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Updates From The Field

When employees try to organize a union for a better and more secure job, employers often fight back strong – in the form of union-busting.

Union-busting is any action by management to prevent employees from exercising their right to organize. Union busting attorneys train supervisors on what to say to persuade workers to vote down a union. The “script” doesn’t change much. Whether you are a bus driver, a nurse, a tech, or a call center worker, employers will hire union busters who will train supervisors in this anti-union script, or “playbook.”

In this Union-Busting Playbook, you can find out about common union-busting strategies and even read and hear examples from workers who have been through tough campaigns.

Want to Form a Union?

Find out what to do if you and your coworkers are interested in organizing together.

Eight Things Employers Do To Block Unions

1. Hire a Union-Busting Consultant

Lawyers and “labor-management” consulting firms get paid to help employers keep workers from exercising their right to form a union. Companies also send managers and supervisors to union-busting seminars and follow consultant-prepared “scripts” for keeping unions at bay.. They often pay thousands of dollars per employee to keep the union out — instead of putting that money into better pay, benefits and working conditions for employees. They bank on the idea that if they defeat a union once, following the script, they won’t have to do it again.

2. Tell You To Wait and See

The Wait and See argument is very common when employers hire union busting attorneys. Often when workers try to form a union, management will make some improvement to convince people that we don’t need to join together into a union. And when the union talk dies down, management eventually goes back to their old ways. Without a written legally binding contract, any improvements can be taken away. Management only takes our concerns seriously when we talk about forming a union. If they want to bribe us now to keep out a union, can you imagine what we could win with a union?

3. Get a few employees to campaign against the union.

In many campaigns, “Vote No” or “No Union” committees spring up. The material they circulate presents the employer’s perspective, even though it generally has a “homemade” appearance so it won’t look like the employer is paying for it (which is against the law). Frequently, members of anti-union committees are recruited from among workers who are friends or relatives of someone in management, are politically opposed to unions, or had a bad experience with some other union. Oftentimes, workers who lead an anti-union effort get rewarded (and sometimes are even promised) with promotions.

4. Send letters to you and your family.

After ignoring employees’ concerns for years, your employer may take a sudden interest in you. This is designed to mislead or divide the organizing committee and other workers, and to play on your emotions and natural desire to be a good employee. It’s manipulation, plain and simple.

5. Hold meetings to sweet-talk — or browbeat — you.

You may be required to attend “captive audience” meetings in which managers make empty promises or try to scare you. Management doesn’t tell you they’re worried having a union will mean having to treat workers better; instead, they say they’re worried about “what will happen to you.” If you hear about a captive-audience meeting, do some research, and prepare to ask good questions. See if you get straight answers — and if management continues taking questions. Companies often try to keep union support out of these meetings.

6. Deny your rights through delays and law-breaking.

Union-busting consultants often advise employers to delay every step of the way, and find loopholes in the law to delay union elections or contract negotiations. Sometimes they cross legal lines. Since employers are trying to do everything they can to reduce union support, potential penalties are viewed as worth the risk. The best way to defeat illegal employer tactics is to expect them and let your employer know these tactics will only make you more determined to get union representation. Union organizers and lawyers will assist you.

7. Spring a last-minute surprise on you.

Just before workers are scheduled to vote on the union, union-busting consultants often urge employers to hold a special event or go on the attack because it will be too late for union supporters to respond. These can include a captive-audience meeting with a company executive who flies in from out of town, an unfounded charge about the union, or anything else designed to place doubts in workers’ minds about the union. Expect it, and plan for it.

8. Pressure supervisors to pressure you.

Employers usually order supervisors to take the lead in campaigns against unions. Supervisors typically hold one-on-one meetings with workers, often because their employers have pressured the first-line supervisors to do all they can to eliminate any talk of unions.

How to Organize

Learn more about the important first steps you and your coworkers should take if you're interested in forming a union.

Common Bluffs

Union-busters follow a script — that's why it's easy for us to tell you what to expect from them. Here are a few common lies busters tell to try and dissuade workers from organizing.

“Having a union will ruin our ‘family’ work environment. Please give us another chance.”

Your employer might warn that with a union, there will be new rules and less flexibility. They might also play on workers’ emotions, making you think just talk about a union has made them realize there are problems and they should treat you better or institute “open-door” policies. They might even say they’ll do things similar to what unions do, like institute grievance procedures.


Shutting down operations to avoid a union is against the law. Plus, it doesn't make sense, as it would lead to financial losses. It's also illegal to punish workers for supporting a union. Employers don't make these threats directly because they know it's unlawful to do so. The union will defend the rights of any worker who is punished for union activity.

“Joining a union may involve you in violence.”

