With the April 30th deadline for the changes to the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) union election case procedure fast approaching, I have been flooded with questions by many companies about what exactly the future business landscape is going to look like – but I am mystified by how many companies have yet to formulate an effective union avoidance strategy.
In the 1990s, when I moved from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union to the United Steelworkers of America (now the USW) and took the position of international organizing director, I immediately started assisting an aggressive expansion movement into Canada. I assisted the USW in merging with Canadian unions in retail, wholesale, rubber and aluminum workers to quickly become Canada's largest private sector union. Canada was the perfect location to diversify our membership, with its election cycles averaging between 5 and 10 days from petition / application to election.
We immediately trained and hired many new organizers to meet the needs of the massive organizing assault that was in the works, and figured out the best strategies to devote our efforts to. First we concentrated on organizing within the newly merged industries and went after the companies where we already had represented members. We also brought in union organizers from the U.S. who were experienced in the industries we were going after. We formed assault-style teams to quickly overwhelm our targets; with a 5 to 10 day election turnover, it was easy to distract management teams and deplete company resources, costing them tens of thousands to millions of dollars within a very short time frame. It was very cheap and easy to commit small teams to strategically frustrate and confuse management.
Retail stores were some our first targets. We wanted to hit a large grocery store chain, so we pinpointed 15 out of 92 stores across Canada to start out with. We sent salts (infiltrators) to get hired and assist established support in these stores, giving us a breakdown of all the stores in the chain. Our data reports gave us a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of each management team, as well as information on their demographics, income and turnover rate. We spent almost four months in those first 15 stores building internal support using our research. We also decided to send salts to another 12 stores, including the chain’s flagship store, to create a distraction when the time was right.
We created a detailed calendar of events to fill the days from when the petition / application was filed until the election. We had age, sex and race charges ready to file before we even filed any petitions / applications for election. Our goal was to file all elections simultaneously. Our next move was to deflect attention from our real targets by exposing organizing activities in the 12 stores that we were using as distracters.
Our goal was to get the company to exhaust their management resources by having the employees directed by the salts to flaunt organizing activity in these 12 stores. These stores were strategically picked to be a far distance from each other to make it impossible for any one group of corporate campaigners to hit more than one store a day. This also kept their legal teams tied up with multiple charges being filed, while at the same time we hit their other stores with disruptions such as protests and demonstrations against unfair treatment to their employees. We were known to hit the stores with skunk oil to close them down and force them to hire PR companies to do damage control for their corporate image. In the midst of this, we filed petitions / applications for the 15 stores that were our true targets, and hit them with a flood of charges. Five to ten days later, we had elections and won all 15 stores. It was very easy to do. Given the short amount of time for the election process, it would be nearly impossible for any company to recover from that type of internal destruction within that amount of time. In the first two years, my team’s win rate was 90% in organizing, and the money saved by not having long campaigns was tremendous.
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