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Employers Threaten, Coerce, and Bribe Employees to Bust Their Unions
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Written by Erin Johansson   
August 31, 2004

When employees collectively decide that they no longer wish to be represented by a union, they have the ability under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to vote to revoke union representation at their workplace.  This process, known as a decertification1, is expressly intended for workers to initiate, not employers.  While it is illegal for employers to orchestrate a decertification election to rid employees of their union, they can use their position of power to break the law with little fear of the consequences.  Anti-union consultants earn their living advising employers on how to do this.  A case that illustrates this employer manipulation of the decertification process is the recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision against Mid-Wilshire Health Care Center.

On July 19, 2004, the NLRB found this Los Angeles nursing home guilty of coercing, threatening and, in effect, bribing its employees into signing a decertification petition to do away with their union.2  The violations started when the workers' union representative, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), attempted to renegotiate their contract with Mid-Wilshire in 2001.  According to the NLRB decision, workers were met with fierce resistance and a host of illegal anti-union tactics, including: withholding wage increases, suspending and firing pro-union workers, and pressuring employees into signing a decertification petition.  

Did You Know?

The NLRB caseload has tripled since the 1950s, but the agency's current staffing level remains only slightly higher than staffing levels in 1950.3

In order to obtain enough support to trigger a decertification election, Mid-Wilshire exploited the fears of its employees.  In the NLRB's findings, the company threatened to report workers to the INS if they did not sign the decertification petition.  According to testimony, a supervisor urged two employees to sign the decertification petition, because "they didn't have immigration papers, she had helped their friends, and they needed to help her."

In another instance of Mid-Wilshire's pressure tactics, Maria Guadalupe Garcia was advised by a supervisor about the decertification petition and told to "Sign 'no' to the Union."  Garcia and the supervisor then entered an elevator with Martin Perez, an employee who was circulating the petition.  The supervisor stopped the elevator mid-floor and demanded Perez to "give her the paper [because] Maria is going to sign 'no' to the Union."  Held captive in the elevator, Garcia was intimidated into signing the petition. 

The Mid-Wilshire case reveals how an employer can use its power to bribe, threaten, and intimidate workers into signing a decertification petition, and eventually into voting out the union.  In this instance, the NLRB prevented the decertification by pursuing the charges against Mid-Wilshire and eventually finding the company in violation of the law.  Yet the NLRB's ruling was handed down three years after the illegal conduct occurred.  And what was the punishment for tying up the bargaining process, manipulating the law and attempting to strip the workers of their union?  Mid-Wilshire was only ordered to post a notice saying they will not coerce employees into signing a decertification petition. 

With the delays inherent in the NLRB process and the weak remedies for violations, employers have little incentive to obey the law.  The NLRA provision intended to give workers freedom to reconsider their choice to be in a union is easily manipulated by employers wishing to be "union-free."  The very process established for workers to express their will is often turned into a unionbusting strategy.

Endnotes

1. Once 30 percent of the bargaining unit workers signs a petition declaring that they no longer want union representation, the NLRB runs an election to determine if a majority of workers want to vote to decertify their union.  The NLRA also provides limitations as to when these elections can occur to give the workers and their union time to establish a bargaining relationship with the employer. 

2  Decision and Order of the National Labor Relations Board.  JPH Management, Inc., d/b/a Mid-Wilshire Health Care Center and Health Care Workers Union, Service Employees International Union, Local 399, AFL-CIO. Case 31-CA-25336, decided July 19, 2004. 

3 The NLRB's staffing level has fallen from nearly 3,000 full time employees in 1980 to fewer than 2,000 in 1998, only slightly more than staffing levels in 1950s.  Sources:  Human Rights Watch, "Unfair Advantage: Workers' Freedom of Association in the United States Under International Human Rights Standards," 2000.   Office of Personnel Management statistics. 

 
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