Study Says Antiunion Tactics Are Becoming More Common

By STEVEN GREENHOUSE Published: May 19, 2009 New York Times

A new study by a Cornell University professor of 1,004 union organizing drives has found that employers threatened to close plants in 57 percent of the campaigns and threatened to cut wages and benefits in 47 percent.

The study, to be released Wednesday, also found that employers fired pro-union workers in 34 percent of the campaigns. And it asserted that management’s antiunion tactics had helped pushed down the unionization rate to 12.4 percent, from 22 percent three decades ago.

Titled “No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing,” the report is likely to be heavily cited, quoted, praised and denounced in the debate over whether Congress should enact legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize.

The study found that “the aspirations for representation are being thwarted by a coercive and punitive climate for organizing that goes unrestrained due to a fundamentally flawed regulatory regime.”

The author of the study, Kate Bronfenbrenner, is director of labor education research at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and has often been criticized by business groups for her pro-union positions.

Randel K. Johnson, vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the United States Chamber of Commerce, noted that numerous unions and pro-labor groups helped finance the study.

“Kate’s long been allied with the union movement and has issued studies in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act the last few years,” Mr. Johnson said. “She is certainly not an objective source.”

Ms. Bronfenbrenner said her research had been reviewed and approved by her peers. “I am an objective scholar,” she said. “There are no neutrals in this field of academia. I used the highest, methodological standards possible.”

She said her study was based on a random sample of 1,004 unionization elections from early 1999 to late 2003 and relied on a review of National Labor Relations Board cases and documents, as well as surveys of 562 lead union organizers.

In 63 percent of the elections, the study found, supervisors used one-on-one meetings to interrogate workers about whether they or co-workers supported a union. (It is illegal under federal law to interrogate workers about such matters.)

In 54 percent, she found, supervisors used the meetings to threaten workers.

Her study found that employers used 10 or more types of antiunion tactics in 49 percent of unionization drives, up from the 26 percent she found in a similar study 12 years ago.


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