NYSNA REPORT: October/November 2004
Union-busting industry feeds on lies, distortions
by Mark Genovese
To the public, they portray themselves as "labor," "legal," or "management" consultants. Healthcare administrators know them by the polite title of "union avoidance specialists." But to the labor movement, they're referred to as "union busters."
As their name implies, "union avoidance specialists" are hired by employers to prevent unions from organizing. When a union is already representing employees, the "union avoidance specialist" can be hired to stimulate a decertification campaign. Where there is already a contract, they will advise the employer to make extreme demands in negotiations - such as reducing or eliminating benefits, pay cuts, or detrimental changes in working conditions. These are designed to make union members so angry they will go on strike or lose confidence in their collective strength, placing the blame on the union.
Meanwhile, management covertly hires scabs, preparing for a long strike in order to either break the union or force it into a bad contract.
Most hospital administrators will deny their presence. But with more than 10,000 union-busting firms in business in the nation today, one may be working behind the scenes at your hospital one day-if they haven't already.
Who are they?
Although they tend to do their work in secret when they're on-site, some union-busting firms are quite upfront about what they do in order to compete for business:
- PTI Labor Research of Houston proudly bills itself as: "The nation's leading provider of union avoidance products and services."
- Jackson/Lewis of New York says it "has assisted many employers in winning NLRB elections or in avoiding union elections altogether." They've even written a book on the subject, Winning NLRB Elections: Management's Strategy and Preventive Programs.
- Bond, Schoeneck & King of New York makes this offer: "When a union knocks on your door, we are always prepared to provide immediate and exclusive attention to your needs."
- Drinker Biddle of Philadelphia says it can "advise employees on decertifying unions that no longer serve their members."
- The Burke Group, of Malibu, Calif., contends that "Unions don't always sell truth; and a union contract does not always result in control over working lives and financial gain."
- H. Sanford Rudnick & Associates, of Walnut Creek, Calif., believes: "Management should have the freedom to run their company according to their own best judgment and to maximize the resulting profits."
Most firms that are based in other states also have offices in New York. NYSNA confirmed that another firm, Brent Yessin & Associates, ran the anti-union campaign at Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey, while an affiliated firm is currently running a similar campaign against NYSNA at Community Medical Center in Toms River.
Cost doesn't matter.
How much will hospital administrators pay to keep out or get rid of a union? Plenty. Martin J. Levitt, author of Confessions of a Union Buster, who spoke at NYSNA's CNP Networking Conference in May 2002, said Delta Airlines budgeted nearly $150 million. Levitt personally earned more than $200,000 per year before giving up such work to help unions defend themselves. It's estimated that Tenet Health paid more than $5 million to the Burke Group to stop an organizing campaign in California.
Wouldn't all this money be better spent meeting the needs of an employer's workforce?
Employers don't care, says Levitt. "The business was all about control," he wrote in his book. "I realized that control was both the objective and the method in union busting." Having a union in-house means an employer will have to guarantee salary increases, improvements in benefits, and job security. Not only does a union take a significant portion of a hospital's budget permanently out of its control, it takes away control over personnel, too. Some employers believe stopping that is worth the expense.
"Union avoidance specialists" in action -
A "union avoidance specialist's" greatest weapons are fear and manipulation - exploiting employees' fear of the unknown. Since most employees have never been confronted by such a campaign, they'll never suspect what is about to happen.
Once hired by management, a "union avoidance specialist" conducts research to find where a union and the employees it's trying organize can be vulnerable. They collect information on the union through the U.S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service. They collect personal information on employees - including medical and credit histories - to use against them, even to the point of destroying an employee's personal life and career.
The "union avoidance specialist" will try to play one group of RNs against another and both groups against the union. The union will be portrayed as bullying and corrupt. The tactic is to divide and conquer, with everything scripted and choreographed by the "union avoidance specialist." Examples, based on NYSNA's experience:
- Foot soldiers are recruited - either voluntarily or by force. Managers deliver letters, have informal chats, and make emotional appeals. A committee of employees is created to wear "Vote No" buttons and "stand up" against the union.
Employees are sent numerous letters, describing how much the employer appreciates the work they've been doing.
- Management suddenly hands out larger-than-expected wage increases or improved benefits. Long-standing problems are corrected. Management suddenly is the employees' new pal: "employee participation" committees are formed to prove that a union isn't needed.
- Supervisors call employees in for face-to-face discussions about the union. Remember the personnel file the "union avoidance specialist" created? This is when the information is used to threaten employees.
- Managers will pull nurses from their units, while caring for patients, to attend mandatory meetings. During the meetings, they'll be told lies about the ability of a local bargaining unit to make its own decisions, how union dues are used, and the benefits RNs can win in a NYSNA contract. And the nurses will not be given an opportunity to challenge or question anything.
The biggest lie of all is that the union will force its members to strike. No mention is made of the fact that strikes happen in less than 1% of all contracts negotiated by NYSNA.
Influential employees who support organizing will be fired-some even on election day. And when all else fails, there is the emotional appeal to "give management another chance." Sadly, there isn't much that can be done to prevent such activity. It may take weeks before a union's unfair labor practice complaint will be acted upon by the National Labor Relations Board. The penalties are relatively small and are considered merely a cost of doing business.
What can you do?
Be aware of the "union avoidance specialist's" tactics. Be assertive with your supervisor about respecting your commitment and not harassing you with anti-union propaganda. If you are required to attend an anti-union meeting, understand the biased nature of the material being presented to you. Keep a written record of any transactions.
Work with your union representatives to obtain the LM-10 and LM-20 forms from the U.S. Labor Department-these forms detail how much an employer is spending on "consulting services," and will expose the scam for what it is.
It is all about control-control over your own work life. You have a legal, protected right to join a union and take part in its activities-free from management intimidation. You have a right to make your own decisions. And the way to ensure this right is to stay united and focused and openly support each other.
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