After work, you and a couple of co-workers gather at the local
pizza joint for a few slices and a beer. Your co-workers are
buying! One of them asks you to sign in. Ready for a cold one, and
focused on whether to go for pepperoni or maybe that new meat
lover's pie, you sign. Congratulations! Under the rules of the
misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), you've just voted to
unionize your workplace.
Under EFCA, the above scenario, as well as other methods of
"creative organizing," can be used to pressure or deceive employees
into joining a union, since they will no longer have the protection
of a secret ballot. While the current union-election process can
mitigate the effects of aggressive sales techniques, under EFCA,
workers who have been deceived will no longer have an opportunity
to gather all the facts and make an informed decision on union
Union Organizers Are Salesmen
Rian Wathen, a former organizing director of UFCW Local 700 in
Indianapolis, recently spoke at The Heritage Foundation about his
experiences as part of the labor movement. While serving as organizing
director, Wathen discovered that the president of Local 700 was
mismanaging union funds--funds established by dues that come
straight out of employee paychecks. In order to demonstrate how
members' dues were being misused, Wathen distributed financial
statements to the rank-and-file, a bold stance against corruption
that resulted in his termination without notice.
A 15-year union veteran and a harsh critic of union corruption,
Wathen understands how the union movement works from the inside.
Wathen explains that union organizers are, in essence, salesmen.
They sell a product--union membership--and their jobs depend on
making enough sales. As Wathen notes, union organizers "are
promoted by bringing in new dues-paying members. ... The person who
brings in the most cards, by hook or by crook, is the person who
looks productive and gets promoted." Consequently, organizers have
one goal: to recruit as many new dues-paying union members as
Since only 13 percent of non-union workers even want a union at
their workplace, many labor organizers employ "creative organizing"
tactics like the pizza sign-in scenario, as well as high-pressure
sales techniques to get workers to sign union cards and realize
their sales goals.
High-Pressure SPIN Selling
Wathen described in detail how he and fellow organizers were
trained by the Huthwaite Company in the SPIN selling technique.
SPIN stands for Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need
payoff--the four emotional states through which organizers lead
employees in order to secure a signed union-authorization card.
SPIN is a method of emotionally manipulating workers to make the
sale. After each meeting, the organizer uses a sheet to track where
the employee is in the four-step emotional cycle, so future
organizers can attack at the emotional vulnerability where the
latter left off. The goal of the SPIN organizing process, according
to Wathen, is not the union or the card itself: It's about
convincing the employee that whatever workplace problem he might
have, signing the card will solve that problem.
Consider a scenario where mandatory overtime occasionally
requires an employee to miss his son's baseball games. The
situation is that the employee's son plays baseball; the problem is
mandatory overtime; the implication of that problem is that the
employee is forced to miss his child's games.
By the time the organizer has gotten to the final SPIN stage,
the employee is focused entirely on being able to attend his son's
baseball games. Wathen explains that the organizer gets the
employee to the point, in his mind, that the need payoff is
it has nothing to do with the mandatory overtime; it has nothing
to do with the problem. ... When he reads that ballot, he doesn't
see: "Do you wish to vote for the union?" To him, that ballot says,
"Do you want to go to your son's baseball games? Yes or no?" Who
would vote against that?
Under EFCA, employees would not even have an opportunity to make
that decision in the voting booth. A card signed under emotional
pressure would be all it takes.
It's in the Cards
Manipulative sales tactics are bad enough. To make matters
worse, there is no law--or provision in EFCA--regulating what
union-authorization cards should look like. The card can be any
size, any color, any shape, and contain any language so long as it
has one line containing the suggested language from the National
Labor Relations Board (NLRB): "I hereby authorize [name of the
union] to represent me for the purposes of collective bargaining."
This language can be buried between promotional text and color
pictures of employees playing softball and taking vacations--it
just has to be somewhere in the potentially multi-page
authorization "card." As noted, these cards can even be presented
as a sign-in sheet for a pizza party, offered in exchange for a
ride to or from work--even when the employee is under the influence
The Need for Elections
It is not until the NLRB schedules an election that many
employers have a chance to respond to the issues raised by the
union and rebut any falsehoods. Frequently, a union's petition for
certification is an employer's first notice that an organizing
drive is even underway. The only way to counter emotional
manipulation and pressure tactics is to give a company's management
equal opportunity to present its case against a union and then let
workers make an informed choice in the privacy of the voting
booth--the only protection that workers have from being pressured,
coerced, or manipulated into a "yes" vote for a union they might
not even want.
Giving Employees a Choice
Under EFCA, union organizers will be free to use aggressive and
emotionally manipulative sales techniques like SPIN, as well as
"creative organizing" methods and deceptive authorization cards to
pressure or mislead employees into joining a union. Secret-ballot
elections--with the attendant union-organizing drives that give
management the chance to present its side--remain the only way to
ensure that workers subject to devious organizing tactics are given
an opportunity to hear both sides of the debate. EFCA would deny
employees such an opportunity, leaving them at the mercy of
organizing tactics that are designed to recruit as many dues-paying
union members as possible--not to address, let alone resolve, the
real questions and concerns employees might have.
James Sherk is the Bradley Fellow in Labor
Policy, and Ryan O'Donnell is a former private sector labor
attorney and current Web Editor, at The Heritage Foundation.