Anti-Union Life at Target
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) suffered a rough blow this past Friday when they lost a unionization vote at a Target store on New York’s Long Island. Had the union won, the store would have been the first of more than 1,700 Targets across the country to be organized. As it is, Target, like WalMart, will remain entirely union-free.
[Cross-posted from the "Arguing the World" blog at Dissent magazine.]
According to the New York Times coverage
In a statement, the president of U.F.C.W. Local 1500, Bruce W. Both, said that the workers at the Valley Stream store had endured a “campaign of threats, intimidation and illegal acts by Target management.” As a result, he called on the National Labor Relations Board to direct a new election and order Target to cease its “illegal activity.”
“Target did everything they could to deny these workers a chance at the American dream,” said Mr. Both, of the union local.
The union filed a complaint with the labor board last month asserting that Target had unlawfully prohibited employees from wearing pro-union buttons and from discussing working conditions on online sites. It also said Target had unlawfully threatened employees with dismissal if they spoke about the union.
In meetings and fliers, Target officials told employees that a union could not guarantee better pay or benefits and that the organization only wanted their dues. In a move that worried numerous workers, the company said there were no guarantees that the store would remain open if the workers unionized.
Target, of course, denies that it did anything wrong. Its position is that this unionization drive—like all previous notions by employees of bringing a union to any of their stores—has failed because the company is one big, happy family. As spokesperson Molly Snyder put it in the Times article, “We believe in solving issues and concerns by working together with the help and input of all team members. Our team has embraced that philosophy by rejecting union representation.”
You can believe that. Or you can believe that the chain employs the same intimidation tactics as other big employers. Scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner has long been at the forefront of documenting the statistics. A report she authored in 2009 found:
It has become standard practice for workers to be subjected by corporations to threats, interrogation, harassment, surveillance, and retaliation for supporting a union. An analysis of the 1999-2003 data on NLRB election campaigns finds that:
-- 63% of employers interrogate workers in mandatory one-on-one meetings with their supervisors about support for the union;
-- 54% of employers threaten workers in such meetings;
-- 57% of employers threaten to close the worksite;
-- 47% of employers threaten to cut wages and benefits; and
-- 34% of employers fire workers.
Plenty of their actions are illegal. But corporations learned long ago that it was less costly for them wantonly to violate labor law up front and suffer the slap on the wrist later than to allow employees freely to vote their will.
You can catch a glimpse of propaganda used by Target on workers in mandatory “captive audience” meetings thanks to the website Gawker. Although the site is generally known for celebrity gossip rather than hard-hitting labor coverage, editor Hamilton Nolan has done a commendable job of publicizing Target workers’ concerns. Prior to the vote, Gawker made public this video:
Salon subsequently reported that, ironically enough, the actors in the anti-union video are themselves union members, represented by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). Ric Reitz (who plays Target spokesman “Doug” in the video, and who is currently featured as the President of the United States in The Green Lantern) told Salon’s Justin Elliott that it was “very awkward” but that he went through with it anyway:
“If someone hires me to play a rapist, does it make me a rapist? You take the job, and you’re an actor,” says Reitz, a longtime member of AFTRA and the Screen Actors Guild. “Am I pro-union? Absolutely.”