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Corporations Now Widely Using Wal-Mart Tactics, New Report on Unionbusting Finds

A definitive study of anti-union campaigns finds that corporations are punishing workers seeking to form a union with a wide range of tactics.

A definitive new look at the scope of employer anti-union campaigns by a noted Cornell University labor scholar finds that corporations have ramped up a wide-range of tactics designed to punish and intimidate workers for seeking to form a union. In nearly 60 percent of union election campaigns, employers threaten to close the plant, half of employers threaten workers in one-on-one "sweat sessions," and in a third of the elections, they retaliate by firing workers.

Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, has studied labor organizing for decades, and now concludes, "There's been a change in the nature of employer campaigns. They've become not just more intense, not just more aggressive, but they switched to a more punitive system: there's no more of this 'let's try the soft stuff and pretend to be nice.'"

In response, the Chamber of Commerce attacked her as too pro-union to be believed, even though she reviewed a random sample of 1,000 National Labor Relations Board elections and all those elections' unfair labor practices documents and decisions, supplemented by in-depth interviews and surveys of organizers involved in over 500 campaigns.

She's also been criticized by business interests for actually interviewing and surveying union organizers and workers for her research. But as Ross Eisenbrey, the vice-president of the Economic Policy Institute, which is releasing her report, observes, "Employer groups don't believe the victims [of unionbusting], the workers. Who are you going to believe, the employers?" He adds, "Despite a very difficult burden of proof, unions are winning 45% of allegations."

Today, with the backing of such organizations as American Rights at Work and the Economic Policy Institute, she and other experts held a briefing on the new report on Capitol Hill, with findings that are expected to boost the union movement's case for the Employee Free Choice Act. At the briefing a Rite Aid employee also gave a vivid illustration of the vicious obstacles thrown in the way of workers seeing a fair opportunity to organize (via Daily Kos):

Angel Warner, a working mom from California, offered a compelling story of these coercive tactics in action. Warner is a Rite Aid warehouse worker who tried to form a union through the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) at a large warehouse with 600 workers. The warehouse was inadequately heated in the winter and cooled in the summer, and the work was difficult and at times unsafe. That's why Warner and her co-workers hoped to form a union. Wages and benefits were an issue, she said, but not the only issue. Mostly, they were concerned about job security and improving safety on the job, especially after management imposed a quota system that encouraged unsafe behavior.

"You walk a fine line of taking a trip to the hospital or a trip to the unemployment line.

"We like our jobs, we just want dignity, respect and a voice in our workplace. A person can only take so much--we decided it was time to stand up for ourselves."

Warner said that, as she and her-co-workers tried to form a union, management pulled union supporters aside for threatening meetings and singled out potential supporters for harassment. Pro-union employees were fired, and the workers filed 49 labor law violations against Rite-Aid --but the only repercussion for Rite-Aid is having to re-hire two employees and post fliers saying they would no longer engage in unfair practices.

Warner and her co-workers won the election by only a handful of votes, even after getting two-thirds of the employees to sign up, because of the extended election period and the abuses by management during that time.