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Union busting

Union busting is a practice that is undertaken by an employer or their agents to prevent employees from joining a labor union, or to disempower, subvert, or destroy unions that already exist.

During contract negotiations, established unions may declare a strike in order to pressure an employer to agree to a contract. Established unions are most vulnerable to union busting when they undertake job actions such as a strike.

Employers faced with a strike have a number of options. They may try to negotiate a settlement, outwait the strikers, break the strike, or act in some combination of these options.

Union busters

When corporations seek to turn the workers against the union, they do so by hiring a so-called "new breed" of union busting agency — the labor relations consultant who knows that the union depends upon the support, confidence, and good will of its members. These qualities are frequently targeted in strike breaking and in union busting campaigns. These consultants frequently work on their own initiative, taking temporary control of the company and relying strongly on a company's resident legal team. Consultants are said to have the goal of "creating a climate of terror that inevitably is blamed on the union."

John Logan, a labor expert at the London School of Economics, observes:

"Most union avoidance consultants and law firms pay lip service to "preventive" or "positive" labour relations (i.e. solving workplace problems so that unions are rendered unnecessary). In reality, however, the vast majority of their work consists of running union avoidance campaigns, as employers hire them only when confronted by organizing drives."

The union avoidance industry has profited from promoting adversarial labour–management relations. Labor consultants "actively and aggressively [create] that demand by encouraging management to fear the allegedly catastrophic consequences of unionization — in terms of higher labour costs, reduced profits, and a loss of control of their organization — and to fight it with all the resources at their disposal."

There are many different forms of union busting. Some consultants and anti-union attorneys take on unions that already represent a work force, squeezing out concessions at the bargaining table, forcing the workers out on strike, and harassing union officers. Other consultants practice concepts known as "preventive labor relations", or "union avoidance", attacking unions when they are first organizing, and therefore most vulnerable to anti-union campaigns. The techniques they use have been in development at least since passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935.

In breaking a strike, a company or agency targets the action taken by the union. In union busting, the focus is shifted to injuring or destroying the union itself. In some cases, the union may become a casualty of a strike breaking campaign.

John Logan believes that union busting agencies have helped to "transform economic strikes into a virtually suicidal tactic for U.S. unions." Logan observes, "as strike rates in the United States have plummeted to historic low levels, the demand for strike management firms has also declined." Union busting agencies have been so successful in suppressing union organizing drives, he has written, that they must now seek markets outside of the United States.

"Over the past three decades, US employers have waged what Business Week has called ‘one of the most successful anti-union wars ever’ with spectacular results — private-sector union membership now stands at just 7.9 per cent, its lowest level since the 1920s. But they have not conducted this campaign alone. They have been assisted by an extensive and sophisticated ‘union avoidance’ industry...

The union avoidance industry consists of four main groups which frequently coordinate their activities: labor consultants, law firms, industrial psychologists, and strike management firms. These agencies advertise services related to their ability to manipulate the labor laws of a country in order to defeat union organizing drives, to defeat strikes, or to disempower or destroy unions. The term union buster may be applied to any agency that undertakes such projects. The term may also be applied to employers who undertake such actions on their own initiative, or who hire union busting agencies in order to accomplish the same goals.

How union busting agencies find clients

According to Dr John Logan of the London School of Economics,

"Several union avoidance firms operate internationally, but only in the US has this industry developed into a multimillion-dollar concern that operates throughout the country and in every sector of the economy. And only in the US do employers, policy makers and (to a lesser extent) the general public consider the activities of union avoidance experts a legitimate part of mainstream industrial relations."

In order to elicit business, many union busting agencies advertise, and union busting websites are common. Others monitor government-required filings at the National Labor Relations Board, which may reveal union organizing drives before management knows about them. In 1980, most union busters acquired clients through a network of labor lawyers. Many companies keep union busting agencies on retainer.

Historically, some agencies sent secret operatives into a prospective client's factory without permission. A report was prepared and submitted to the manager, revealing conspiracies of sabotage and union activities.

Goals of union busting


Labor, i.e., human work, is considered to be an economic factor of production, alongside capital, land (including raw materials) and entrepreneurship. That is, reducing the cost of the resource contributes to the corporation's net income.

Unionized employees secure better wages and superior benefits compared to their non-union counterparts at the cost of those outside the unions. Because unions concern themselves with issues such as wages, hours, and working conditions, the company not only must consider the possibility that unions will raise the cost of doing business, but unions may seek work rules which reduce the flexibility of management in running the business.

In nations without universal health care, such as the United States, negotiated health care plans may confer a significant cost on the corporation. Unions frequently seek to negotiate pension plans for represented employees as well, establishing an additional expense for the company.

Lower pay, fewer benefits, and more scope for management to agree to differing standards of health and safety, may translate directly into greater profitability. Additionally, without unions workers can be employed for longer hours, increasing profits. Therefore, many employers seek to prevent unions from conducting successful organizing campaigns, and some may pursue options to undermine or eliminate unions which are already in existence. During the 1960s and early 1970s, there was a general reluctance on the part of employers to engage in union busting.

Then, consultants began actively promoting the "morality of a union-free environment." More recently, "consultants have become ever more brazen about encouraging employers to fight unionization to the bitter end." One prominent industrial relations scholar has observed that there is a "deep anti-union culture that historically and currently pervades US management."

Employers that have been unionized may be hostile, neutral, or friendly to the union. Occasionally an employer will pretend to be neutral or friendly, while concealing hostile intent. In all cases, however, the goal of the union buster is to reduce the power, significance, and appeal of the union, or to curtail by questionable means the union's ability to win gains for its members. The number of union busters is increasing, with an estimated tenfold increase in the size of the union avoidance industry in the 1970s alone.


Because union activities affect economic relationships, some economists and political writers observe that the social impact justifies anti-union activities. Other writers note that economic systems (including capitalism) have a social impact on working people, which unions seek to soften.


Some economists argue that when the price of labor (the wage rate) is increased above the equilibrium price, unemployment will rise. According to this theory, it is no longer worthwhile for businesses to employ those laborers whose work is worth less than the minimum wage rate set by the unions. Such economists assert that when governments seek to reduce union powers, one of their goals is reducing unemployment.

Methods of union busting

Many unionized employers, and the unions that represent their workforce, periodically engage in a process called negotiations, or bargaining, in order to establish the rules governing issues such as wages, hours, and working conditions. This may be a contentious process, in part due to the possibility of escalation. Escalation may include various types of job actions that move the focus away from the negotiating table, and place it in the economic sphere. Confronted with perceived intransigence, the union may seek to punish the corporation with a boycott or a successful strike, thereby gaining leverage at the negotiating table.

Employers make preparations for possible union strategies, just as unions plan job actions to pressure employers. Some of these activities and preparations may be considered routine. For example, manufacturing companies may develop a strike contingency plan which includes stockpiling product before the contract expires, in order to maintain sales during a work stoppage. A strike contingency plan may also have a secondary purpose: to intimidate union members into not striking.

