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The ‘Labor-Busting’ Law Firms & Consultants ‘That Keep’ Google, Amazon & Other Workplaces ‘Union-Free’

Published Friday, August 28, 2020
by John Logan/San Francisco State University Professor & Director of Labor and Employment Studies Via
The ‘Labor-Busting’ Law Firms & Consultants ‘That Keep’ Google, Amazon & Other Workplaces ‘Union-Free’

American companies have been very successful at preventing their Workers from organizing into Unions in recent decades - one of the reasons Unionization in the Private Sector is at a record lowBut what you may not realize is that a handful of little-known law and consulting firms do much of the dirty work that keeps companies and other organizations Union-Free.

IKEA, for example, turned to Ogletree Deakins, one of the largest law firms that specialize in so-called Union Avoidance activities, to help it crush Unionization efforts in Stoughton, Massachusetts, in 2016.

Google hired IRI Consultants, a firm known for its Anti-Union activities, for advice on how to deal with growing Worker unrest.

And just this Summer, two Liberal-leaning organizations - the Scholars Strategy Network and ACLU Kansas - recruited the services of Ogletree when their Employees tried to form Unions.

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.

lack of effective Federal reporting requirements means there isn’t a lot of data on this Union-Busting industry, but we do know that a lot of companies are using it.

According to a Cornell Labor expert, about 75% of all U.S. employers have engaged the services of a consultant or law firm to stymie efforts by Workers to organize - and are spending an estimated $340 million a year to do so.

Three of the biggest law firms that do this work are Littler MendelsonOgletree and Jackson Lewis, which have grown from regional operations into global Union Avoidance behemoths.

Consultants such as IRI and the Labor Relations Institute have also developed a reputation for Union Avoidance expertise in recent decades.

IRI even used to offer a “money-back guarantee” if its efforts weren’t successful.

Here’s a closer look at the main services they offer clients, which occupy the gray areas of Labor Law.

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.

Today’s audits, however, are more sophisticated and data-driven.

Anti-Union Monitoring Software can help management squash organizing before it starts, while heat maps that collect data from a wide variety of sources reveal granular detail about where the biggest risks are

Amazon recently used heat maps to show which of its Whole Foods Grocery Stores and distribution warehouses were most at risk of Unionization.

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