Union busting works more often than not, experts say, but companies should be aware that it can have lasting and very harmful consequences for a company.
The warning follows Apple being accused of using illegal union busting techniques in response to moves by retail store workers to form or join unions…
Background: Apple Store unionization
The unionization movement began earlier this year.
We first learned of retail staff plans to unionize back in February, when groups at two stores were reportedly preparing paperwork to file with the National Labor Relations Board, with about six more locations at earlier stages of planning.
We saw a formal start to the process at Apple’s flagship Grand Central Terminal store in New York, with a number of goals for a better deal for staff. This was followed by similar moves in Atlanta and Maryland.
Apple responded with a carrot-and-stick approach. The stick was an aggressive claim that unionization could slow, rather than accelerate, change – so aggressive that two complaints of illegal union-busting have been filed. The carrot was the announcement of pay raises and other improvements in working conditions for retail staff.
A bid for unionization at the Atlanta store has since been withdrawn for now, with organizers claiming that Apple engaged in illegal union-busting activities.
The movement has since crossed the Atlantic.
What is union busting?
Companies tend to use the term “union avoidance” to describe steps taken to prevent or discourage employees from forming or joining a union – but most people would be more familiar with the colloquial term “union busting.”
Union busting can take many forms, but common techniques include things like firing workers who are pushing for unionization, and holding what are known as “captive meetings.” These are meetings that staff are required to attend as part of their day-to-day duties (for example, a morning briefing meeting), in which the company expresses its views but does not allow equal time for union lawyers to express counterarguments.
In the US, most union-busting techniques – including the two mentioned above – are illegal under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Union-busting accusations against Apple
Apple has been accused of both of the above examples. Former Apple employee Janneke Parrish says she was fired for working on the #AppleToo campaign, which highlighted pay inequities between men and women. Cher Scarlett, who organized an internal pay survey, accepted a settlement to leave the company.
Apple also showed a six-minute anti-union video by retail head Deirdre O’Brien during captive meetings.
Union busting works, but beware, experts say
Protocol cites several employment experts warning that although union-busting measures are generally successful, it can have lasting and damaging consequences for a company.
The playbook mastered by consultants and attorneys at major law firms and strategy groups is effective at forcing a union vote to fail or collapse. What companies rarely consider are the long-term consequences […]
The often chaotic and threatening atmosphere created in the lead-up to a unification vote alters company culture. Especially in closely contested elections, trust erodes between workers and leadership. Companies that pride themselves on openness and communication find themselves unable to re-create the same atmosphere. Top talent, disturbed by the change in environment, often flees or is poached. Recruiting becomes more difficult because of the reputational damage caused by the fight […]
“It poisons the well oftentimes,” said Ileen DeVault, a professor of labor history at Cornell University. “It makes workers not trust each other as much more. It tightens all sorts of conversations and cultures of companies. And I think that may be especially important in some of these tech companies, where, for the programming folks anyway, the culture has always been relaxed. ”
Former National Labor Relations Board chair Wilma Liebman warns that it can also put companies in very public conflict with their claimed values.
These tech companies which sort of might be liberal on some issues, when it comes to unions or regulation, they are very anti.
We’ve argued that Apple could and should take a positive and proactive approach to working with employees, rather than an antagonistic one. Union busting works in the short term, but can cause significant damage in the long term.
Photo: Moritz Mentges / Unsplash
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