If you find out that your boss has hired outside legal counsel, now is a good time for you and your organizing committee to prepare your coworkers against potential pushback from management and common anti-union arguments.
If you happen to find out that these unknown consultants come from the likes of Jackson Lewis, Proskauer Rose LLP, Kauff McGuire & Margolis LLP, Ogletree Deakins, or Littler Mendelson LLC, then get ready. Know you're in for a fight.
People in power have always fought unions rather than share power with workers. U.S. labor history is full of massive, violent battles, like Blair Mountain, but more recently those battles take place in the legal realm.
Nowadays, when management wants to break up a union, there are law firms that specialize in helping them. Here are a few of them.
Jackson Lewis - Founded in 1958, Jackson Lewis has nearly a thousand lawyers across the U.S. You might have heard of a recent lawsuit involving them and their client Mondelez Global LLC. Jackson Lewis defended the maker of Ritz Crackers and Oreos, Mondelez, during a lawsuit when the company used an investigation into the timesheet inconsistencies of three unionized workers as a reason to fire them. Three judges on 7th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in favor of the fired workers saying that the investigation was cover for letting go organizers who were active in contract negotiations with the snack food manufacturer at the time.
Proskauer Rose LLP - Started nearly half a century ago, Proskauer has been known as a major union buster, focusing primarily on labor, employment, and immigration law. They’ve also grown in notoriety in recent years and have become a household name among media companies looking to stop union drives. A recent and admittedly hilarious headline that you can learn a lot from comes from a mistake they made when trying to bust a union drive among product and technology workers at The New York Times.
Proskauer accidentally sent a strategy email against the union directly to union organizers. It included a number of presentation slides the law firm had prepared for The Times, outlining ways to weaken worker power and hamstring the effort. The presentation outlines three union size options that the newspaper could make the case for in front of an upcoming NLRB hearing. Each anti-union campaign is different, but knowing how others have been run in the past can offer a sense of the depths bosses are willing to go to to stop a union drive.
Dividing and conquering is the general guiding principle of any anti-union stance The Times eventually opted for the most aggressive strategy, the one the right hand side of the slide below:
Kauff Mcguire & Margolis LLP - This firm, like Proskeaur, bills itself as full-service in the areas of labor, employment, and immigration. Workers at Meow Wolf, an artist collective based out of the Southwest, found the Kauff-backed, union-busting campaign they endured to feel out of character from the CEOs they had long known. Meow Wolf Workers Collective’s Emily Markwiese notes this in a Jacobin interview; “I have also been surprised at times by some of the language used, and the similarity between some of our company’s official statements and the official statements of something like Starbucks.” Management side firms are consistent in their efforts to delegitimize and dilute worker power, which organizers should key in on to empower their units. NewsGuild of New York, CWA put together an anti-union rhetoric bingo card for workers to use during meetings with management. Try it out in your own company-wide meetings!
Littler Mendelson LLC - Littler Mendelson may best be known in recent years for advising Starbucks management on running anti-union campaigns against workers at several stores in Buffalo, New York. With Littler’s support, Starbucks launched an aggressive anti-union campaign in 2021, subjecting workers to captive audience meetings, one-on-ones, text messages from bosses, the list goes on. This highly publicized effort shows the extent of corporate power, management’s willingness to utilize psychological attacks on workers, and the level to which organization’s will stoop to fight a union campaign. And yet, of the three Buffalo-area campaigns, two won in the face of all of this pressure, which speaks to the power of solidarity and the resolve of these workers.
Ogletree Deakins - The self-described “management advocate” Ogletree has been an integral part of countless union-busting campaigns, including one at Piedmont Health Services (PHS) in North Carolina where they've delayed the process at every turn. Rupal Yu of PHS Providers United (PPU) sheds light on the extent of management tactics in the article linked above; “We find it reprehensible that our management is squandering our precious resources to delay our election. We are ready to have a union election. We are ready to vote, and that needs to be done. We have work that needs to be done with patients that need our care and this is a needless distraction and delay.” (A disclaimer: Unit advises PPU.)
While the U.S. Department of Labor tracks consultant fees paid by employers with respect to labor management issues, this digital report tool isn’t updated as quickly as you might hope. Regardless, it’s worthwhile to check it on a regular basis as your campaign heats up or when .
As is the case with any negotiation with management, give them the chance to do the right thing, but be prepared for them to use time, money, and company resources against you.
Organizing is your right and it's up to workers - not employers - to decide whether or not a union should form.