Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Confessions Of A Union Buster

Confessions Of A Union Buster
Reviewed By Michael Costa
It's not a new tome but the threat for Australian Unions remains the same if not greater as when this book appeared five years ago.

Australian unions have been fortunate not to have faced the overt union busting that is a feature of US Labor relations. Union busting is a billion dollar business in the US. It thrives on the complex representation process prescribed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Briefly, under the NLRA, employees are required to bargain in "good faith" with a representative selected by its employees. The method for selecting a bargaining representative is a secret-ballot conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The NLRB will conduct an election when it receives a petition requesting a ballot, supported by a substantial number of employees, usually at least 30% of those at the unit seeking a representative. So difficult is the election process that most unions will not file for a ballot unless they have at least 70% of the employee committed to the ballot.
The NLRA also provides for desertification elections, (ie, elections to remove the right of unions to bargain on behalf of employees). The desertification ballot requires the support of 30% of employees covered by the collective bargaining agreement.
Theoretically, the NLRB is supposed to authorise an election within 30 days of a petition being filed. Recently, Martin Jay Levitt, a union buster with over 250 union busting campaigns under his belt, has described, in vivid detail, the way he went about busting unions.
According to Levitt:
"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 honour. The only way to bust a union is to lie, distort, manipulate, threaten, and always, always attack. The law does not hamper the process, rather, it serves to suggest manoeuvres and define strategies. Each "union prevention" campaign, as the wars are called, turns on a combined strategy of disinformation and personal assaults.
When a chief executive hires a labor relations consultant to battle a union, he gives the consultant run of the company and closes his eyes. The consultant, backed by attorneys, installs himself in the corporate offices and goes to work creating a climate of terror that inevitably is blamed on the union.
Some corporate executives I encountered liked to think of their anti-union consultants as generals, but really the consultants are terrorists. Like political terrorists, the consultants' attacks are intensely personal. Terrorists do not make factories and air strips their victims; they choose, instead, crippled old men and school-children. Likewise, as the consultants go about the business of destroying unions, they invade people's lives, demolish their friendships, crush their will, and shatter their families."
For union busters, like Levitt, the NLRA is a "union buster's best friend".
According to Levitt, "in its complexity the nation's fundamental Labor law presents endless possibilities for delays, roadblocks, and manoeuvres that can undermine a union's efforts and frustrate would be members." The union buster's key strategy, when confronted with an election, is delay the ballot, thereby buying time to organise a so called counter campaign known as "Counter organising drives".
The two key targets of the "counter organising drives" are the rank-and-file worker and their immediate supervisors. Supervisors serve as the shock troops of the union buster - The union buster aims to create a climate where the supervisor feels personally threatened by the union - "I knew that people who didn't feel threatened wouldn't fight", Levitt confesses, "So through hours of seminars, rallies, and one-on-one encounters, I taught supervisors to despise and fear the union. I persuaded them that a union organising drive was a personal attack on them, a referendum on their leadership skills, and an attempt to humiliate them. I was friendly, even jovial at times, but always unforgiving as I compelled each supervisor to feel he was somehow to blame for the union push and, consequently, obliged to defeat it like any hostage - most supervisors could not resist for long. They came to see the fight through the eyes of their captor and went to work wringing union sympathies out of their workers".
Having turned the supervisor into an anti-union force, Levitt turned his attention to workers with union sympathies - what he termed "pushers". The strategy here was to personally discredit unionists. This required information. No means of obtaining information was ruled out. According to Levitt his team of union Busters "routinely pried into worker's police records, personnel files, credit histories, medical records, and family lives in search of a weakness that we could use to discredit union activists".
Where it was not possible to get "dirt" on a unionist, Levitt made it up. "To fell the sturdiest union supporters...I frequently launched rumours that the targeted worker was gay or was cheating on his wife. It was a very effective technique, particularly in blue-collar towns.
If the lies and rumours failed to muzzle union activists, the union buster resorted to sackings. These sackings are illegal under the NLRA. Section 8(a)(3) clearly outlaws discharging employees because they urged other employees to join a union. Nevertheless, union busters know that reinstatement procedures are complex, some dragging out for years after the incident. The aim of the union buster is to remove the union support, based in the crucial period, prior to the ballot.
Levitt's confessions not only highlight the defects of the US Labor relations framework, they also provide crucial insights into the important role supervisors play as opinion setters in workplaces. The lesson for unions seeking to organise the unionised workplace is - ignore the supervisor at your peril. Unions seeking to organise a workplace must ensure that supervisors are won over, or at worst, neutralised.



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