News & Events

Union busting is disgusting

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
February 2008 Edition

By Joe Twarog
Associate Director, Labor Education & Training

"Union busting is a field populated by bullies and built on deceit. A campaign against a union is an assault on individuals and a war on the truth. As such, it is a war without honor. The only way to bust a union is to lie, distort, manipulate, threaten, and always, always attack."

—Confessions of a Union Buster
by Martin Jay Levitt

Union busting is unfortunately alive and well in Massachusetts. Of course, the employers that we deal with on a daily basis would never publicly use the term “union busting,” but would rather use sanitized versions as “management consultants” or “union avoidance specialists.”

These union busters do not carry billy-clubs or look like thugs (as did the Pinkertons) but are usually extremely well dressed, carry briefcases and use modern technology and videotaping instead of blackjacks. But it all comes down to the same thing – instead of dealing with the real problems and concerns that health care professionals and nurses have in the workplace, their sole goal is to bust the union and control the workforce. And these union busters get paid obscenely well for their dirty work. It is a highly lucrative yet dishonorable “profession.”

Union busters of this ilk usually operate behind the scenes, and so are not easily visible to the nurse on the floor. Management will carefully insulate the consultants from having any direct contact with workers, and will even deny that union busters are working for them. Union busters will use supervisors and department managers as their tools. However, overtly, the MNA also regularly deals with national law firms that specialize in “union avoidance” hired by management to negotiate contracts.

Their calling cards are simple. They carefully plan and prepare a focused campaign to weaken and destroy the union built on the following elements:

  • Division, confusion and discord
  • Half-truths and misleading statements
  • Fear and frustration. It is not uncommon for these union busters to cross the line of legality. Yet they know that the NLRB process is currently stacked against labor.

Jackson Lewis is a law firm with 25 offices nationally and a payroll of more than 325 attorneys. It regularly conducts “union avoidance” briefings and seminars for managers. The Sept. 24, 2007 edition of In These Times magazine features an article about one such seminar entitled “Unionbusting Confidential.” The two-day seminar costs $1,595 at the Las Vegas Westin. The author writes that seminar leaders, Michael J. Lotito and Michael Stief III, focused on the threat of unions and ways in which to beat them. They spoke about the importance of appearing respectful of labor’s concerns while at the same time feeling free to lie since, to quote the article “The labor board (NLRB) doesn’t really care if people are lying.” The seminar also focused on how to undermine the union by rejecting all of the union’s bargaining demands while at the same time maintaining the appearance of good faith bargaining and operating on the edge of the law.

Another outfit grandiosely calling itself the Executive Enterprise Institute regularly offers costly seminars on how management can take a hard-ball aggressive approach to bargaining in order to control and frustrate the union. Clifton Budd & DeMaria is a New York-based law firm whose partner Alfred De Maria writes such titles as: “Management Report, a Newsletter for Union-Free Employers,” “The Process of De-Unionization,” and “Supervisor’s Handbook on Maintaining Non-Union Status.” In anti-union campaigns he states, “You can get nasty all you want, you just don’t have to get illegal.” Yet he argues that firing pro-union employees is the most effective management weapon.

The symptoms/tactics that an employer is determined to get rid of the union by the use of union busters include:

  • firing and disciplining key union activists
  • harassing and intimidating the rankand- file around minor issues
  • cancellation and delays at the bargaining table
  • constant roadblocks and massive demands for concessions in bargaining
  • use of constant scare tactics and threats
  • luring employees into toothless power sharing schemes
  • unilaterally instituting new employee policies

The irony of union busters is that management is extremely fearful of “losing control” of the workplace and sharing power with its workforce in the form of a union. Yet they happily hand over control of the workplace to the union busters they hire who do exactly that—directing the entire campaign and in effect taking control of the workplace by telling management and supervisors what to say, what to do and how to act. The money that management squanders on these union busters would be much better spent on dealing with the real workplace issues.

The union must remain vigilant and aggressively challenge these tactics while continuing to educate the members and fight for improved working conditions.

Union busting schemes can be effectively controlled and defeated by union members who organize together and confront management’s poor labor relations methods.