Union busting conjures up images of violent strike-breakers armed with blackjacks, brass-knuckles, and revolvers, but this is an image of the past. Today, hidden behind a corporate veneer and armed with briefcases, a. new army of union busters, known as labor relations consultants, stalks the land.
The largest of the new consulting firms is Modern Management Inc., known as 3M after its founders, Melnick, McKeown, and Mickus. It employs 100 consultants, most of them with advanced degrees in psychology, business, or industrial relations,
Union leaders charge that the sole intent of these consultants is to prevent union organizing and to eliminate existing unions. Herbert Melnick, chairman of 3M, denies this charge. Instead he prefers to see himself as a “marriage counselor between worker and boss” and speaks proudly of his efforts to open up new channels of communication between employers and employees. Trade unionists have a different name for Melnick: “union buster.” “His business is to lie and to cheat,” says Robert L. Muehlenkamp, chief organizer for the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, District 1199.
An unpublicized investigation by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Labor-Management Relations concluded that firms such as 3M “come dangerously close to justifying whatever means are necessary” to defeat unions. Some techniques in use show how control of the workplace can be used to legally weed out potential union sympathizers before they are hired; turn supervisors into an anti-union organizing force while restricting campaigning by union supporters; make employees fear reprisals for unionization or expect rewards for voting against the union; and delay elections or contract negotiations so long that union sympathizers lose faith in the union.
Under federal labor law, consultants who help management campaign against a union are supposed to report their activities to the Labor Department. The penalty for violation ranges up to one year in prison or a $10,000 fine. 3M, like most similar firms, neither reports its activities nor suffers penalties for two reasons: 1) the Labor Department does little to enforce the law; 2) consultants usually act only through the client’s supervisory staff, making it almost impossible to prove them culpable for labor law violations.
The media’s failure to publicize this assault on American workers’ rights to organize qualifies this story for nomination as a “best censored” story of 1981.