There’s nothing the corporate lobbies hate more than organized workers. That’s why the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Koch brothers have launched a ferocious assault on a recent proposal by the National Labor Relations Board that would make it slightly easier for workers to organize unions. “We pick our battles carefully,” explains the Chamber’s chief lobbyist, “and this is a big one for us.”
The NLRB’s proposal is the kind of arcane policy detail that makes most people’s eyes glaze over. But although it’s far from radical, the corporate types are right to worry. Polls show that 40 million unorganized workers wish they had a union in their workplace, but fewer than 100,000 employees are able to form new unions each year through the current NLRB election process. The new regulations may open the gates to a flood of employee discontent that’s been held in check by the current rules.
Under the NLRB system, “elections” are basically a sham. There are no free speech rights for workers: management can campaign against the union throughout the workplace, all day long, while prounion workers can be prevented from talking about the union except on lunch breaks or by visiting fellow workers at their homes at night. Management can plaster the workplace with antiunion posters and leaflets while banning prounion workers from doing likewise. Workers are forced to attend mass antiunion meetings where union supporters are required keep their mouths shut; if they ask a question anyway, they can be fired on the spot.
Any election starts with getting a list of registered voters, and in elections to public office, voter rolls must be available to all candidates at the same cost, on the same date, and with the same information. It’s hard to imagine a more fundamental breach of democratic norms than providing one candidate an earlier or more complete list than their opponent. Yet this is what happens in workplace elections.
Management possesses all the contact information for employees from their date of hire, and is free to contact them at any time. But prounion employees are not provided with the list of eligible voters until seven days after an election has been scheduled. This enables employers to run antiunion campaigns for months before the union is able to make its first contact with most employees. The Jackson Lewis law firm, for example—one of the nation’s most powerful antiunion firms—recommends that its clients mail two sets of letters to employees’ homes, post antiunion messages on bulletin boards, distribute antiunion leaflets in the workplace, and require all employees to attend antiunion meetings, all before the prounion employees have even seen the list of eligible voters.
In Congressional testimony, the corporate types present themselves as moral models. But when talking among themselves—in management guidebooks and client communications—antiunion lawyers are frank about how they game a stacked system. New York management attorney Al DeMaria explains that “unions are at a severe disadvantage in the communications battle. Home visitations are expensive and time-consuming, meetings are sparsely attended because they take place on the employee’s own time and union organizers can rarely ensure that all voters will even receive the union fliers organizers hand out. On the other hand, management has the employee under its control for eight hours a day.”