There’s a reason why it’s a popular refrain - employers in the U.S. spend $340 million per year on
“union avoidance” consultants. Union-busting has been a lucrative industry dating back to
the infamous Pinkertons. Today’s tactics have changed to include captive audience meetings,
one-on-ones, and mass (e)mails but the goal is the same - coerce and intimidate workers out of
Union-busting and labor law
Legally, management can’t interrogate people about their union support (asking people
if they signed union cards or how they plan to vote) or make threats or promises.
Employers can share their opinion (which includes encouraging people to vote “no”) and
hold “educational” and “informational” meetings.
In reality, most employers stretch the boundaries of “informational” without explicitly or
provably breaking the law (that’s where those expensive “union-avoidance” consultants
come in). A report from the Economic Policy Institute found employers broke the law in
over 40% of union elections in 2016 and 2017. Even in cases with explicit violations, the
remedy is filing an unfair labor practice (ULP) with the NLRB and it can take months to
receive a decision. I’ve personally heard lies from employers that border on the absurd;
a fellow union organizer was once accused of practicing animal sacrifice.
Captive audience meetings
A captive audience meeting is a mandatory workplace meeting in which the employer
tries to dissuade employees from unionizing. Though they may be called "educational"
or "informational" meetings, the point is to scare people out of organizing. Workers may
be subjected to exhausting daily group and individual meetings.
Anti-union propaganda is also targeted towards mid-level management, it's become a
standard training practice in numerous corporate workplaces. We recommend watching
a few examples so that you know what to expect and can help prepare your colleagues,
including one from Amazon, Target, and BFI (a waste management company).
Responding to union-busting talking points
During a union drive in 2020, Hearst employees circulated bingo cards with common
anti-union talking points to expect during captive audience meetings. Yes, they really are
What else can you expect to hear and how can you respond?
They will try to drive a wedge between workers and their union:
“The union is a 'third party'," “The union is inherently adversarial”, “The union doesn’t
The union is made up of workers, including the people in this meeting. We are
exercising our right to organize.
If they try to convince you that you don’t need a union and that they are on your side:
“Let’s work this out among ourselves”, “My door is always open”, “We’re listening”, “We
already have committees”
We can discuss this at the bargaining table. If there are things that we agree on, let’s put
those in a contract.
It’s not uncommon for employers to cry or otherwise emotionally manipulate
“I thought we were a family," "I gave you this job", "We just increased parental leave"
This is not personal. Workers are seeking a voice and representation in the workplace -
it's not about individual managers. This is a job and we have families that we need to
Trying to elicit guilt, shame, and fear:
“You have it better than other people, you should be grateful just to have this job”
All workers deserve fair and just working conditions. Pitting people against each other
results in a continuous race to the bottom.
Misrepresenting the negotiations process and the benefits of unionized workplaces:
“You won’t get merit raises or promotions," "You’ll lose benefits in the contract," "Unions
create more bureaucracy"
Once a union is recognized, the employer cannot unilaterally change terms and
conditions of employment and has to bargain with the union. We're seeking to get as
much as possible for as many people as possible through bargaining. Workers
nominate a bargaining committee to develop proposals and we will all vote on the
contract before it goes into effect.
Anti-union employers position themselves as experts, hiding the fact that they are
being advised by people whose explicit goal is to destroy unions:
“You’re not eligible," "People are unsigning cards," "You have to rescind your cards if you’re
The National Labor Relations Board rules on union eligibility - not the employer. Union
cards go to union organizers, not employers. Unless it is public, they have no way of
knowing who has signed cards.
They may feign concern for workers, conveniently leaving out high executive pay or
otherwise company decisions that negatively impact workers:
“You’ll lose money because of dues"
Study after study shows that union workers outearn non-union workers. A 2011 study
by the American Sociological Review found “the decline in union density since 1973
explained a third of the increase in wage inequality among men and a fifth of the
increased inequality among women.” Workers lose money without unions, not because
Threats are illegal, though employers are coached in how to frame them vaguely:
“Another factory unionized and it closed right away,” "This is a tough time and we don't
want to lay people off".
Negotiations are just that - a negotiation. Workers want fair and sustainable jobs, not to
put a company out of business.
Many anti-union campaigns combine incentives and punishments, commonly called
“the carrot and the stick”. Incentives (carrots) include promotions, buyouts, or
attempting to negotiate with individual workers. The timing is not a coincidence - they
are essentially trying to bribe workers. Everything offered is at management’s discretion
and can be given or taken away at any time.
Workers might also see more direct retaliation (sticks), like being taken off of a project,
assigned a different shift, or even fired. Check out our guide about how to protect
yourself and how to proceed if you’ve been unjustly terminated.
Surviving an anti-union campaign
The employer may hold multiple meetings with different groups of people so it’s
important to have a central communication channel established to share information
and make strategic decisions. You may decide to push back in meetings by correcting
inaccurate statements or stating your support for unionizing. It may be best to remain
silent and not engage in a back-and-forth with management and debrief later. If
management asks if there are any questions, stonewalling them with silence can be a
powerful response and demonstrates that people are not willing to engage.
Expect a fight from the beginning. From your very first organizing conversations, it is
important to inoculate your colleagues. Inoculation is like a vaccine - give them a taste
of the boss medicine so that they know how to respond in the future. Ask them what
how they think management will respond and talk them through common myths.
Respond to anti-union talking points but try to bring every conversation back to the
issues that led people to organize in the first place. Don’t assure people it will be easy,
remind them of the issues they want to address through organizing.
No matter what, try not to freak out (deep breathing and/or group text chats can help);
don’t try to leave a meeting or do anything that could be considered “insubordinate” or
illegal. Workers in states with one-party consent laws can record group and individual
meetings (like a voice memo on a smartphone).