a damaging rumor against pro-union employees, or filed away for future use. If there are questions regarding the performance or loyalty of a supervisor, they may be subjected to interrogations by multiple consultants who will use intimidation and blunt threats of dismissal, which is legal if directed at management employees. Ultimately, many supervisors can be badgered into begging for their jobs—not from consultants or from upper management, but from employees scheduled to vote in the union election.

Unions sometimes seek to include foreman, lead-hand, or layout operator positions in the bargaining unit during a union organizing drive. The tactic may depend upon the job responsibilities actually performed by employees in these positions, but also upon the particular loyalties of these groups. Union busters seek to have a proportionally significant number of supervisory staffers charged with that task, regardless of their position on unions matters; if they are not extended the protection of the bargaining unit, then their demonstrated loyalty to the company and its goal of defeating the union campaign can be made a condition of employment. Thus, positions of work group leadership or lower management often become contested positions in organizing struggles. If the bargaining unit established by the union's petition for a union election does not allow the union buster sufficient management staff to launch a counter-organizing campaign, then the union buster may seek to redefine the bargaining unit through appeals to the NLRB. The National Labor Relations Act
National Labor Relations Act
The National Labor Relations Act or Wagner Act , is a 1935 United States federal law that limits the means with which employers may react to workers in the private sector who create labor unions , engage in collective bargaining, and take part in strikes and other forms of concerted activity in...

 (NLRA) allows some latitude for this, in that it declares a supervisor not just to be someone who can hire, fire, or transfer employees, but also someone "who can effectively recommend" any of these actions.

Creating favorable and unfavorable impressions

In a union organizing campaign, image is crucial. Both the union and the union buster may try to create a positive impression of their own actions, and an unfavorable impression of the adversary. Such efforts extend to the portrayal of tactics employed, and of required steps during the organizing campaign.

For example, when federal law could be useful — even if such rulings were viewed unfavorably by the work force — union buster Martin Jay Levitt used the law and presented the results as inevitable. Meanwhile, inconvenient federal requirements were attributed to the union, rather than the government.

Levitt was fighting an organizing drive in a nursing home. The first level of nurses (LPNs
Licensed Practical Nurse
Licensed practical nurse is the term used in much of the United States and most Canadian provinces to refer to a nurse who cares for "people who are sick, injured, convalescent, or disabled under the direction of registered nurses and physicians. The term licensed vocational nurses is used in...

) made up a significant proportion of the workforce, and there weren't enough of the next higher level of nurses (RPNs) to effectively launch a counter-organizing campaign. The LPNs had been a driving force behind the union effort because they felt they were "neither paid nor respected as skilled professionals." Levitt recommended to the company lawyer that they contest the inclusion of the LPNs in the bargaining unit before the NLRB, and this was successful. Thus, the pro-union LPNs were declared management for the sake of defeating the union. Levitt then composed a letter explaining this hostile maneuver to the nurses, blaming the action on the federal government, implying that the company had no role in their change of status, and describing the good intentions of the company in complying with the law. The letter then asserted the necessity of loyalty that is required of all management employees.

Levitt then informed the pro-union LPNs that they would have to give up their contacts within the union, ostensibly so that — as part of management — they wouldn't violate federal labor laws prohibiting spying. Levitt states in his book Confessions of a Union Buster that he used improper, and even illegal tactics whenever it suited him, but he withheld such details from the nurses. In contrast to this assertion of management's innocence in such matters, Levitt portrayed the union as devious and sneaky.

While addressing a group of supervisors whom he wanted to help stop a union organizing drive, Levitt characterized a strike vote by only those who had signed authorization cards as an improper act by the union. He wanted them to believe that the union was "stacking" the vote, and therefore could not be trusted. In truth, limiting the vote to employees who have signed cards is required by federal law.


One of the weapons traditionally wielded by already-established unions is the strike. Some companies may decline entirely to negotiate with the union, and respond to the strike by hiring replacement workers. This may create a crisis situation for strikers — do they stick to their original plan and rely upon their solidarity, or is there a chance that the strike may be lost? How long will the strike last? Will strikers' jobs still be there if the strike fails? Are other strikers succumbing to management's calculated tactics and relentless propaganda? Companies that hire strikebreakers typically play upon these fears when they attempt to convince union members to abandon the strike and cross the union's picket line.