Other activities may be aimed at gaining advantage beyond simply concluding negotiations successfully, or winning during a job action. A corporation may seek to weaken or destroy the union, using the job action as an excuse. Labor legislation has limited the methods that corporations may use to discipline a workforce, and has decreased the number and variety of economic tools readily available to unions. In some cases, the methods employed by union busters have become more subtle and more devious.

"Dirty tricks"

Union busting is a field populated by bullies and built on deceit. A campaign against a union is an assault on individuals and a war on truth. As such, it is a war without honor. The only way to bust a union is to lie, distort, manipulate, threaten, and always, always attack.
Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster

A number of tactics used in union-busting are considered underhand, including incrimination and falsification. Levitt describes illegal practices such as tapping the phone of a union organizer, and also tapping into managers' racial, class, and gender prejudices and fears. During the 1970s and 1980s, the union avoidance industry was "an overwhelmingly white, male business, and relatively few firms employed multilingual or minority consultants."

"We deftly used [videos and other tools] to awaken within the mostly white supervisor corps a hatred of blacks, fear of violence, contempt for women, mistrust of the poor, and, of course, a loathing for the union that brought together all those despicable elements... with a few well-chosen remarks, we tapped the fears that resided in the hearts [of the supervisors].

However, many union busting tactics are more subtle. For example, federal labor law requires the employer to provide the union with the names and home addresses of all union election eligible employees. A labor consultant may advise the company to provide nothing more than the very minimum necessary legal address requirements, which do not include zip codes, apartment numbers, or street designations such as Street, Avenue, Drive, or Place. The union is forced to spend significant resources to translate the minimal required legal addresses into usable addresses, and may therefore fail to contact many potential members.


Some such government-required action of the company is an excuse to send apologetic letters to the employees, portraying such actions as an inconvenience or an invasion of privacy rights, the blame for which is laid at the doorstep of the union. Descriptions of the union often include threatening or derogatory connotations, while management is often portrayed as humble, caring, and righteous. For example, Levitt notes that some letters might emphasize the costs of joining a union or the possible loss of jobs arising from a strike.

The union is not allowed access to the work force during their eight hours of work each day, but the union buster can occupy as much of that time as is considered necessary. The aim of the union buster is a "war of saturation bombing" in which half-truths and accusations put the union on the defensive. Forcing the union to spend hours defending itself during meetings means there's no time left for the union's planning efforts, or for campaign strategy. The workers won't find the time to discuss their own issues if they're sufficiently bombarded with the "twisted disinformation" sown by the union buster.

But the well-orchestrated anti-union campaign is also nuanced and calibrated to human emotion. After all the employees and supervisors are exhausted from the fight over the upcoming election, the union buster may offer a "give us a chance" letter which is a "tearful, apologetic plea" for an apparent truce. It creates an illusion suggesting that management recognizes its mistakes and has learned its lessons from the organizing campaign, and that in alerting management to the problems, the union — portrayed as a self-serving group of outsiders with their own agenda — can serve no further useful purpose. Management really has changed, and management deserves a chance. This offer is typically timed so that its impact is felt just before the election.

Intelligence operations

Either side is likely to perform better during confrontations if it is well-informed, or if it can place operatives in key positions. Corporations have frequently resorted to seeking intelligence on union activities, often by employing informants, labor spies, and saboteurs. A plant can be used to disrupt meetings, question the legitimacy and motives of the union, and report the results of the meetings to management. Such behavior is illegal, but difficult to prove in court.

Some actions of operatives are prankish, yet effective. In 1980, union buster Martin Jay Levitt conducted a counter-organizing drive at a nursing home in Sebring, Ohio. He assigned confederates to scratch up cars, then blamed it on the union. The deed occurred as part of a campaign to portray the union as a threat to nursing home residents. Creating — then systematically exploiting — a prolonged climate of fear was key to destroying the union's credibility.

Intelligence gathering may be ingenious and deceptive. The week before a union election, the labor consultant may announce an innocent-sounding election-week pool among managers and supervisors. Each person contributes a dollar, with the possibility of winning a one hundred dollar prize, by recording the number of "no" votes they're predicting for the union election. The consultant now has a barometer of confidence from all participants. Those who predict a lower number of "no" votes may reflect areas of the workforce into which the union avoidance campaign can pour resources in the days just prior to the election. While participants are likely to view such a poll as nothing more sinister than a sports pool, in reality it circumvents labor laws that prohibit management from conducting straw votes among employees during an organizing drive.

Legal obstruction

Labor consultants are experts at using rules and regulations to thwart an organizing drive. Delays and jurisdictional changes may be sought to obstruct union plans for a quick and straightforward campaign. If the union focuses on one division of the company, lawyers may disrupt such plans and dilute the vote by petitioning the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to include other divisions. If the union seeks to include foreman or "junior supervisor" positions in the bargaining unit, union busting lawyers may file on that issue. Even the jurisdiction of the NLRB to oversee an organizing drive may be challenged in order to provide management with more time to undermine the union effort. Protracted delays could turn the organizing campaign into a war of attrition, and such battles are almost always won by management.

If the organizing struggle can be made to last long enough, it demonstrates to workers that the union is not in control and they will lose faith in the process. In one delaying effort a lawyer hired a photographer to take thousands of photographs of a factory, purportedly to show that the voting unit was improperly defined. Each photo was introduced into evidence individually, a tedious process that took days.

Favoritism and division

Consultants may direct management to establish "Vote No" committees of pro-company employees charged with the responsibility of rewarding loyal workers. Such workers may find themselves showered with special favors, extra time off, free T-shirts and caps with the "Vote No" slogan, and other bonuses. Pro-union workers are forced to undergo ever-tighter scrutiny, and are confronted with scurrilous rumors spread by the anti-union campaign. Whenever the union attempts to hold constructive meetings of potential union members, a group of anti-union employees may be sent by union busting consultants with instructions to disrupt the meeting and put the union on the defensive. The anti-union employees might shout and sneer, or ask hostile, misleading questions. Some of them may be tasked with jotting down profuse notes whenever someone speaks to make pro-union workers uncomfortable. The company gains from any divisions or animosity created by such tactics, for the union can be blamed for driving "a wedge of hate into a once unified work force."

Creating an illusion of progress

After vilifying the union, the second imperative of a union avoidance campaign is to humanize the executives in the eyes of workers. The goal is to portray the company as benevolent, compassionate, and caring. According to former union buster Martin Jay Levitt, managers might learn at seminars ways to market themselves through manipulation of perceptions, such as appearing more open and caring by relaxing certain rules.

Management must temporarily submit to the guidance of consultants concerning all communications with employees. Examples of management's newfound kindness are publicized to all employees. Through surveys and interviews, the union buster develops a definite insight into who in management is trusted and liked, and who is not. The former are brought forward and become the new face of the company during the union organizing campaign, while the others are coached on masking or overcoming their dislikeable characteristics. Absent such transformation, their visible role is diminished.

