America’s corporations spent over $400 million on retaining companies whose specialty is union-busting, a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute reveals. Amid the rising tide of union activity and organizing campaigns has come a backlash from employers who are fighting union organizing with an arsenal of weapons, some legal, some bordering on illegality, and some that have crossed the line.
According to the EPI report, union-busting has become a lucrative profession as some have discovered “there’s gold in them thar hills.” The report notes:
- When workers seek to form unions, employers often hire “union-avoidance” consultants to dissuade and weaken workers’ unionization efforts. These consultants work to prevent a union election from taking place—and if that fails, to ensure that workers vote against the union.
- Employers spend a lot of money trying to derail union organizing campaigns. EPI estimates employers spend $433 million per year on union-avoidance consultants. This work is well compensated – consultants report being paid $350-plus hourly rates or $2,500-plus daily rates for their work to defeat union organizing efforts. This estimate is just a drop in the bucket because there is not enough data to reveal the true scope of what employers spend.
- Employers are required to report certain union-avoidance expenditures. However, statutory exemptions and enforcement limitations severely limit the scope of reportable employer union-avoidance activities. As a result, relatively little data exist on employer expenditures on union avoidance.
- This reality makes it harder for workers to fight for their collective bargaining rights because they do not know the extent of their companies’ investments in union-busting, a figure that could empower them at the negotiating table when employers claim they can’t afford to increase pay and benefits.
- While the law requires employers and consultants to disclose their union-avoidance agreements, it provides an important exception when the consultant is merely providing the employer with “advice”—a term that is not defined in the statute and is exploited by many union-busting consulting firms.
- The Obama administration tried to rectify the problem by attempting to close this loophole through a regulatory action known as the “persuader” rule. In its proposal, the administration emphasized the significance of this loophole, stating: “Although 71 to 87 percent of employers hire consultants to manage counter-organizing campaigns, the Department has received very few reports on these activities because employers deemed them to fall under the ‘advice’ exemption.”
- Unfortunately, business groups sued to prevent the rule from being enforced, and the Trump administration rescinded the rule. Without reform to the reporting system, we have little to no idea how much companies spend on union busting.
We can get an idea of the extent of the problem by looking at just a few of the companies who did file mandatory reports with the Labor Department in 2021 – understanding that many of them, with the loopholes in the law, probably spent much more that they are not reporting.
Amazon …. $4,260,000
United Natural Foods …. $2,650,000
American Auto Assoc., N. California, Nevada, Utah…. $1,923,000
Grocery Delivery E-Services (Hello Fresh) …. $1,638,000
Maine Health …. $958,000
El Milagro Tortillas ….$863,000
Curation Foods ….$689,000
Intralot …. $251,000
Garden Fresh Gourmet …. $211,000
Celine McNicholas, Margaret Poydock, Julia Wolfe, Ben Zipperer, Gordon Lafer, and Lola Loustaunau, Unlawful: U.S. Employers Are Charged with Violating Federal Law in 41.5% of All Union Election Campaigns, Economic Policy Institute, December 2019; U.S. Department of Labor.