Unions faced with a strikebreaking situation may try to inhibit the use of strikebreakers by a variety of methods — establishing picket lines where the strikebreakers enter the workplace; discouraging strike breakers from taking, or from keeping, strikebreaking jobs; raising the cost of hiring strikebreakers for the company; or employing public relations tactics. Companies may respond by increasing security forces and seeking court injunctions.


Employers may put pressure on a union by declaring a lockout
Lockout (industry)
A lockout is a work stoppage in which an employer prevents employees from working. This is different from a strike, in which employees refuse to work.- Causes :...

, a work stoppage in which an employer prevents employees from working. A lockout changes the psychological impact of a work stoppage and, if the company possesses information about an impending strike, can be enacted prior to the strike's implementation.

Taxpayer-financed union busting in the United States

During the 1960s, low-paid workers at nonprofit hospitals formed unions and demanded recognition. Major American cities experienced a series of hospital strikes, some of which were violent. Hospital workers and labor leaders insisted that the NLRA be amended to cover employees at nonprofits, and by 1974 President Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

 had signed such a law. In 1979 Congress investigated a backlash against new union organizing resulting from that law and learned that public money was often used to pay for union busting activities, some of which were brutal or illegal.

A substantial amount of fees paid to union busters had come from the federal Medicaid program, even though union busting is not an allowed fee. In spite of prohibitions, the hospitals managed to finance union-busting costs by packaging them with training costs. A hospital watchdog agency in Massachusetts ordered six hospitals to reimburse Medicaid $250,000 for anti-union campaigns from 1974 to 1976.

State laws at one time sought to prevent taxpayer funds from being awarded to union busting corporations through government contracts. One such law, passed in Wisconsin in 1979, was struck down by the United States Supreme Court in the decision Wisconsin Dept. of Industry v. Gould. The 1986 Supreme Court decision means that it doesn't matter if the punishment for illegal behavior under federal labor law is limited, those punishments are the maximum allowed and states cannot eliminate such companies from government contracts. Critics charge that, in effect, "federal labor law forces states to hire unionbusters."

Also in the 1970s, the Department of Defense partially financed union busting by its contractors. Such activities appear to be illegal, for they conflict with the NLRA. In 1998, Catholic Healthcare West
Catholic Healthcare West
Catholic Healthcare West is a California-based not-for-profit public benefit corporation that operates hospitals in California, Arizona, and Nevada. As such, it is exempt from federal and state income taxes...

, the largest private hospital chain in California and a major recipient of state Medicaid funds, conducted a campaign against Service Employees International Union
Service Employees International Union
Service Employees International Union is a labor union representing about 1.8 million workers in over 100 occupations in the United States , and Canada...

 (SEIU) in Sacramento and Los Angeles at a cost of more than $2.6 million. After the Catholic Healthcare West campaign, the California state legislature passed a law prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds for anti-union activities.

However, in a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America et al. vs. Brown, Attorney General of California et al., the court ruled 7-2 that federal labor law pre-empted a California law that limited many employers from speaking to their employees about union-related issues. Justice John Paul Stevens stated that Federal labor law had embraced "wide-open debate" about labor issues, as long as the employer did not try to coerce employees into accepting its point of view. Consequently, the state law is incompatible with federal labor law.

Other efforts to restrict the use of tax dollars for union busting have also been struck down. A major recipient of state Medicaid funds, the Center for Cerebral Palsy in Albany
Albany, New York
Albany is the capital city of the U.S. state of New York, the seat of Albany County, and the central city of New York's Capital District. Roughly north of New York City, Albany sits on the west bank of the Hudson River, about south of its confluence with the Mohawk River...

, New York, hired a law firm to fight a UNITE
Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees
The Union of Needle trades, Industrial, and Textile Employees was a labor union in the United States, formed in 1995 as a merger between the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union...

 organizing drive. In 2002 the State of New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 passed a labor neutrality act prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars for union busting. The law was passed as a direct result of the campaign against UNITE. In May 2005, a district court judge struck down the labor neutrality law in a ruling that the legal representatives of the Center for Cerebral Palsy described as "an enormous victory for employers."

