New US law targets anti-union consultancies

The Department of Labor is striving for greater transparency within the multimillion dollar union busting industry


The US Department of Labor has announced a new rule designed combat anti-union activity by employers and union busters.

At present companies and their ‘outside consultants’ must only disclose discussions when anti-union consultants contact employees directly. The new rule, which kicks in April, requires the disclosure of any discussions to combat union organising.

US anti-union consultants sometimes are described as ‘persuaders’. Union busting is a multi-million dollar industry in the US – with some high profile union busting companies now being called in by UK companies.

Even companies who have good relations with unions in the UK, Germany, France or Scandinavia are call upon the services US union busters as soon as workers in the USA decide they wish to join a union

‘There’s a whole industry of law firms and consultants whose job it is to fight unionisation,’ said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Centre for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

An estimated 75 per cent of companies pay these ‘consultants’, often hundreds of thousands of dollars, to run strategic and often brutal  campaigns to discourage workers from unionising.

Maria Somma, director of organising for the manufacturing union United Steelworkers says unions by law have had to disclose information on staff salaries and union dues. But companies have not had to disclose how much they spend fighting unions. ‘I just think it’s making it a little bit more fair,’ Somma said.

The decline in US union membership and collective bargaining over the last decades has contributed massive wage inequality with working families facing pay stagnation while outgoings continue to rise.

Att the same time, the union busting business has prospered, according to Stephanie Luce, who teaches labour studies at the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute.

‘This industry has grown from a very small industry in the 1970s to a multibillion dollar international industry,’ Luce said. Requiring the new transparency, she says, is one small step the Obama administration is taking to level the playing field.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite responsible for manufacturing

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.