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How Joe Biden Could Stop Shady Union-Busting Practices

All President Biden has to do is bring back the Persuader Rule.

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Narrated by Bob Funk from the Labor Lab

Right now, Starbucks, Amazon and many other corporations are engaged in rampant union-busting — and we have no sense of the true scale of it.

Under current Labor Department rules, union-busting consultants only have to disclose when they’ve been hired to meet face-to-face with organizing workers in so-called “captive audience” meetings. 

But that’s just a tiny sliver of their work.

Anti-union firms are paid hundreds of millions of dollars every year by corporations to pressure employees to vote against a union. But since these firms don’t meet face-to-face with workers, almost all of their union-busting work remains secret and undisclosed.

We’re essentially prosecuting a drug dealer while letting their supplier walk free. 

If President Biden wants to stand boldly with workers, this is one concrete action he can take immediately: do more to hold union-busters accountable.

The Biden administration can and should issue a new rule through the Department of Labor, demanding that whenever a firm or consultant is hired to bust a union, it must be disclosed transparently and quickly. 

There is precedent for this. In 2016, the Obama administration, under Labor Secretary Tom Perez, issued the Persuader Rule. 

The Persuader Rule was written to require corporations and anti-union consultants — like Global Strategy Group, Ogletree, Jackson Lewis, and Littler Mendelson — to report key union-busting activities. The rule gave working people and the public critical information on whether an employer was hiring a third-party group to produce anti-union propaganda, messaging, and content meant to persuade workers against exercising their right to unionize. 

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration killed the rule before it could be enacted. 

It’s time to bring it back and time is wasting.

President Biden recently undertook an historic act of bringing organizing workers from Starbucks and Amazon and others into the White House for a meeting. That’s a good first step. Now it’s time to follow through with concrete actions to support these workers, who, like most organizing workers, have been subjected to undisclosed union-busting tactics.

Issuing a new Persuader Rule won’t necessarily stop the union-busting immediately. But what it will do is give workers the ability to communicate what and who they’re up against. It can also help unions explain to employees at a worksite what’s going on — often, these “persuaders” masquerade as employees or managers and many workers are unsure of what their roles are. 

And when union-busters aren’t posing as workers, they’re posing as government agents. Listen to Jennifer Abruzzo, General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, explain:

“They will mislead employees into believing that they are the government or agents of the government or are speaking for the government. And we’ve actually seen this way too frequently, particularly lately. And of course that significantly interferes with workers’ rights because workers will be like, ‘oh my God, the government who is conducting this election is telling me how bad unionization is.’ Right. ‘So I better not vote for the union because this agent of the government is telling me, you know, how bad it is.'”

If we had better disclosure rules, unions would stand a better chance of educating workers about what’s really going on. Furthermore, the public deserves to know when their rights and the rights of their neighbors are being attacked by highly paid corporate consultants. 

There are more aggressive actions that the Biden administration should consider to hold union-busting companies accountable, like using its federal contracting powers to deny them government contracts. But for now, issuing a persuader rule can most quickly show workers that this administration intends to take action and hold the union-busting industry accountable.

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