"Give the workers just enough rope so that they believe they are off the leash, just enough to fool them into scorning the union. The golden rule of management control, as I taught it, was: incorporate dissent, institutionalize it. They would find, I promised my disciples, that dissension won't be half as attractive to the masses once the rebels are sitting down with the bosses...the cunning manager should embrace his workplace rebels. Be grateful for them, I offered, for they are your most effective shield against the union. If you can convince the activists that they'll accomplish more, perhaps have more power, without a union, why, you've won the war.

Managers or owners may be asked to visit worksites and exchange jokes, gossip, and laughter with workers. The theme of company-as-family prevails, with the union portrayed as an upstart outsider. Only after a union organizing drive is defeated, might company executives be allowed to return to their "tyrannical" ways.

Supervisors at the point of attack

The foreman, the front-line supervisor, has the worst job in any business—watched and hounded by upper management, mistrusted by his workers. He is alone in the middle, with no one to turn to. The supervisor's isolation and vulnerability make him the ideal tool for union-busting campaigns.
Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster

United States labor law confers certain reporting requirements on labor consultants who communicate with employees. For this and other reasons, consultants typically remain behind the scenes and operate through first line supervision. If supervisors fail to cooperate, or if they sympathize with the union, they may be fired.

Supervisors are usually required to attend daily interviews conducted by well-rehearsed consultants who arrive with a carefully prepared chart for each worker, with all available data on the employee's finances, sexual activities, and loyalty to the company included. Pairs of consultants may present supervisors with a good cop/bad cop routine in order to gain cooperation and information. A promise of confidentiality may be conveyed to the supervisor, but it is "a bold and cruel lie" because all useful information is routinely passed to executives, circulated as a damaging rumor against pro-union employees, or filed away for future use. If supervisors only pretend to cooperate, or if there is some question about performance or loyalty, they may be subjected to interrogations by multiple consultants who will use intimidation and blunt threats of dismissal—all perfectly legal if directed at management employees. Supervisors are told that their future with the company depends upon them personally halting the union organizing campaign. Ultimately, many supervisors can be badgered into begging for their jobs—not from consultants or from upper management, but from employees scheduled to vote in the union election.

Unions sometimes seek to include "foreman", "lead-hand", or "layout operator" positions in the bargaining unit during a union organizing drive. The tactic may depend upon the job responsibilities actually performed by employees in these positions, but also upon the particular loyalties of these groups. A union buster recognizes that the process of destroying pro-union sentiments in a work force depends upon having a proportionally significant number of supervisory staffers charged with that task. It doesn't matter to the union buster whether the sentiments of these staff members are pro-union or not — if they are not to be extended the protection of the bargaining unit, then their demonstrated loyalty to the company and its goal of defeating the union campaign can be made a condition of employment. Thus, positions of work group leadership or lower management often become contested positions in organizing struggles. If the bargaining unit established by the union's petition for a union election does not allow the union buster sufficient management staff to launch a counter-organizing campaign, then the union buster may seek to redefine the bargaining unit through appeals to the NLRB. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows some latitude for this, in that it declares a supervisor not just to be someone who can hire, fire, or transfer employees, but also someone who can effectively recommend any of these actions.

Declare innocence; comply with the law; blame the union

In a counter-organizing campaign, image is crucial. When federal law could be useful — even if such rulings injured the work force — union buster Martin Jay Levitt bent it to his will, pretending to have no other option. Meanwhile, inconvenient federal requirements were falsely portrayed as treachery by the union. In contrast to an assertion of management's innocence in any anti-union maneuvering, the union buster portrays the union as devious and sneaky.

For example, Levitt was fighting an organizing drive in a nursing home. The first level of nurses (LPNs) made up a significant proportion of the workforce. The LPNs had been a driving force behind the union effort. Levitt recommended to the company lawyer that they contest the inclusion of the LPNs in the bargaining unit before the NLRB and this was successful. Thus, the pro-union LPNs were declared management for the sake of defeating the union. Levitt then composed a letter explaining this hostile maneuver to the nurses, blaming the action on the federal government, and portraying the good intentions of the company in complying with the law.

Strike breaking

One of the weapons traditionally wielded by already-established unions is the strike — a stoppage in which a significant percentage of the workforce ceases work. Historically, many strikes were conducted by unorganized workers, and were accompanied by demands for union recognition. Therefore, defeating the strike meant dismissing the union threat. Union recognition strikes are less common in recent times. In the United States, recognitional picketing has been restricted in some ways since the Landrum-Griffin Act was passed in 1959. Most strikes in the modern era are called by unions that are already recognized.

In addition to potential gains from compelling an employer to negotiate, certain risks to union members result from a strike. For example, some companies may decline entirely to negotiate with the union, and respond to the strike by hiring replacement workers. This may create a crisis situation for strikers — do they stick to their original plan and rely upon their solidarity, or is there a chance that the strike may be lost? How long will the strike last? Will strikers' jobs still be there if the strike fails? Are other strikers succumbing to management's calculated tactics and relentless propaganda? Companies that hire strike breakers typically play upon these fears when they attempt to convince union members to abandon the strike and cross the union's picket line.

Unions faced with a strike breaking situation may try to inhibit the use of strike breakers by a variety of methods — establishing picket lines where the strike breakers enter the workplace; discouraging strike breakers from taking, or from keeping, strike breaking jobs; raising the cost of hiring strike breakers for the company; or employing public relations tactics. Companies may respond by increasing security forces and seeking court injunctions.


Employers may put pressure on a union by declaring a lockout. This is a work stoppage in which an employer prevents employees from working. A lockout is differentiated from a strike, in which employees refuse to work.

A lockout, initiated by the company instead of the union, changes the psychological impact of a work stoppage. A 1936 congressional investigation discovered that in some cases, a company was able to lockout its workers three days prior to an intended strike, based upon information discovered by spies.

Taxpayer-financed union busting

During the 1960s, "union fever ran particularly hot" at nonprofit hospitals... low-paid workers at nonprofits formed unions and demanded recognition. Major American cities experienced a series of hospital strikes, and some of them were violent. Hospital workers and labor leaders insisted that the NLRA be amended to cover employees at nonprofits, and by 1974 President Nixon had signed such a law. In 1979 Congress investigated a backlash against new union organizing resulting from that law.

"What the subcommittee heard was very disturbing, but what ired the good congressmen most was the revelation that public money was routinely used to pay for brutal—and often illegal—union-busting activities."

A substantial amount of fees paid to union busters had come from the federal Medicaid program, even though union busting is not an allowed fee. In spite of prohibitions, the hospitals managed to finance union-busting costs by packaging them with training costs. A hospital watchdog agency in Massachusetts ordered six hospitals to reimburse Medicaid $250,000 for anti-union campaigns from 1974 to 1976. Also in the 1970s, the Department of Defense partially financed union busting by its contractors. Such activities appear to be illegal, for they conflict with the NLRA. In 1998, Catholic Healthcare West (the largest private hospital chain in California and a major recipient of state Medicaid funds) conducted a campaign against Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Sacramento and Los Angeles, at a cost of more than $2.6 million. After the Catholic Healthcare West campaign, the California state legislature passed a law prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds for anti-union activities.