Workers assisting union busters

Workers may sometimes join union busting efforts for reasons of ideology (see opposition to trade unions
Opposition to trade unions
Opposition to trade unions comes from a variety of groups in society, and there are many different types of argument on which this opposition is based.-Strategic strikes and social disruption:...

), self-interest (such as bribes or aversion to union dues payments) or because of an identification with employers. Another possible reason is retribution for a non-union employee's firing due to expressing his frustration, in a private venue, regarding the iniquitous labor expectations between union and non-union workers by way of the union workers' abuse of their union's protection at his workplace. Conversely, there are unionists who form organizations seeking greater democratic control over trade unions, form factions
Political faction
A political faction is a grouping of individuals, such as a political party, a trade union, or other group with a political purpose. A faction or political party may include fragmented sub-factions, “parties within a party," which may be referred to as power blocs, or voting blocs. The individuals...

 within trade unions (which may occur in relation to political parties or ideology) or may seek representation of a different trade union (demarcation dispute
Demarcation dispute
A demarcation dispute occurs when two labour unions claim the right to represent the same class or group of workers. This is particularly important in compulsory arbitration systems of industrial relations, as in Australia; where only one union may be the registered representative of a particular...

). Thus, worker involvement against a specific trade union may or may not fall under the usual definition of union busting.

Under United States labor law
United States labor law
United States labor law is a heterogeneous collection of state and federal laws. Federal law not only sets the standards that govern workers' rights to organize in the private sector, but also overrides most state and local laws that attempt to regulate this area. Federal law also provides more...

, if a union already exists in a workplace, workers may request a decertification election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board
National Labor Relations Board
The National Labor Relations Board is an independent agency of the United States government charged with conducting elections for labor union representation and with investigating and remedying unfair labor practices. Unfair labor practices may involve union-related situations or instances of...

. Employers and management are prohibited from interfering with employees' choice regarding trade union representation in the workplace, and therefore the employer may not take a direct role in the decertification process. Employers, however, may support or sponsor third party organizations which advocate decertification and other anti-union measures. Because decertification elections depend upon a show of support from the workers, such as submitting dated signatures from 30 percent of a union's membership in support of an election, employer-supported organizations direct their publicity towards workers.

Industrial psychologists as union busters

Nathan Shefferman introduced some basic psychological techniques into the union avoidance industry and the complementary service of union prevention. Building upon his work, professionally trained psychologists in the 1960s focused overtly on combating unionization and began using sophisticated psychological techniques to "screen out potential union supporters, identify hotspots vulnerable to unionization, and structure the workplace to facilitate the maintenance of a non-union environment." These psychologists provided companies with psychological profiles and conducted audits concerning a firm's susceptibility to unionization.

Between 1974 and 1984, one firm established by one industrial psychologist trained over 27,000 managers and supervisors to "make unions unnecessary" and surveyed almost one million employees in 4,000 organizations.

Anti-union employers' organizations in the United States

In the United States shortly after 1900, there were just a few effective employers' organizations that opposed the union movement. By 1903, these organizations started to coalesce, and a national employers' movement began to exert a powerful influence on industrial relations and public affairs.

For nearly a decade prior to 1903, an industrial union
Industrial unionism
Industrial unionism is a labor union organizing method through which all workers in the same industry are organized into the same union—regardless of skill or trade—thus giving workers in one industry, or in all industries, more leverage in bargaining and in strike situations...

 called the Western Federation of Miners
Western Federation of Miners
The Western Federation of Miners was a radical labor union that gained a reputation for militancy in the mines of the western United States and British Columbia. Its efforts to organize both hard rock miners and smelter workers brought it into sharp conflicts – and often pitched battles...

 (WFM) had been increasing in power, militancy, and radicalism as a response to dangerous working conditions, employer-employee inequality, the imposition of long hours of work, and what members perceived as an imperious attitude on the part of employers. In particular, members of the WFM had been outraged by employers' widespread use of labor spies
Labor spies
Labor spies are persons recruited or employed for the purpose of gathering intelligence, committing sabotage, sowing dissent, or engaging in other similar activities, typically within the context of an employer/labor organization relationship....

 in organizing efforts such as Coeur d'Alene
Coeur d'Alene miners' dispute
There were two related incidents between miners and mine owners in the Coeur d'Alene Mining District of North Idaho: the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho labor strike of 1892, and the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho labor confrontation of 1899. This article is a brief overview of both events.The strike of 1892 had its...

