Heritage fellow James Sherk reports:
Organized labor argues that Congress should effectively take away workers’ right to vote in secret ballot elections because employers allegedly intimidate workers in the run-up to elections by firing and threatening to fire pro-union workers. However, a recently released study commissioned by two union-funded organizations, American Rights at Work and the Economic Policy Institute, shows that employers rarely break the law during organizing campaigns.
This recent study is “No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing,” by Kate Bronfenbrenner, a former union organizer and now a professor at Cornell University. The Economic Policy Institute, a union-funded think tank and American Rights at Work, a union-backed organization established for the purpose of advocating the passage of EFCA, jointly released Bronfenbrenner’s study. It has the labor movement’s full endorsement.
Bronfenbrenner analyzed two data sets to determine how frequently employers break the law during union campaigns. First, Bronfenbrenner re-analyzed data from a previously published survey of lead union organizers in 1,004 organizing campaigns between 1999 and 2003. She asked the lead organizer of each campaign whether employers used various tactics to defeat the organizing drives. Second, Bronfenbrenner requested data under the Freedom of Information Act on any Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) charges filed with the NLRB during those campaigns and their ultimate disposition.
The Bronfenbrenner study highlighted the unreliable results of the survey of union organizers. These organizers reported that management frequently violated the law, threatening workers in 69 percent of election campaigns, firing workers in 34 percent of campaigns, and harassing workers in 41 percent of elections. The Economic Policy Institute and American Rights at Work have highlighted these figures as further evidence of widespread management intimidation.
However, the much more reliable data from the National Labor Relations Board rebuts these claims. The NLRB data show that only a small minority of employers ever break the law. Employers fire union supporters in just 6 percent of elections, threaten workers in 7 percent of elections, and harass workers in just 2 percent of elections.
Chart 1 shows the full results of Bronfenbrenner’s study from both the survey of union organizers and the NLRB data. Impartial data from NLRB investigations show that most employers obey the law. While bad apples do exist, organized labor’s own analysis of NLRB data shows that the overwhelming majority of employers obey the law and respect their employees’ rights during union campaigns. Only by citing completely unreliable data can the labor movement contend that widespread employer misconduct occurs.