I’ve been studying these firms for two decades and have chronicled the key roles they have played in undermining an American worker’s federally protected right to organize. Their tactics, abetted by weak labor laws, have turned what should be a worker-driven process into essentially a choice being made by companies.
Here’s a closer look at the main services they offer clients, which occupy the gray areas of labor law.
Monitoring Unrest in the Workplace
One major reason companies hire these firms is to conduct union vulnerability audits, intended to analyze a workforce to see which departments, locations or demographic groups are most likely to organize.
The tactic has been around since at least the mid-20th century. Management professor Sanford Jacoby documented how Sears Roebuck used vulnerability audits to beat back unionization as early as the 1940s, while labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein showed how Walmart has used similar tactics to remain union-free since the 1960s.
The anti-union firms advise companies to treat unions like a “virus” and to “inoculate” employees with messaging about the purported consequences of organizing early and often.
And to that end, another important service these firms provide is supplying companies with anti-union materials, which can be anything from managerial training and websites targeting employees to “vote no” buttons and anti-union billboards – strategically located on the way to work.
Law firms generally avoid engaging in activities that involve direct contact with employees because, technically, it must be disclosed under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959. This has created an opening for other types of consultants to specialize in this kind of persuasion. Weak enforcement means that reporting is patchy, even among consultants who talk to employees.