Testimony to Congress outlines employer anti-union efforts

Most employers continue to engage in coercive and retaliatory practices to limit union activity, a Cornell researcher told the U.S. House of Representatives Labor Committee in testimony Sept. 14.

Kate Bronfenbrenner

Kate Bronfenbrenner, the ILR School’s director of labor education research, discussed preliminary findings from “Waiting to organize: Employer opposition in NLRB elections, 2016-2021,” an analysis of employer behavior in 286 National Labor Relations Board-monitored elections where workers vote for or against a union supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.

Bronfenbrenner will present the paper, co-authored by ILR alumni Katy Habr and Victor Yengle, as well as master’s student Anders Rhodin, at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth conference on Sept. 19. 

According to the new data, where employers ran anti-union campaigns:

  • 74% of employers brought in one or more management consultants to run the campaigns;
  • 85% of employers forced workers to attend mandatory captive audience meetings during work hours;
  • 71% of employers had supervisors regularly talk with workers one-on-one about the campaign;
  • 44% of employers used the meetings to interrogate workers about their or others’ support for the union;
  • 32% of employers used the meetings to threaten workers;
  • 45% of employers threatened workers with plant closings, outsourcing or contracting out of their work;
  • 49% of employers made promises for workplace improvement in return for not supporting the union;
  • 36% of employers surveilled workers using cameras, social media, phones and key cards;
  • 23% of employers offered bribes and special favors to workers for not supporting the union;
  • 16% of employers discharged union activists;
  • 31% of employers ran an aggressive campaign using 10 or more anti-union tactics; and
  • 32% of workers in units where the election was won by the union do not have a first contract four years after the election.

“The current NLRB is making a courageous effort to restrain the most egregious violators, but they have neither the funding nor the enforcement powers to curtail illegal behavior,” Bronfenbrenner said.

In her testimony, she recommended the following labor law reforms:

  • Full funding for the NLRB;
  • Either outlaw captive audience meetings or allow unions equal time in meetings;
  • Establish punitive penalties for labor law violations, with super-compounding penalties for multiple labor law violations and violations of multiple labor and employment laws;
  • Enforce first contract arbitration when parties are unable to negotiate a first contract within a year of the election;
  • Automatic NLRB certification and bargaining order when there are serious labor law violations during organizing;
  • Full reinstatement of election timing rules; and
  • Card check recognition.

This research is the latest in a series of studies Bronfenbrenner has conducted on employer opposition in private and public sector organizing since 1986, including “No Holds Barred – The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing.”

Released in 2009, that study found that the majority of employers engaged in coercive and retaliatory practices such as threats of plant closure, interrogation, discharge, discipline, harassment, surveillance and alteration of benefits and conditions, and that employer opposition was intensifying over time.

Bronfenbrenner’s most recent employer opposition research was undertaken with the Worker Empowerment Research Network, which she co-directs. The work was funded by grants from WorkRise and Omidyar. 

Julie Greco is a senior communication specialist for the ILR School.

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