StoryCorps, a company that is currently running an anti-union campaign, told us this week that they are not “anti-union.” This is a common refrain. But what does it mean? Let us provide some clarity.
There are some very basic reasons why organizations do not want to be publicly perceived as anti-union. First, it puts them at risk of running afoul of various labor laws. More importantly—particularly for StoryCorps and the rest of the entire universe of companies that embrace and play up a friendly, liberal, do-gooder image—active attempts to step on the necks of their workers are decidedly at odds with the values they supposedly hold. Therefore, you will almost always find these organizations publicly declaring that they are not “anti-union.” As StoryCorp’s PR representative Blake Zidell told us, “At the start of this process, those in favor of unionizing asked to be recognized without a vote. We want to ensure all eligible employees have the opportunity to participate in making this choice. This does not make StoryCorps anti-union.”
An organization where workers have asked for union recognition can either be pro-union, neutral, or anti-union. A pro-union workplace would enthusiastically recognize the union and applaud its creation. A neutral workplace would say “We will follow the will of our employees whatever it may be,” and—because employees have explicitly asked for union recognition—recognize the union. If an employer refuses to recognize their employees’ union, they fall into category three: anti-union.
StoryCorps has hired the law firm Holland & Knight to represent them as they challenge their own employees’ union request at the National Labor Relations Board. Holland & Knight is an anti-union law firm. Put more politely, “Holland & Knight’s labor law attorneys exclusively represent management in all union-management matters.” A company that, for example, specialized in recording and presenting oral histories in the tradition of the great pro-labor historian and activist Studs Terkel would not hire Holland & Knight if it were pro-union.
Studs Terkel would hate Holland & Knight.
When StoryCorps employees asked to unionize last month, management at the company held meetings with all of them at which it explained why unionizing would be a dangerous idea. This is not an activity that pro-union or neutral workplaces engage in. Even more to the point, StoryCorps management sent an email to its employees on June 3 with the subject line “FAQ.” Attached to the email was the following document, which we are publishing for the first time.
This sort of document is extremely typical of the sort of messaging that the sort of companies that hire Holland & Knight do when their employees decide they want to unionize. These sorts of things almost always put forward the following arguments in some form: 1) The union will cost you money; 2) The union cannot promise you anything; 3) We are only telling you this for your own good. What these documents never state are that 1) Union dues pay for you to have a union contract, which should almost certainly net out to a gain for you; 2) The only reason that the union would be unable to deliver on promised gains for workers would be opposition from the company that is currently talking about how the union might not be able to deliver; and 3) Your employer has made the calculation that it is cheaper to hire a pricey law firm to convince you not to unionize than it will be to engage in collective bargaining with you and your coworkers, because collective bargaining is a process that might allow you to make gains for yourself above and beyond what your employer cares to give you.
If your employer refuses to recognize your union, or hires an anti-labor law firm, or makes you attend meetings about why unions are bad, or sends out an “FAQ” that uses deception and half-truths to try to scare you out of your right to engage in collective bargaining, your employer is anti-union. If your employer’s PR representative says “This does not make us anti-union,” they are exhibiting a level of straightforward truthfulness that is typical of employers waging anti-union campaigns against the same workers that they claim to value most highly.
Unions are made up of people. If your employer is opposed to your union, they are opposed to you.