Your employer might circulate stories about violent incidents involving unions, even though they have nothing to do with the union. They might also hire extra security guards around the time of the union election to plant the idea that “there might be trouble.” Sometimes they even encourage someone to take acts of violence against the workplace and workers’ property — vandalism, tire-slashing — and blame it on the union.


The union exists to solve problems — peacefully. With a union and a union contract, workers and management can sit down as equals and discuss problems.

“The union can force you to strike — but when you strike, they won’t support you.”

Your employer might suggest that soon after you vote for union representation, you’ll be forced out on strike whether you like it or not. They might try and scare you about how you’d survive on-strike, without your income.


Only union members can decide whether or not to strike, by majority vote of the workers who would be directly involved, after voting by secret ballot. If your unit should be part of the tiny percentage of cases in which a strike becomes necessary, you would receive strike support. For example, members of CWA that are on strike receive support from a multi-million-dollar CWA Defense Fund.

“The union is only interested in your money — and you can’t afford union dues.”

Employers do things like distributing “documents” or news clippings that are supposed to show that the union needs your money to survive. They might also pass out phony checks with union dues “taken out” and bring in a bag of groceries with the label, “What you could buy with one year’s union dues.” 


Management says these things because every time workers form a union, it puts new and greater pressure on employers to improve pay and working conditions. With things the way they are today, you can't afford not to have a union. The improvements in pay and benefits that come with union membership more than offset the dues members pay—plus, members are treated better. Finally, no one pays dues until they've voted to approve a first contract.

“We won’t ever sign a union contract even if you vote for a union.”

Here’s management starting to show their cards: They’re mad, and they simply don’t want to deal with a union. (It has nothing to do with their “worrying” a union will be bad for workers.) 


It's illegal for them to say they won't agree to a contract. So what you'll probably hear is something more like, "Remember, we don't have to agree to what you want in your union contract." Your employer might also circulate news clips about other groups of workers who voted for a union and didn't immediately get a contract. But they are obligated to negotiate in good faith — and it's in their interest to do so, to keep employees satisfied so that work keeps flowing. And think about this: If they don't have to agree to any union contract... then why are they fighting so hard against a union, anyway?

“When you sign a card for a union, you sign your life away. They’ll control everything about your job.”

Management often tries to convince workers that they’ll start getting orders from “union bosses”; that union officials will control job assignments and working conditions, and that workers will lose the ability to talk directly to management.


Union decisions are made democratically — by members, not "bosses." With representation, you will have a fair system for promotions and job assignments rather than one that's subject to arbitrary management decisions or favoritism. Finally, a union steward, who will be one of your coworkers, can help you talk to management if you need or want them to, but it's by no means required.

“You will lose your job.”

Unbelievably, some employers go as far as to park empty moving vans near the job site just before the election — to give workers the idea that the company will leave if the union goes through. Companies also frequently hint at taking action against those who support the union.


Shutting down operations to avoid a union is against the law. Plus, it doesn't make sense, as it would lead to financial losses. It's also illegal to punish workers for supporting a union. Employers don't make these threats directly because they know it's unlawful to do so. The union will defend the rights of any worker who is punished for union activity.

Test Your Union Busting Knowledge

How much do you know about union-busting tactics and things you might hear during an organizing campaign? Take this test and see if you're ready to fight back. 

Take the Quiz

1. Employers frequently try to play on the emotions of workers who are talking about organizing — either to make them feel bad about it or to scare them out of it.

2. “Union bosses” decide how and when there’s a strike; workers have no say in it.

3. If you become part of a union, you can no longer talk directly to your manager or supervisor.

4. It is legal to fire employees for union organizing activity.

5. Union workers make more money than non-union workers.

6. Employers that promise changes to policies and procedures and say they’ll give raises if workers abandon an organizing campaign generally keep their promises.

7. Unionization is risky because negotiations often result in workers getting less pay and benefits than they had before.

8. Union dues are offset by improvements in pay and benefits.

9. It was important to have unions back in the early 20th century, when things were really bad, but not anymore.

10. CWA is a strong union with the resources to support its workers and continue working for good middle-class jobs.


Highlight Reel

Check out this highlight reel of workers standing up to textbook union-busting tactics. Stay tuned, we’ll keep updating these with the latest and greatest stories.


Agent; Bargaining Agent

A person acting for an employer or a union; a labor organization that is the exclusive representative of all employees in a bargaining unit, both union and non-union members.

Bargaining unit

A grouping of employees that a union represents or seeks to represent and that is "appropriate" (criteria include being a community of interest, not including supervisors) for collective bargaining purposes.

Captive-audience meeting

Meetings employers often force workers to attend during the workday with the express purposes of communicating anti-union propaganda.

Check-card neutrality, card-check election/authorization

Provision that an employer will recognize a union without an election if the majority of workers sign a petition or authorization cards indicating their support of the union.