Some other efforts to restrict the use of tax dollars for union busting have, however, been struck down. A major recipient of state Medicaid funds, the Center for Cerebral Palsy in Albany, New York, hired a union busting law firm to fight a UNITE organizing drive. In 2002 the State of New York passed a "labor neutrality" act prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars for union busting. The law was passed as a direct result of the campaign against UNITE. In May 2005, a district court judge struck down the labor neutrality law in a ruling that the union busting law firm described as "an enormous victory for employers."

Corporations caught illegally firing an employee are required under federal law to restore lost pay to the worker, but there are few additional penalties available. This also applies to the firing of union organizers. State laws at one time sought to prevent taxpayer funds from being awarded to union busting corporations through government contracts. One such law, passed in Wisconsin in 1979, was struck down by the United States Supreme Court in the decision Wisconsin Dept. of Industry v. Gould. The 1986 Supreme Court decision means that it doesn't matter if the punishment for illegal behavior under federal labor law is limited, those punishments are the maximum allowed and states cannot eliminate such companies from government contracts. Critics charge that, in effect, "federal labor law forces states to hire unionbusters.

Allegations of exorbitant expenditures

Between 1994 and 2000, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) commissioned a union avoidance campaign against the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). The IBEW reported that BGE spent more than fifty million dollars fighting three NLRB elections in 1996, 1998 and 2000. The union was defeated in all three campaigns. The AFL-CIO used the bitter BGE campaign to persuade the Clinton Labor Department that Landrum-Griffin reporting requirements for union busters were being flaunted. Just before leaving office, the Clinton Administration agreed to impose stricter financial reporting requirements on consultants and the employers that hire them. The Bush Administration delayed, and then rescinded these new rules.

Law firms as union busters

The U.S. system of union recognition has become "vastly more legalistic" in recent decades, and law firms focusing on union avoidance have "grown enormously in size." Although services provided by most law firms complement, rather than directly contribute to, the actual campaigns to turn employees against unions, at least one law firm has:

"...used militant anti-union rhetoric when marketing its services to employers. It has encouraged employers to treat union organizers like they would treat a "contagious disease" and to inoculate their employees against the "union virus." Since 2001, the firm has been running seminars titled, "Union Avoidance War Games". Alongside a graphic of a bomb dropping, the seminar brochure warns employers not to be "lulled into a false sense of security — this is war." It states that participants will experience "first-hand the battlefield conditions of union organizing", and suggests that, when dealing with the union "threat", "War is hel... pful."

The law firm "has been paid millions of dollars by employers who receive public funds."

Industrial psychologists as union busters

Although Nathan Shefferman (see below) introduced some basic psychological techniques into the union avoidance industry, they were fairly crude. Building upon his work,

"In the 1960s and 1970s, a new generation of professionally trained industrial/personnel psychologists, more overtly focused on combating unionization than their predecessors, introduced sophisticated behavioural and social science techniques into the union avoidance industry and provided the industry with greater legitimacy. Industrial psychologists developed techniques that have allowed employers to screen out potential union supporters, identify hotspots vulnerable to unionization, and structure the workplace to facilitate the maintenance of a non-union environment. They provided employers with detailed "psychological profiles" of likely union supporters and opponents, and conducted regular "audits" to determine a firm’s vulnerability to unionization."

Industrial psychologists play a major role in union busting activities. Between 1974 and 1984, one firm established by one industrial psychologist:

"...had trained over 27,000 managers and supervisors to "make unions unnecessary" and had surveyed the attitudes of over a quarter of [a] million employees in over 400 organizations... [the psychologist claims that] 4,000 organizations and almost one million employees have participated in [the firm's] surveys, seminars, and consulting, and that he has had only one client fall victim to unionization..."

While many union busters focus on attacking unionization efforts, many industrial psychologists provide a complementary service called union prevention. One union prevention specialist believes his clients are so adamant that unionization efforts never get a foothold in their factories, that:

"...if one of their plants were the subject of a failed organizing campaign, the company would fire the plant manager, line manager and HR manager..."

International dimension

Only in the United States has the struggle between management and labor resulted in such a "contingent of mercenaries" who specialize in breaking strikes. However, union busters have recently begun to diversify their personnel, and to seek markets in other countries.

In the U.S., organizing campaigns increasingly involve immigrant workers. One union busting agency claims that over half its consultants are minorities or women. The agency has hired African-American consultants for campaigns aimed predominantly at black employees. It boasts consultants fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Tagalog, Creole and several dialects of Chinese, allowing it "access and acceptance in virtually any employee group."

Private sector unions in the United States have declined, partly as a result of union busting campaigns. Some union busting agencies are therefore seeking international markets. Since 2000, at least one agency has established an international division which operates in Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Germany. The agency tells clients that its international division enjoys an international reputation for "eliminating union incursions." As in the United States, the agency prefers to do its work in secret where possible, training the employer's supervisors to implement its tactics. Unions in countries outside the United States have faced campaigns by the agency without realizing who they were up against.


Strike breaking and union busting, 1890s-1935

Hiring agencies specializing in anti-union practices has been an option available to employers from the bloody strikes of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, until today.

Creative methods of union busting have been around for a long time. In 1907, Morris Friedman reported that a Pinkerton agent who had infiltrated the Western Federation of Miners managed to gain control of a strike relief fund, and attempted to exhaust that union's treasury by awarding lavish benefits to strikers. However, many attacks against unions have used brute force of one sort or another.

Brute force attacks against unions

Unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World were devastated by the Palmer Raids, carried out during the First Red Scare. Later, communist-led unions were isolated or destroyed, and their activists purged with the assistance of other union organizations, during the Second Red Scare.

Union busting with military force

For approximately 150 years, union organizing efforts and strikes have been periodically opposed by police, security forces, national guard units, special police forces such as the Coal and Iron Police, and/or use of the United States Army. Significant incidents have included the Haymarket Riot and the Ludlow massacre. The Homestead struggle of 1892, the Pullman walkout of 1894, and the Colorado Labor Wars of 1903 are examples of unions destroyed or significantly damaged by the deployment of military force. In all three examples, a strike became the triggering event.

  • Pinkertons and militia at Homestead, 1892 - One of the first union busting agencies was the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which came to public attention as the result of a shooting war between strikers and three hundred Pinkerton agents during the Homestead Strike of 1892. When the Pinkerton agents were withdrawn, militia forces were deployed. The decisive defeat of a powerful strike resulted in the destruction of the local union.
  • Federal troops crush the American Railway Union, 1894 - During the Pullman Strike, the American Railway Union (ARU) committed one of the first great acts of union solidarity by calling out its members according to the principle of industrial unionism. The action was very successful until twenty thousand federal troops were called out to crush the strike, and the national ARU was destroyed.
  • National Guard in the Colorado Labor Wars, 1903 - The Colorado National Guard, an employers' organization called the Citizens' Alliance, and the Mine Owners' Association teamed together to eject the Western Federation of Miners from mining camps throughout Colorado during the Colorado Labor Wars.

