Fear at work


Fear at work


An inside account of how employers threaten, intimidate, and harass workers to stop them from exercising their right to collective bargaining




What this report finds: Most American workers want a union in their workplace but very few have it, because the right to organize—supposedly guaranteed by federal law—has been effectively cancelled out by a combination of legal and illegal employer intimidation tactics. This report focuses on the legal tactics—heavy-handed tactics that would be illegal in any election for public office but are regularly deployed by employers under the broken National Labor Relations Board’s union election system. Under this system, employees in workplace elections have no right to free speech or a free press, are threatened with losing their jobs if they vote to establish a union, and can be forced to hear one-sided propaganda with no right to ask questions or hear from opposing viewpoints. Employers—including many respectable, name-brand companies—collectively spend $340 million per year on “union avoidance” consultants who teach them how to exploit these weakness of federal labor law to effectively scare workers out of exercising their legal right to collective bargaining.

Inside accounts of unionization drives at a tire manufacturing plant in Georgia and at a pay TV services company in Texas illustrate what those campaigns look like in real life. Below are some of the common employer tactics that often turn overwhelming support for unions at the outset of a campaign into a “no” vote just weeks later. All of these are legal under current law:

  • Forcing employees to attend daily anti-union meetings where pro-union workers have no right to present alternative views and can be fired on the spot if they ask a question.
  • Plastering the workplace with anti-union posters, banners, and looping video ads—and denying pro-union employees access to any of these media.
  • Instructing managers to tell employees that there’s a good chance they will lose their jobs if they vote to unionize.
  • Having supervisors hold multiple one-on-one talks with each of their employees, stressing why it would be bad for them to vote in a union.
  • Having managers tell employees that pro-union workers are “the enemy within.”
  • Telling supervisors to grill subordinates about their views on unionization, effectively destroying the principle of a secret ballot.

Why it matters: The right to collective bargaining is key to solving the crisis of economic inequality. When workers have the ability to bargain collectively with their employers, the division of corporate profits is more equally shared between employees, management, and shareholders. When workers can’t exercise this right, inequality grows and wages stagnate, as shown in the long-term decline of workers’ wages over the past 40 years: CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978, while typical worker compensation has risen only 12%—and that was before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The importance of unions has been even further heightened by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the national protests around racial justice. In recent months, thousands of nonunion workers walked off their jobs demanding personal protective equipment, hazard pay, and access to sick leave. The concrete realization that these things could only be won through collective action has also led many of these workers to seek to unionize in order to protect themselves and their families. At the same time, the importance of the power of collective bargaining for essential workers and Black workers has become clearer. Unionization has helped bring living wages to once low-wage jobs in industries such as health care and is a key tool for closing racial wage gaps. In recent years the Black Lives Matter movement has joined with the fight for a $15 minimum wage and other union efforts in order to win economic dignity for African American workers.

What we can do about it: Congress must act to ensure that workers have a right to vote to unionize in an atmosphere defined by free speech and open communication, and without fear of retaliation for one’s political views. The House of Representatives took an important step in this direction when it passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act in February 2020. If adopted by the Senate, the PRO Act would help ensure that workers have a meaningful right to organize and bargain collectively by streamlining the process when workers form a union, bolstering workers’ chances of success at negotiating a first agreement, and holding employers accountable when they violate the law. Beyond passing the PRO Act, legislators should back a package of proposals advanced by a group of 70 economists, academics, and labor leaders led by Harvard University’s Center for Labor and Worklife program. Their Clean Slate for Worker Power agenda includes extending labor rights to farmworkers, domestic workers, and independent contractors who are now excluded from federal union rights; requiring meaningful employee representation on corporate boards of directors; mandating a national requirement that employees may only be fired for just cause rather than arbitrarily; and enabling workers to engage in sector-wide negotiations rather than single-employer bargaining. These proposals would help create shared prosperity by starting to restore balance and effective democratic standards in federal labor law.



To read the entire report:


Fear at work: An inside account of how employers threaten, intimidate, and harass workers to stop them from exercising their right to collective bargaining


IATSE Facebook post dated 8/11/2020


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