Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

The AFL-CIO Numbers Racket

The AFL-CIO has boiled the debate about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) down to a few misleading statistics, largely composed of research commissioned from union-friendly researchers. But in a policy debate, a number isn’t just a number, and too often supporters of the EFCA have used misleading statistics to justify the act’s total evisceration of workplace democracy.

So, we decided to get to the bottom of the AFL-CIO’s math and take a hard look at their “numbers” before the EFCA comes up for a hearing in the Senate.

  1. Union Math Myth: “Employers that illegally fire at least one worker for union activity during organizing campaigns: 25%

    Shocking! When a former-union-organizer-cum-labor-researcher named Kate Bronfenbrenner surveyed other union organizers they told her that — surprise, surprise — employees were often fired during their organizational campaigns.

    Of course they did. That’s what they are paid to say.

    But a look at the hard numbers reveals a much different reality. According to our analysis of data from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), just 62 election drives in 2005 saw a worker illegally fired. And while every wrongful firing is unfortunate (and recall that wrongfully discharged workers are paid back pay and are typically reinstated), they only occur in 1.5% of organizational campaigns–not 25%!

  2. Union Math Myth: “Chance that an active union supporter will be illegally fired for union activity during an organizing campaign: 1 in 5

    This statistic comes from another cadre of labor-affiliated researchers. In this study, the authors took data obtained in the early 1980s and then multiplied it by a slew of out-dated estimates — one of which even they acknowledged was “a crude probability” — to come to their ultimate conclusion.

    But again, our analysis of the NLRB’s raw data reveal a much different story: 1 in 517. That’s the chance of a union organizer being discharged during an organizational campaign (in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act).

  3. Union Math Myth: “Employers that hire consultants or union-busters to help them fight union organizing drives: 75%

    Calling labor lawyers “union-busters” is disingenuous from the start. And given unions’ long-standing track record of underhanded dealing during organizational campaigns, it’s no wonder that businesses hire experts to represent them. This is by no means scandalous.

  4. Union Math Myth: “Employers that force employees to attend one-on-one meetings with their own supervisors against the union: 78%

    There is nothing wrong with managers and supervisors meeting with employees. To say these meetings are “against the union” is inaccurate. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) specifically outlaws employers from threatening employees into not joining the union. And the study, which was conducted by the same union-friendly research mentioned above, never substantiated any illegal activity during those meetings.

    To the contrary, best practices for businesses suggest that employers should listen to their employees’ concerns. Such is a sign of good management, not coercion.

  5. Union Math Myth: “Employers that force employees to attend mandatory closed-door meetings against the union: 92%

    The NLRA allows business to hold meetings on company-paid time to discuss their perspective on an organizational campaign. But at the same time, the NLRA also requires businesses to give a union the names and addresses of employees to allow them to hold their own meeting. If a union wants to pay employees to attend a meeting (as management does), they are free to do so.

  6. Union Math Myths: “Employers that threaten to call U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during organizing drives that include undocumented employees: 52%; Companies that threaten to close the plant if the union wins the election: 51%; Companies that actually close their plants after a successful union election: 1%

    The NLRB tracks business that make threatening statements such as these. Specifically, the unions have filed just 9 successful Unfair Labor Practices for Shutting down a shop since 2003. And only 2.6% of organizational campaigns result an a successful charge against a business for making threatening or coercive statements.

    All of these dubious statistics come from the same study of union organizers. Are you seeing a theme? The only way unions can paint a dire portrait of the organization process is by paying a union-friendly researcher to interview union-employed organizers. Where are the independent studies? Where is the hard data?

  7. Union Math Myth: “Workers in 2005 who received back pay because of illegal employer discrimination for activities legally protected under the National Labor Relations Act: 31,358

    Unions, politicians, and others often parrot this number to suggest that the organizational process is broken. But this statistic is taken completely out of context. Employees can be paid back pay for a variety of reasons completely unrelated to organizing a union.

    For instance, and perhaps most commonly, unionized employees are paid back pay after a union and business dispute overtime, work rules, or other contractual issues. None of these are related to forming a union in a workplace.

    A better measure is our analysis of the NLRB’s hard data on employees discharged during an organizing campaign: 62 or 1.5%. That’s the percentage of organizing campaigns in which an employee was illegally fired.

  8. Union Math Myth: “Percentage of unions newly formed by workers pursuant to NLRB process whose employers do not agree to a first contract: 34%

    Not quite. According to data from the NLRB, exactly 6 businesses refused to bargain on an initial contract between 2003 and 2005. That’s roughly .01% or 1 in 683 newly formed unions. Guess who did this study? You probably guessed it. The AFL-CIO’s favorite researcher, Kate Bronfenbrenner.

    Beyond Bronfenbrenner’s bias, it is common for unions to push for initial contracts well beyond the realm of reality. That is why the NLRB has provisions for ensuring that companies and unions bargain in good faith.

  9. Union Math Myth: “Portion of public that says strong laws protecting workers’ freedom to form unions—without employer interference—are important: 77%; Portion of public who disapprove of employer anti-union campaigns when workers try to form unions: 67%

    This little nugget of information comes from a private poll commissioned by the AFL-CIO. But unlike other professional polls conducted by Zogby or Gallup, the AFL-CIO refuses to release the questions they asked to come to the aforementioned conclusion.

    No one denies that workers should have a right to choose between being unionized or not, or that there should be laws to regulate the process to ensure fairness. But that also means having a right to a secret ballot vote, rather than a “card check” procedure, where half of employees may never be given a chance to register their opinion.

    Besides, current law does provide safeguards and has since 1959.

  10. Union Math Myth: “Nonunion workers who say they want to have a union in their workplace: 60 million

    This comes from the same unpublished AFL-CIO poll. The actual number is simply statistical trickery. They never polled 60 million Americans. In fact, because they won’t release the poll, we have no idea how many people they asked, or even what question was asked. This is, of course, well outside the bounds of standard practice for legitimate polls.

    However, a recent poll of 1,000 Americans by the Opinion Research Corporation found that 64% would prefer to be non-union (the question: “Would you prefer your present job to be union or would you prefer it to be non-union?”).

Categories: Ending Secret Ballots