Jack Whitehead, the first "King of Strike Breakers"

There were a significant number of strikes during the 1890s and very early 1900s. Strike breaking by recruiting massive numbers of replacement workers became a significant activity.

Jack Whitehead saw opportunity in labor struggles; while other workers were attempting to organize unions, he walked away from his union to organize an army of strike breakers. Whitehead was the first to be called "King of the Strike Breakers"; by deploying his private workforce during strikes of steelworker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Birmingham, Alabama, he became wealthy. By demonstrating how lucrative strike breaking could be, Whitehead inspired a host of imitators.

James Farley inherits the strike breaker title

After Whitehead, men like James A. Farley and Pearl Bergoff turned union-busting into a substantial industry. Farley began his strike breaking career in 1895, and opened a detective agency in New York City in 1902. In addition to detective work, Farley accepted industrial assignments, specializing in breaking strikes of streetcar drivers. Farley hired his men based in part upon courage and toughness, and in some strikes they openly carried firearms. They were paid more than the strikers had been. Farley was credited with a string of successful strike breaking actions, employing hundreds, and sometimes thousands of strike breakers. Farley was sometimes paid as much as three hundred thousand dollars for breaking a strike, and by 1914 he had taken in more than ten million dollars. Farley claimed that he had defeated thirty-five strikes in a row. But he suffered from tuberculosis, and as he faced death, he declared that he turned down the job of breaking a streetcar strike in Philadelphia because this time, "the strikers were in the right."

Bergoff brothers make strike breaking a family affair

Pearl Bergoff also began his strike breaking career in New York City, working as a spotter on the Metropolitan Street Railway in Manhattan. His job was to watch conductors, making certain that they recorded all of the fares that they accepted. In 1905 Bergoff started the Vigilant Detective Agency of New York. Within two years his brothers joined the lucrative business, and the name was changed to the Bergoff Brothers Strike Service and Labor Adjusters. Bergoff's early strike breaking actions were characterized by extreme violence. A 1907 strike of garbage cart drivers resulted in numerous confrontations between strikers and the strike breakers, even when protected by police escorts. Strikers sometimes pelted the strike breakers with rocks, bottles, and bricks launched from tenement rooftops.

The Pressed Steel Car Company at McKees Rock fired forty men, and eight thousand employees representing sixteen nationalities walked out under the banner of the Industrial Workers of the World. Bergoff's agency hired strike breaking toughs from the Bowery, and shipped vessels filled with unsuspecting immigrant workers directly into the strike zone. Other immigrant strike breakers were delivered in boxcars, and were not fed during a two day period. Later they worked, ate, and slept in a barn with two thousand other men. Their meals consisted of cabbage and bread.

There were violent confrontations between strikers and strike breakers, but also between strike breakers and guards when the terrified workers demanded the right to leave. An Austro-Hungarian immigrant who managed to escape told his government that workers were being held against their will, resulting in an international incident. In addition to kidnapping, strike breakers complained of deception, broken promises about wages, and tainted food.

During federal hearings, Bergoff explained that "musclemen" under his employ would "get... any graft that goes on", suggesting that was to be expected "on every big job." Other testimony indicated that Bergoff's "right-hand man", described as "huge in stature, weighing perhaps 240 pounds", surrounded himself with thirty-five guards who intimidated and fleeced the strike breakers, locking them into a boxcar prison with no sanitation facilities when they defied orders.

At the end of August a gun battle erupted, with six dead, six dying, and fifty wounded. Public sympathy began to swing away from the company, and toward the strikers. Early in September the company acknowledged defeat and negotiated with the strikers. Twenty-two had died in the strike. But Bergoff's business wasn't hurt by the defeat; he boasted of having as many as ten thousand strike breakers on his payroll. He was getting paid as much as two million dollars per strike breaking job.

Anti-union vigilantes during the First Red Scare

Unlike the American Federation of Labor, the Industrial Workers of the World opposed the First World War. The American Protective League (APL) was a pro-war organization formed by wealthy Chicago businessmen. At the height of its power the APL had 250,000 members in 600 cities. In 1918, documents from the APL showed that ten percent of its efforts (the largest of any category) were focused on disrupting the activities of the IWW. The APL burgled and vandalized IWW offices, and harassed IWW members. Such actions were illegal, yet were supported by the Wilson administration.

Spies, missionaries, and saboteurs

Strike breaking by hiring massive numbers of tough opportunists began to lose favor in the 1920s; there were fewer strikes, resulting in fewer opportunities. By the 1930s, agencies began to rely more upon the use of informants and labor spies.

Spy agencies hired to bust unions developed a level of sophistication that could devastate targets. "Missionaries" were undercover operatives trained to use whispering campaigns or unfounded rumors to create dissension on the picket lines and in union halls. The strikers themselves were not the only targets. For example, female missionaries might systematically visit the strikers' wives in the home, relating a sob story of how a strike had destroyed their own families. Missionary campaigns have been known to destroy not only strikes, but unions themselves.

In the 1930s, the Pinkerton Agency employed twelve-hundred labor spies, and nearly one-third of them held high level positions in the targeted unions. The International Association of Machinists was damaged when Sam Brady, a veteran Pinkerton operative, held a high enough position in that union that he was able to precipitate a premature strike. All but five officers in a United Auto Workers local in Lansing, Michigan were driven out by Pinkerton agents. The five who remained were Pinkertons. At the Underwood Elliot Fisher Company plant, the union local was so badly injured by undercover operatives that membership dropped from more than twenty-five hundred, to fewer than seventy-five.

Wagner Act, 1935

...the NLR Act, the bible of collective bargaining, can be a union buster's best friend. In its complexity the nation's fundamental labor law presents endless possibilities for delays, roadblocks, and maneuvers that can undermine a union's efforts and frustrate would-be members.
Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), often referred to as the Wagner Act, was passed in 1935. It established the right to organize unions. Unsavory employer practices such as intimidating union activists, and spying on unions, were outlawed. The Act established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), with oversight over union elections and unfair labor practices by employers.

Strike breaking and union busting, 1936-1947

Employers in the United States have had the legal right to permanently replace economic strikers since the Supreme Court’s 1937 decision in NLRB v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co.

Meanwhile, employers began to demand more subtle and sophisticated union busting tactics, and so the field called "preventive labor relations" was born. The new practitioners were armed with degrees in industrial psychology, management, and labor law. They would use these skills not only to manipulate the provisions of national labor law, but also the emotions of workers seeking to unionize.

Nathan Shefferman, union buster for a new era

After passage of the Wagner Act, the first nationally known union busting agency was Labor Relations Associates (LRA) of Chicago, Inc. LRA was led by Nathan Shefferman, who has been considered the ‘founding father’ of the modern union avoidance industry. Shefferman had been a member of the original NLRB, and became director of employee relations at Chicago-based Sears, Roebuck and Company. Sears had been engaged in blocking unions from the retail industry throughout the 1930s. The chain had "carried out a particularly vicious, ongoing war with the Teamsters union." Sears provided $10,000 seed money to launch LRA.