A provision, generally found in the collective bargaining agreement, that allows union dues, assessments and initiation fees to be deducted from the pay of union members who decide to use the check off. The employer then transfers the payments to the union on a scheduled basis.

Collective bargaining; collective bargaining agreement (CBA)

A method of mutually determining wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment through negotiations between representatives of the employer and the union. The results of the bargaining are set forth in a collective bargaining agreement, or CBA.

Good-faith bargaining

The duty to approach negotiations with a sincere resolve to reach a collective bargaining agreement. This includes sending properly authorized representatives to bargaining sessions and meeting at reasonable times and places and as frequently as may be necessary to avoid major delays.


Derogatory term for a union activist.

Grievance, grievance procedures

A formal complaint usually lodged by an employee or the union alleging a misinterpretation or improper application of one or more terms in a collective bargaining contract. The method for dealing with grievances is through a grievance procedure negotiated in the union contract. If a grievance cannot be settled at the supervisory level, it can be appealed to higher levels of management, and finally to arbitration if so provided.

Landrum-Griffin Act

Passed by the U.S. Congress in 1959 and officially known as the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, it resulted from improper relationships between management leadership and labor leadership. The act provided for the regulation of internal union affairs, including the regulation and control of union funds; it also restricted certain external union activities and authorized states to process cases that fall outside the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board.


Shutdown of a worksite by the employer to discourage union membership or activity or to force employees to meet the demands or economic terms of the employer.


The attempt by an impartial third party to bring the parties in a dispute together and assist them in reaching settlement. The mediator, however, has no power to force or award a settlement but works instead to persuade the parties to reach agreement.

Mohawk Valley Formula

This is basically the union-busting template still in use today. Thought to have been used first by the by the Remington Rand corporation in Ilion, New York during a strike in 1936-1937, the plan includes discrediting union leaders, frightening the public with the threat of violence, using local police and vigilantes to intimidate strikers, forming puppet associations of "loyal employees" to influence debate, fortifying workplaces, employing large numbers of replacement workers, and threatening to close the plant if work is not resumed.

National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)/Wagner Act

A 1935 United States federal law that limits how employers may react to private-sector workers who work to organize unions, engage in collective bargaining and take part in other activities in support of their demands. The key principles are encouraging collective bargaining, protecting workers' exercise of freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB); NLRB election

The NLRB is an independent agency of the United States government charged with conducting elections for labor union representation and with investigating and remedying unfair labor practices.

Outsourcing, contracting out, sub-contracting

Sending jobs that used to be completed by employees of a company out to vendors for completion and/or using vendors overseas to do certain jobs rather than American workers.


A form of protest in which people congregate outside a place of work or location where an event is taking place to draw attention to a cause (sometimes called an informational picket) or dissuade others from going in.

Prevailing wage

The hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics within a particular area.

Prohibited practices

The NLRA established things employers may not do related to union organizing:

  • Interfere, restrain, or coerce employees against union or collective activity
  • Dominate the union
  • Discriminate against employees who take part in union or collective activities
  • Retaliate against employees who file unfair-labor-practice charges or cooperate with the NLRB
  • Refuse to bargain in good faith with union representatives

"Right to work"

Refers to laws in some states that allow non-union employees to work at unionized workplaces without joining the union or paying regular union dues. These employees sometimes, but not always, have to pay unions for the portion of dues spent representing them, such as pursuing grievances on their behalf.


Union representative of a group of fellow employees who carries out duties of the union within the workplace. The steward is usually either elected by other union members or appointed by higher union officials.


A work stoppage used as a last resort when labor and management cannot reach an agreement.


The Taft-Hartley Act (also known as the Labor-Management Relations Act) was passed over then-President Truman's veto in 1947. The act limited employees' ability to unionize by putting additional requirements on them for doing so and forbidding certain kinds of support from other unions. It also forbade unions from contributing to political campaigns and enabled the U.S. Attorney General to prevent strikes if they believed one "imperiled the national health or safety."

Twenty-four hour rule

Employers and unions are prohibited from making election speeches on company time to massed assemblies of employees within 24 hours before the scheduled time for conducting an election.

Unfair labor practices (ULPs)

A violation of any of the provisions of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute. The most common employer ULP violations are in the categories of "duty to bargain" (usually failure to give the union notice of proposed changes in conditions of employment and/or engage in certain types of bargaining), Weingarten ULPs (see below) and failure to provide information

Weingarten rights

The right of an employee to have union representation when being examined or investigated by their employer, under three conditions: 1) the examination is being conducted by a representative of the employer, 2) it could result in disciplinary action, and 3) the employee asks for such representation.

Wildcat strike

A spontaneously organized strike triggered by an incident, usually unauthorized by the union leadership and of short duration.


U.S. Department of Labor Glossary

University of Hawai‘i Glossary of Labor & Legal Terminology