. The miners' frustrations had occasionally exploded in anger and violence. But they had also tried peaceful change, and found that route impossible. For example, after winning a referendum vote for the eight hour day with support from 72 percent of Colorado's electorate, the WFM's goal of an eight hour law was still defeated by employers and politicians.

In 1901, angry WFM members passed a convention proclamation that a "complete revolution of social and economic conditions" was "the only salvation of the working classes." To employers the statement seemed tantamount to a declaration of war. Colorado employers and their supporters reacted to growing union restlessness and power in a confrontation that came to be called the Colorado Labor Wars
Colorado Labor Wars
Colorado's most significant battles between labor and capital occurred primarily between miners and mine operators. In these battles the state government, with one clear exception, always took the side of the mine operators....


But fear and apprehension on the part of employers, who felt unions were threatening to their businesses, were by no means limited to Colorado. Across the nation, the first elements of a network of employers' organizations that would span the coming century were just beginning to arise.

Anti-union organizations played increasingly prominent roles in American politics. In April 1903, David M. Parry spoke to the annual convention of the National Association of Manufacturers
National Association of Manufacturers
The National Association of Manufacturers is an advocacy group headquartered in Washington, D.C. with 10 additional offices across the country...

 (NAM) and he delivered a speech critical of organized labor, asserting that trade unionism and socialism differ only in method, with both aiming to deny "individual and property rights". Parry asserted the natural laws which governed the nation's economy, and he decried any interference with those laws, whether by legislative or other means. Parry asserted that the goals of the unions would inevitably lead to "despotism, tyranny, and slavery", and the "ruin of civilization."

To control this threat to the status quo, Parry advised that the NAM begin organizing employers and manufacturers' associations into a great national anti-union federation. The NAM convention agreed to the recommendation, and created an employers' organizing committee with Parry in charge. Parry began the organizing effort at once.

The prospect of a federal eight hour law was particularly objectionable to the NAM, which declared it a "vicious, needless, and in every way preposterous proposition."

The NAM has fought against organized labor for more than a century through obliquely named affiliated organizations. However, the organization once sought to moderate its image. After the 1937 La Follette Committee investigated employers and their anti-union allies, uncovering widespread abuses, the NAM denounced "the use of espionage, strikebreaking agencies, professional strikebreakers, armed guards, or munitions for the purpose of interfering with or destroying the legitimate rights of labor to self organization and collective bargaining." The brief nod to union rights didn't last.

Other anti-union organizations have also made vocal contributions to anti-union discourse and union busting activities. The Citizens' Alliance
Citizens' Alliance
The Citizens' Alliance is a defunct political party in Trinidad and Tobago. Former finance minister Wendell Mottley was leader and businessman Peter George was deputy leader...

 was an employers' organization formed early in the 1900s specifically to fight trade unions. It worked with the NAM to strengthen anti-union movements in the early 20th Century in the United States. The Council on Union Free Environment (CUE) had the specific mission of defeating President Carter's
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

 labor law reform bill that was designed to make union-organizing efforts more successful by, among other provisions, allowing for elections to occur within 15 days of filing a petition. The Labor Law Study Group, later called the Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable introduced dozens of labor law reform bills in the U.S. Congress, but their primary focus was repealing state and federal laws that established minimum wage standards on publicly funded projects. Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) is the construction industry's voice and is funded chiefly by non-union builders and related businesses and promoted the "merit shop
Merit Shop
A merit shop is a firm or organization whose employees have chosen to perform hiring, promotion, salary adjustments, bonuses and termination based on the laws of the state and federal government, along with the individual's ability to accomplish the tasks assigned to them by their employer...

" which sought to pay each employee according to his qualification and performance. While the group insisted it was not anti-union, the system would preclude workers from exercising many of the worker-related benefits of a union.