By the late 1940s, LRA had nearly 400 clients. Shefferman's operatives set up anti-union employee groups called "Vote No" committees, developed ruses to identify pro-union workers, and helped arrange sweetheart contracts with unions that would not challenge management. Consultants from LRA "committed numerous illegal actions, including bribery, coercion of employees and racketeering."

Shefferman built "a daunting business on a foundation of false premises", of which "perhaps the most incredible—and most widely believed—is the myth that companies are at a disadvantage to unions organizationally, legally, and financially during a union-organizing drive." What businesses sought to accomplish through such propaganda was for Congress to amend the Wagner Act.

Taft-Hartley Act, 1947

Management always had the upper hand, of course; they had never lost it. But thanks to Taft-Hartley, the bosses could once again wage their war with near impunity.
Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster

In 1947, Congress listened to management's complaints and passed the Labor-Management Relations Act, better known as Taft-Hartley, over President Harry Truman's veto. Taft-Hartley attacks unions on almost every front. It established unfair labor practices which can be charged against unions. It allows specific "employer rights" which broadens an employer's arsenal during union organizing drives. It bans the closed shop, in which union membership is a precondition of employment at an organized workplace. It encouraged state "right to work" laws which prohibit mandatory union dues. It perpetuated red baiting. It gave management new weapons, while restricting fundamental union activities. For a time, Taft-Hartley instituted anti-communist loyalty oaths for union officers.

Strike breaking and union busting, 1948-1959

In 1956, Nathan Shefferman crushed a unionizing effort of the Retail Clerks Union at seven Boston-area stores by employing tactics that Walter Tudor, the Sears vice-president for personnel, described as "inexcusable, unnecessary and disgraceful." At a Marion, Ohio, Whirlpool plant, an LRA operative created a card file system which tracked employees' feelings about unions. Many of those he regarded as pro-union were fired. A similar practice took place at Morton Frozen Foods Company in Webster City, Iowa. An employee recruited by LRA operatives wrote down a list of employees thought to favor a union. Management fired those workers. The list-making employee received a substantial pay increase. When the Packing House Workers union was defeated, Shefferman arranged a sweetheart contract with a union that Morton Frozen Foods controlled, with no participation from the workers. From 1949 through 1956, LRA earned nearly $2.5 million dollars providing such anti-union services.

In 1957, the McClellan Anti-Racketeering Committee investigated unions for corruption, and employers and agencies for union busting activities. Labor Relations Associates was found to have committed violations of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, including manipulating union elections through bribery and coercion; threatening to revoke workers' benefits if they organized; installing union officers who were sympathetic to management; rewarding employees who worked against the union; spying on, and harassing workers. The McClellan committee believed that "the National Labor Relations Board [was] impotent to deal with Shefferman's type of activity."

Landrum-Griffin Act, 1959

Union busters couldn't have asked for a bigger break (than Landrum-Griffin). For the first time, detailed, timely information on the inner workings and finances of unions and labor leaders would be available to consultants and attorneys for the price of a photocopy... labor consultants cheered.
Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster

The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), better known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, was passed in 1959. The law regulates labor unions' internal affairs and union officials' relationships with employers. But the law also required companies to report certain expenditures related to their anti-union activities. Fortunately for union busters, loopholes in the requirements allow management and their agents to ignore the provisions aimed at reforming their behavior. The loopholes require consultants to file if they communicate with employees either for the purpose of persuading them not to join a union, or to gain knowledge about the employees or the union that may be passed on to the employer. However, most consultants accomplish these goals by indirect means, using supervisors and management as their first line of contact with employees. Even before the Act was passed, labor consultants had identified front-line supervisors as the most effective lobbyists for management.

Landrum-Griffin also seeks to prevent consultants from spying on employees or the union. Information isn't to be compiled unless it is for the purpose of a specific legal proceeding. It is easy for consultants to use this provision as a cover for "all kinds of information gathering."

Meanwhile, because of Landrum-Griffin's vague language, attorneys are able to directly interfere in the union-organizing process without any reporting requirements. Therefore, "young lawyers run bold anti-union wars and dance all over Landrum-Griffin." The provisions of Landrum-Griffin allowing special rights for lawyers resulted in labor consultants working under the shield of labor attorneys, allowing them to easily evade the intent of the law.

With the help of our trusted attorneys, our anti-union activities were carried out [under Landrum-Griffin] in backstage secrecy; meanwhile we gleefully showcased every detail of union finances that could be twisted into implications of impropriety or incompetence.
Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster

Strike breaking and union busting, 1960s-present

There is little evidence that employers availed themselves of anti-union services during the 1960s or the early 1970s. However, under a new reading of the Landrum-Griffin Act, the Department of Labor took action against consulting agencies related to filing of required reports in only three cases after 1966, and between 1968 and 1974 it filed no actions at all. By the late 1970s, consulting agencies had stopped filing reports.

The 1970s and 1980s were an altogether more hostile political and economic climate for organized labor. Meanwhile a new breed of union-busters, with degrees in industrial psychology, management, and labor law, proved skilled at sidestepping requirements of both the National Labor Relations Act and Landrum-Griffin. By the 1970s the number of consultants, and the scope and sophistication of their activities, increased substantially. As the numbers of consultants increased, the numbers of unions suffering NLRB setbacks also increased. Labor's percentage of election wins slipped from 57 percent to 46 percent. The number of union decertification elections tripled, with a 73 percent loss rate for unions.

Labor relations consulting firms began providing seminars on union avoidance strategies in the 1970s. Agencies moved from subverting unions to screening out union sympathizers during hiring, indoctrinating workforces, and propagandizing against unions.

By the mid-1980s, Congress had investigated, but failed to regulate abuses by labor relations consulting firms. Meanwhile, while some anti-union employers continued to rely upon the tactics of persuasion and manipulation, other besieged firms launched blatantly aggressive anti-union campaigns. Although the general direction of professional union-busting has been toward greater subtlety, strike-bound employers have turned once again to agencies that supplied replacement workers, and professional security firms whose operatives "have proved to be little more than thugs." At the dawn of the twenty-first century, methods of union busting have recalled similar tactics from the dawn of the twentieth century.

Notable anti-union employer organizations

In the United States shortly after 1900, there were just a few effective employers' organizations that opposed the union movement. In Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin, employers' groups had one thing in common: a "consuming hostility" toward organized labor. By 1903, these organizations started to coalesce, and a national employers' movement began to exert a powerful influence on industrial relations and public affairs.

For nearly a decade prior to 1903, an industrial union called the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) had been increasing in power, militancy, and radicalism as a response to dangerous working conditions, employer-employee inequality, the imposition of long hours of work, and what members perceived as an imperious attitude on the part of employers. In particular, members of the WFM had been outraged by employers' widespread use of labor spies in organizing efforts such as Coeur d'Alene. The miners' frustrations had occasionally exploded in anger and violence. But they had also tried peaceful change, and found that route impossible. For example, after winning a referendum vote for the eight hour day with support from 72 percent of Colorado's electorate, the WFM's goal of an eight hour law was still thwarted — probably illegally — by hostile employers and indifferent politicians.

