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If the Unions Don't Like It, It Must be Working

By Howard M. Bloom and Patrick L. Egan
  • September 19, 2003

Good news!? Stewart Acuff, the AFL-CIO's Director of Organizing, is blaming employer counter-organizing efforts for labor's continuing "poor" showing in its efforts to gain new union workers. Unfortunately, Acuff's complaint seems to ignore the facts. In 2002, the Federation had its second-most successful organizing year ever. It added more than 500,000 new members and enjoyed the highest win rate in decades in NLRB-conducted elections – better than 56%.

Acuff complains of specific employer actions the AFL-CIO believes blunt effective union organizing:

  • use of labor counsel or consultants (the AFL-CIO estimates 90% of employers do this)
  • use of mandatory group and one-on-one meetings with employees to discuss the union (the AFL-CIO estimates 70% of employers do this)

Acuff also claims employers faced with union organizing increasingly avoid unionization by threatening to close or move their facilities and fire union organizers.

To boost unions' organizing success rate, Acuff recommends union leaders follow two imperatives: focus on the fundamentals of organizing (personal outreach to workers) and adopt a strategic approach to organizing. One strategic initiative by unions is to organize workers in jobs and industries related to the unions' traditional target groups. The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, for example, traditionally organizes textile manufacturing employees. Using a new approach, UNITE currently is attempting to organize employees of apparel distribution firms and industrial laundries, two industries which use but do not manufacture apparel. UNITE's nationwide effort to organize Cintas, the nation's largest uniform laundry service, is a clear example of this approach.

Lesson for the Union-free Employer

Acuff's lament underscores the need for employers to respond swiftly and decisively at the first hint of union organizing. Training supervisors – the eyes and ears of every employer – about the early warning signs of union activity is essential. As manufacturing jobs continue to evaporate, unions are eyeing other industries, such as health care and retail, as the primary source of new union members. Preventive training programs for supervisors are especially important for employers who may have been off the union radar screen because their industries have not traditionally been the focus of organizing.

©2003 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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