Other groups, like the National Right to Work Committee, has lobbied for laws prohibiting compulsory union membership in union-organized shops. Similarly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's core purpose is to fight for free enterprise before Congress, the White House, regulatory agencies, the courts, the court of public opinion, and governments around the world and has actively lobbied against the Employee Free Choice Act
Employee Free Choice Act
The Employee Free Choice Act was a legislative bill that was introduced into both chambers of the U.S. Congress on March 10, 2009. The bill's purpose was to,...

. The NLPC makes a case for the end of the use of compulsory union dues for political purposes by exposing abuses in political and organizing activities. The Center for Union Facts
Center for Union Facts
The Center for Union Facts is an interest group critical of union officials’ activities. It is one of several advocacy and public relations groups created by Richard Berman...

 maintains an anti-union website that provides financial and other records about unions.

The first guide to modern union busting

Nathan Shefferman published The Man in the Middle, a 292-page account of his union busting activities, in 1961. Shefferman described a long list of practices which he viewed as tangential to union avoidance activities but which his detractors have labeled as support operations for these activities. Among these were the administration of opinion surveys, supervisor training, employee roundtables, incentive pay procedures, wage surveys, employee complaint procedures, personnel records, application procedures, job evaluations, and legal services. As part of his union busting strategies, all of these activities were performed with the goal of maintaining complete control of the work force by top management. Shefferman's book not only provided the concepts that animated all future union busting techniques, he also provided language that pro-labor supporters believe mask the intent of the policies.

See also

  • Anti-union violence
    Anti-union violence
    Anti-union violence may take the form of bullying of or aggression against union organisers or sympathisers in the workplace, or outside the workplace. It may happen at the instigation of management, may be committed by agents hired or recruited by management, or by government bodies or others...

  • Anti-union organizations in the United States
    Anti-union organizations in the United States
    In the United States shortly after 1900, there were just a few effective employers' organizations that opposed the union movement. By 1903, these organizations started to coalesce, and a national employers' movement began to exert a powerful influence on industrial relations and public affairs.For...

  • Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948
    Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948
    The Convention concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise or Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention is an International Labour Organization Convention...

  • Grabow Riot
    Grabow Riot
    On July 7, 1912, a violent confrontation known as the Graybow Riot occurred between factions of the timber industry, primarily the Galloway Lumber Company, and a party of the striking union mill workers and supporters, near Grabow , Louisiana...

  • History of union busting in the United States
    History of union busting in the United States
    The history of union busting in the United States dates back to the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century which produced a rapid expansion in factories and manufacturing capabilities. As workers moved away from farm work to factories, mines and other hard labor, they faced harsh working...

  • Labor spies
    Labor spies
    Labor spies are persons recruited or employed for the purpose of gathering intelligence, committing sabotage, sowing dissent, or engaging in other similar activities, typically within the context of an employer/labor organization relationship....

  • Mohawk Valley formula
    Mohawk Valley formula
    The Mohawk Valley formula is a document purportedly written by the president of the Remington Rand company James Rand, Jr., describing a plan for strikebreaking during the Remington Rand strike at Ilion, New York...

  • National Right to Work Committee
  • Opposition to trade unions
    Opposition to trade unions
    Opposition to trade unions comes from a variety of groups in society, and there are many different types of argument on which this opposition is based.-Strategic strikes and social disruption:...

  • Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (1968)
  • Right to work
    Right to work
    The right to work is the concept that people have a human right to work, or engage in productive employment, and may not be prevented from doing so...

  • Salt (union organizing)
    Salt (union organizing)
    Salting is a labor union tactic involving the act of getting a job at a specific workplace with the intent of organizing a union. A person so employed is called a "salt"....

  • Strikebreaking
  • Union Organizer
    Union organizer
    A union organizer is a specific type of trade union member or an appointed union official. A majority of unions appoint rather than elect their organizers....

  • Union threat model
  • Union wage premium
    Union wage premium
    A union wage premium refers to the degree in which union wages exceed non-union member wages. Union wage premiums are one of the most researched and analyzed issues in economics especially in labor economics. Unions and their struggle for wages and better benefits usually target larger firms that...

  • Wal-Mart
    Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. , branded as Walmart since 2008 and Wal-Mart before then, is an American public multinational corporation that runs chains of large discount department stores and warehouse stores. The company is the world's 18th largest public corporation, according to the Forbes Global 2000...

External links

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