In 1901, angry WFM members passed a convention proclamation that a "complete revolution of social and economic conditions" was "the only salvation of the working classes. To employers who enjoyed the greater fruits of a hierarchical economic system, the statement seemed tantamount to a declaration of war. Colorado employers and their supporters reacted to growing union restlessness and power in a confrontation that came to be called the Colorado Labor Wars.

But fear and apprehension on the part of employers, who felt their dominant role in the economy threatened, were by no means limited to Colorado. Across the nation, the first elements of a network of employers' organizations that would span the coming century were just beginning to arise.

National Association of Manufacturers

In April 1903, David M. Parry spoke to the annual convention of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). He delivered a diatribe against organized labor, asserting that trade unionism and socialism differ only in method, with both aiming to deny "individual and property rights". Parry asserted the natural laws which governed the nation's economy, and he decried any interference with those laws, whether by legislative or other means. Parry asserted that the goals of the unions would inevitably lead to "despotism, tyranny, and slavery", and the "ruin of civilization.

Parry declared that union members were "men of muscle rather than men of intelligence", that they were mere puppets who must depend upon the "brains of others for guidance." He stated that the AFL was a breeding place for "boycotters, picketers, and socialists", and that unions denied individual workers the right to sell their labor as they saw fit. Union leaders preached "hatred of wealth and ability", he claimed. In his opinion, organized labor knows but "one law, and that is the law of physical force—the law of the Huns and the Vandals, the law of the savage.

To control this threat to the status quo, Parry advised that the NAM begin organizing employers and manufacturers' associations into a great national anti-union federation. The NAM convention agreed to the recommendation, and created an employers' organizing committee with Parry in charge. Parry began the organizing effort at once.

The prospect of a federal eight hour law was particularly objectionable to the NAM, which declared it a "vicious, needless, and in every way preposterous proposition."

The NAM has fought against organized labor for more than a century through obliquely named affiliated organizations. However, the organization once sought to moderate its image. After the 1937 La Follette Committee investigated employers and their anti-union allies, uncovering widespread abuses, the NAM denounced "the use of espionage, strikebreaking agencies, professional strikebreakers, armed guards, or munitions for the purpose of interfering with or destroying the legitimate rights of labor to self organization and collective bargaining." The brief nod to union rights didn't last. In the late 1970s the NAM "was so confident in the appeal of its anti-union position that it no longer bothered to hide behind the euphemisms." In 1977 the NAM created the Council on a Union Free Environment with the specific mission of defeating a significant labor law reform bill that was proposed by President Carter. Martin Levitt described that legislation:

"Designed to plug the gaping loopholes that employers used to stonewall union-organizing efforts, Carter's bill held the rare promise of fairness to workers. The proposal was simple. Of its eleven major provisions, the most significant—and most threatening to employers—was the requirement that representation elections be held within fifteen days after the filing of a petition, where the union produces authorization cards from more than half the employees in the proposed bargaining unit. A quick election would render much of the union buster's arsenal useless and thus alter the landscape of organizing drives. It also could well alter the results: unions might actually win or lose based on the proportion of workers wanting representation. Imagine."

"Well, employers could imagine, and they wouldn't have it. With the help of the National Right to Work Committee and the near unanimous backing of corporate America, the Council on a Union Free Environment was successful in killing Carter's reforms."

The Council on a Union Free Environment continued its anti-union work after stopping the Carter bill, focusing on: disseminating the portrayal of union leaders as arrogant, incompetent, and criminal; blocking legislation favorable to labour unions; lobbying for laws to make organizing nearly impossible; reducing unions' power an, teaching business leaders how to avoid union conflict.

Citizens' Alliance

In his book A Union Against Unions: The Minneapolis Citizens Alliance and Its Fight Against Organized Labor, William Millikan writes that David M. Parry stated "the true nature of the United States business community's drive against union labor" when he addressed the Minneapolis Commercial Club in 1903:

"I believe we should endeavor to strike at the root of the matter, and that is to be found in the wide spread socialistic sentiment among certain classes of people."

Members of the Commercial Club, Minneapolis business leaders and their supporters who would sponsor the local Citizens' Alliance, responded favorably to the demand,

"Law and order must be enforced and ... class domination over industry is not going to be tolerated."

Millikan observes that Parry let slip in a moment of candor what the Minneapolis Citizens' Alliance would seek to keep secret for three decades: this was "a war between the owners of American industry and the working class."

If the NAM represented the large industrialists, the Citizens' Alliance groups were composed of smaller local associations. These entities were united in the belief that organized labor was "evil and un-American," and they formed a working bond through the national Citizens' Industrial Alliance (CIA), of which Parry became the first president. The CIA became the national parent of the local Citizens' Alliance groups, and through these local chapters it was able to reach a much broader audience than could the NAM.

Within three years it was perceived that the "educational campaigns" of the NAM and the CIA had reversed public opinion and ended the growth of unionism. At the 1906 CIA convention Charles W. Post, the breakfast cereal manufacturer, declared that,

"Two years ago the press and pulpit were delivering platitudes about the oppression of the working man. Now this has all been changed since it has been discovered that the enormous Labor Trust is the heaviest oppressor of the independent workingman as well as the common American Citizen."

In Minnesota, Citizens' Alliance leaders focused on defeating organized labor by establishing anti-union policies and legislation at the city, state, and federal levels. They sought to accomplish this, in part, by helping to incorporate the Minnesota Employers' Association (MEA). From the start, Colorado's Citizens' Alliance groups had a much more sordid history. The Colorado Citizens' Alliance:

"...claimed its purpose was for protection and to resist the unlawful demands of the unions, with "unlawful" meaning anything the unions requested. The thinly veiled objective was the eradication of the Miners' Union and, on the state level, the obliteration of the entire WFM.

James C. Craig became president of the Citizens' Alliance of Denver, which enrolled nearly 3,000 individual and corporate members within three weeks after its creation. It had a war chest of nearly $20,000. The organization had a "clandestine character", and all the inner workings of the organization were enshrouded "in deep secrecy", raising the possibility that "the group might take extralegal action against all organized labor. In fact, Citizens' Alliance organizations throughout Colorado formed a close alliance with the Mine Owners' Association and with the Colorado National Guard to engage in widespread, blatant extra-legal activities in the Cripple Creek gold mining district, where the Western Federation of Miners had declared a strike.

In Idaho Springs, Colorado, miners were rounded up by an Alliance-connected citizens' organization and banished at gunpoint during a strike for the eight hour day. During the 1903 strike in Telluride, the San Miguel County Citizens' Alliance circulated a petition accusing union leaders of the murder of William J. Barney, an out-of-town worker who had walked away from his job as a mine guard after only a week. A grand jury had concluded there was no evidence a crime had been committed, but members of the Alliance ignored that conclusion. When the alleged victim appeared in court seeking a divorce one year after he'd disappeared, at least two Alliance members discovered he was still alive. That knowledge didn't serve their purpose so they ignored it.

