Labor unions have been crucial to American workers for hundreds of years. Throughout that time, businesses have tried to stop or discourage workers from organizing using a variety of union-busting tactics.
These efforts look different today than they did a generation ago, and knowing what they can look like can help workers identify them.
Employee Resource Groups
Some companies will form employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups. These groups are attempts to provide so-called safe spaces for marginalized workers. Companies may introduce them as a way for certain groups of workers to improve communication and visibility of diversity and inclusion issues.
However, critics of these groups say that they are – at their core – a way to surveil workers, undermine unionization efforts and provide a false sense of employee empowerment.
Co-opting social justice, liberation language
Workers can shut out overtly anti-union language or labels. Thus, companies put incredible efforts toward camouflaging their motivations and making their message easier for workers to digest. They do this by using the same terms and phrases as pro-union groups.
For instance, they use terminology like:
- Positive lifestyles
- Diversity executives
- People experts
- Racial equity
- Matching cultural trends
- Workplace belonging
Businesses might use these phrases as a means of rebranding anti-union messages or appearing sympathetic to the challenges modern workers face. However, they may not be accurate or even meaningful descriptions.
Presentations, conferences and trainings
Companies can spend millions of dollars hiring people and organizations focused on union suppression. These parties come into the business and hold trainings on how to spot efforts to organize. They might also hold mandatory lectures to discuss why workers should vote against unionization.
However, they often use vague or trendy language to call union avoidance tactics something else, like diversity coaching or employee empowerment. These efforts and naming conventions attempt to cover up the anti-union message that these parties ultimately want to deliver.
Even though union-busting tactics are illegal, they are still incredibly common. Knowing what they look like can help workers stay informed and protect their rights.