With the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act, one of the most common arguments from opponents is that the Act would give allow unions to coerce workers into joining unions. In actuality, the law would lessen employers capacity to use a combination of legal and illegal intimidation tactics to prevent their workers from forming unions.
Often left out of this discussion is how workers seeking to form unions are subject not only to aggressive anti-union campaigns from employers, but also how they are frequently fired for attempting to organize.
A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research has found that pro-union workers were fired in 26% of union election campaigns between the years 2001-2007. This is up from a rate of 16% in the 1990s and almost near the historical peak of 31% in 1981 to 1985.
According to the report:
“If we assume that employers target union organizers and activists, and that union organizers and activists make up about 10 percent of pro-union workers, our estimates suggest that about one-in- five union organizers or activists can expect to be fired as a result of their activities in a union election campaign. Even after we adjust for the increase in organizing campaigns not built around NLRB elections, our calculations suggest that more than one-in-seven union organizers and activists are illegally fired while trying to organize unions at their place of work.”
Illegal Firings Possible because of Limited Penalties
The report argues that aggressive–and frequently illegal–anti-union behavior from employers has undermined the ability of workers to form unions.
This behavior is enabled by the fact that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows for limited penalties for illegal firings. It requires only that companies pay back pay minus any earnings since a worker was fired.
According to the report, this gives companies an important anti-union tool. They can fire a worker (most often an organizer), possibly disrupting the union, and effectively intimidating the rest of the union’s supporters in advance of the NLRB-supervised union election.