Accusations that the strikers were a threat to mines, mills, power stations, reservoirs, train trestles, power lines, and trams were used to justify occupation by the national guard. The real purpose was protection of strike breakers. The Citizens' Alliance helped to decide who was arrested and who walked free, and union sympathies were the determining factor. Some union arrestees were brutally treated, with pistol blows to the head and rifle blows to the body. But generally, union men in Telluride were too well-behaved, and new criminal offenses had to be invented. For example, men simply standing together were guilty of conspiracy. "Offensive carriage" became a crime when union men "disturbed the peace and quiet" by the way they stood and walked. Undercover Pinkerton spy George W. Riddell was arrested on such a charge with a group of strikers and determined during incarceration, perhaps to no one's real surprise, that the miners had no plans of the sort with which they'd been accused.

The Alliance in Telluride advertised that there was no strike, and with the militia, they "acted as a fortified employment agency for the mines." Meanwhile, union miners could have pockets stuffed with money, but were still found guilty of vagrancy and expelled. Finally, the Citizens' Alliance in Telluride acted as a vigilante mob, issuing itself national guard rifles and rounding up the remaining sixty-five union men and supporters late on an icy night. Some of the detainees were without shoes and shirt, most without coats or hats. About fourteen of them were injured, at least one was robbed, and all were forced out of town.

In Cripple Creek the Citizens' Alliance organizations of Colorado willingly participated in the suspension of the Bill of Rights by the National Guard. To crush the union, its leaders were arrested without cause and either thrown in bullpens, or banished. Prisoners who won habeas corpus cases were released in court and then immediately re-arrested. A local newspaper was placed under military censorship, with all union-friendly information prohibited. Freedom of assembly was not allowed. The right to bear arms was suspended—citizens were required to give up their firearms and their ammunition. Even "loitering or strolling about" was criminalized in an effort to crush the union. After spasms of violence — some of them brutal crimes that were never properly investigated — the Citizens' Alliance and their allies wrecked union halls throughout the district, and looted four union cooperative stores. Ultimately, many died and many families were torn apart in the successful effort to expel the union by force of arms.

If the Minneapolis Citizens' Alliance sought to hide the nature of their actions, the Cripple Creek District Citizens' Alliance minced no words. Their resolutions to the Colorado Governor starkly expressed their goal of "controlling the lawless classes.

Labor Law Study Group/Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable

The Labor Law Study Group, later called the Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable, claimed to represent 1,100 businesses in 1973. The Roundtable introduced dozens of "so-called labor law reform bills" in the U.S. Congress, but their primary focus was repealing state and federal laws that established minimum wage standards on publicly funded projects. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 requires payment of wage rates and fringe benefits prevailing in a local area, on any federally financed contract. This pay rate generally amounts to "union scale." The Roundtable has called for the repeal of Davis-Bacon.

Associated Builders and Contractors

Former union buster Martin Jay Levitt wrote this about the Associated Builders and Contractors:

"Of the dozens of national anti-union employer associations that came of age in the 1970s, one of the most notorious was the Associated Builders and Contractors, another child of the post-World War II anti-union movement. The ABC liked to affect a soft approach. Funded chiefly by non-union builders and related businesses, the group sent its well-dressed public relations team around the country to smile and promote what it called the "merit shop." The ABC defined merit shop innocuously—and disingenuously—as a system in which an employer hired and paid each worker according to his qualifications and performance rather than as prescribed by contract. The group doggedly insisted it was not anti-union; in fact, it said, union members were welcomed into merit shop jobs. But if a union member got a job in a merit shop but couldn't bring his contract, his pay rate, his work rules, his job security guarantees, or his grievance procedures with him, in what way did he have a union? The merit shop mumbo-jumbo was just a ruse to sweet-talk the public into accepting non-union, lower-paid construction jobs, and it worked..."

National Right to Work Committee

Since 1955 in the U.S., the National Right to Work Committee has lobbied for laws prohibiting compulsory union membership in union-organized shops. In 1968 it established a Legal Defense Fund and began fighting union contracts in the courts. In the 1970s the national organization began spawning state organizations intent on passing right-to-work laws. Some state organizations hid their affiliations, for the national organization was widely considered by union supporters and others a "rabidly anti-union lobby."

Anti-union programs, services, and websites

Center for Union Facts

The Center for Union Facts is an anti-union group launched by Richard Berman, the executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a food industry lobby group. The group has spent millions of dollars on advertising campaigns, including advertisements featuring "actors posing as workers" stating what they 'love' about unions, like paying dues, union leaders' "fat-cat lifestyles", and discrimination against minorities.

The Center for Union Facts maintains an anti-union website that provides financial and other records about unions.

On February 14, 2006, the New York Times reported that,

"Mr. Berman runs a public affairs firm in Washington and helped to create the American Beverage Institute and the Employment Policies Institute, which has helped the restaurant industry fight increases in the minimum wage."

The first guide to modern union busting

Nathan Shefferman published The Man in the Middle, a 292-page account of his union busting activities, in 1961. Shefferman described a long list of practices which he viewed as tangential to — but which were really support operations for — union avoidance activities. Among these were the administration of opinion surveys, supervisor training, incentive pay procedures, wage surveys, employee complaint procedures, personnel records, application procedures, job evaluations, and legal services. As part of his union busting strategies, all of these activities were performed with the goal of maintaining complete control of the work force by top management. Shefferman's book not only provided the concepts that animated all future union busting techniques, he also provided language that disguised the real intent of these activities.

We have Shefferman to thank, perhaps more than anyone else, for the development of a magnificently insidious doublespeak that persists in labor management theory to this day. The language of employee relations as articulated by Shefferman and the thousands he influenced masks a fundamental distrust of workers and a view of management as defenders of the crown, with words and schemes that seem to promote the opposite.
Martin Jay Levitt, 1993, Confessions of a Union Buster

As one example of Shefferman's practices, the book advised management to institute a device called an employee roundtable. It was presented to workers as a way to air their grievances. Its real purpose was allowing management to tap into the worker grapevine, and to exercise management control over the informal worker power structure. The employee roundtable gave management a means to directly plant its information into the workforce, and a method of identifying and controlling leaders among the employees. The roundtable is presented as a method for employees to complain without fear of reprisal. In reality such a forum serves management's interests more than the interests of the workers. By continually changing the membership of the employee group, management could prevent any coalescense of worker power, and could monitor complaints and rumors circulating in different departments. Supervisors were trained to identify and analyze power relationships among their subordinates, in order to control the attitudes and behavior of the whole group. "The goal was to foster cooperation between employees and management, not among the employees themselves."

Impact of globalization on unions

World globalization has had a considerable impact on unions, resulting in the offshoring of factories and jobs; devastation of the manufacturing base in many industrialized nations, sometimes referred to as deindustrialization; an acceleration in corporate mergers and acquisitions; and changing immigration patterns. All of these developments offer opportunities for employers to reduce the effects of union activity.

See also



  • Levitt, Marty. 1993. Confessions of a Union Buster. New York: Random House.
  • Smith, Robert Michael. 2003. From Blackjacks to Briefcases: A History of Commercialized Strikebreaking and Unionbusting in the United States. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

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