Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

Last Sunday, I wrote about In These Times's recent fascinating piece on union-busting, Union Busting Confidential.  I wrote that the sleazy behavior of union-busters, combined with their high costs, should make it possible for a liberal entrepreneur to establish a pro-union employee relations firm which helps employers cooperate with unions, to the mutual benefit of employees and employers.  That initial idea generated some enthusiasm, so I'd like to follow up on it and flesh it out a bit today.

The goal of the pro-union employee relations firm was two-fold: first, to inform business owners and managers of the economic benefits of unionization, and consequently to discourage them from union-busting; and secondly, to provide employers with the services they need to cooperate with unionization efforts, in order to maximize the benefit for their company.  The services provided by the firm would be the core of the company's sustainability model, while the company's pro-union educational efforts would help strengthen the labor movement by facilitating private sector unionization efforts.

I'd really like to make some headway towards making this idea a reality, and I'd like to see if there are other MyDD readers who'd like to join.  What I have in mind is starting a blog which discusses the economic benefits of unionization for employers.  For now, I'm calling it "The Pro-Union Employer", for lack of a better term.  Follow me across the flip for more details about how this blog could come to light, and if you'd like to help out, drop a line in the comments!

The main challenge in establishing the blog would be deciding what to write, and how frequently.  There are a few different topics the blog writers could choose; I've organized this list according to the topics which should probably be the most important.


  • Discussion of unionization studies released by academic labor departments and economic think tanks, especially discussion of reports which directly address the question of the economic benefits of unionization.

  • Commentary on union-related articles in the business press - including newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times; magazines like Businessweek, Fortune, Inc., and FastCompany; and, if possible, cable channels like CNBC and Fox Business News.  Where possible, this kind of commentary would debunk anti-union assumptions or claims underlying these articles.

  • Commentary on, and where necessary refutations of, blog posts in the anti-union blogosphere and the economic blogosphere.

  • Profiles of union-busting firms, and coverage of scandals or court cases involving companies which have hired those firms.  In fact, I could see this kind of content evolving into a resource center, where interested users could do research on the history of prominent union-busters.

  • Development of anti-union busting materials, like slide shows and talking points, which highlight out the risks and costs of union-busting.

  • Interviews with prominent labor leaders and company executives, discussing cases of unionization efforts that benefited both employers and workers.

  • Coverage of ongoing organizing or contracting drives, and commentary on the good-faith behavior (or lack thereof) of company executives, and how it is (or isn't) serving the long-term health of the company.

  • Discussion of union-related legislation, court rulings, and regulatory decisions, and how they might impact related industries.

This mix of content, especially the first three items on the list, would probably be enough to spark some interest among business managers and owners who are not rigidly anti-union.  I would personally be very interested in seeing the blog take on a search engine marketing campaign meant to garner a high rating on certain keywords, like "union free", "union avoidance", "union vote no", and on the names of certain high-profile union-busters, like "Jackson Lewis" and "The Burke Group".  I'd be even more interested to see a social networking marketing campaign, intended to reach employers through sites like LinkedIn.  Such campaigns could be relatively low-cost and could be very effective in reach individuals who might be considering hiring a union-buster.

Ideally, I'd like to see the blog written by a mix of pro-union business owners/managers, workers, and union activists/academics.  But, I'd certainly welcome the efforts of anyone who'd like to help out.

Unfortunately, the effort would be entirely volunteer, and would rely on donations, or perhaps merchandise sales, to support the costs of hosting and domain registration.  That's not a sustainable business model, but there are a couple of ways the blog could become sustainable.  First, it might be possible to encourage a union, academic labor department, or think tank to sponsor the blog and pay the salary of a part-time blogger.  Second, it's possible that the blog could garner enough interest among labor law and HR professionals that it would eventually spawn a pro-union employee relations firm, which would then assume sponsorship of the blog.  Those are both long odds, but that would be the long-term sustainability plan.

The technical foundation of the blog could be quite simple; initially, it would probably take the form of a simple Soapblox account, with some fairly simple customization and a purchased domain name.  I don't imagine that this blog will get a lot of traffic and a boatload of commenters.  The volume of traffic to the site doesn't matter, but it is important that the blog reach the right target audience (i.e., business managers and owners who might be in a position to hire a union-busting firm).

The blog would also require a reasonably active moderator and troll detection system, as the blog would be a likely target for anti-union commenters.  However, because this blog would not be a "preaching to the choir" blog, it would be necessary for the blog to establish clear guidelines on acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and to fairly and consistently enforce those guidelines.  Unfortunately, I'm afraid that the anti-troll work would eat up a lot of time, and would be the most thankless and grueling work in maintaining the blog.

However, I think all of this effort would be phenomenally rewarding, because it would establish a unique and powerful online resource: a blog whose focus is providing business managers and owners with pro-union arguments which speak to their immediate concerns of profitability and company health.  By itself, such a blog would help undermine the union-busting industry.  Moreover, it could be a springboard for further efforts to turn the tide against union-busting, like the establishment of a pro-union employee relations firm, or a resource center which provides union activists with materials they need to persuade employers that unions are good for business.  Ultimately, I think this blog could be an important piece of the larger effort to revitalize the labor movement.

If you're interested in joining this effort, please drop your name and email address (use (at) and (dot) to fool spam-bots) in the comments, and we'll take things from there.  If you have critiques on the idea, include them in the comments below!  I'd love to see this idea improve and take flight.

Tags: labor movement, liberal entrepreneurship, union-busting (all tags)

Comments

25 Comments

Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

Wouldn't being financially assisted by a pro-union organization just open you up to charges of astro-turfing?

Even if it's not true, it will give people the excuse to blow off the blog as a pure propaganda outlet without having to look at the content.

by MNPundit 2007-10-05 12:18PM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

So get funding from places that are on American Rights At Work's Labor Day list, where unions and management cooperate (at least for the most part).

I'm interested...rickman dot peter at gmail dot com.

by Peter from WI 2007-10-05 12:38PM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

Great!  I'll add you to the list.

And I don't think that sponsorship by a pro-union place would be astroturfing.  After all, these academics and think tanks are already making these exact same arguments through their research.  As long as there's full disclosure, what's wrong with paying someone to amplify those arguments?

by Shai Sachs 2007-10-05 12:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

I don't think so either, but if the point is to get the message out we need to think about ways the opposition will attempt to stifle it--and this is one that might work better than most.

by MNPundit 2007-10-06 07:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

Just don't ask Mark Penn to join!

by Vox Populi 2007-10-05 12:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

I would love to help.  I'm in DC working government relations for a union right now and can lend whatever expertise that entails to the project.

kweimann at gmail dot com

by libecon 2007-10-05 12:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

I'm very interested in this.  I'm a 3L law student with an interest in union side labor law.

Biggest problem I see is that cooperating with a union could lead to a charge that the union is company run, which is an unfair labor practice.   Note that I'm only a law student, and I could be dead wrong.  But it's something to be concerned about.

dansomone at yahoo dot com

by dansomone 2007-10-05 12:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

I wouldn't be too worried about that.  Granted you're much further along in the legal education process than I but from my understanding of the NLRA, cooperation is not equivalent to capitulation.

Besides, a variety of businesses have a strong, cooperative relationship with their unions and both sides benefit as a result.  That's the main concept we're advocating for in this blog.

by circlesnshadows 2007-10-05 04:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

Or the other way around...workers/unions could run the company.  Which probably wouldn't work out too badly.

by Peter from WI 2007-10-05 06:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

you have a very good point, but there's probably a lot of daylight between "cooperation" and company-run.  i imagine that existing partnerships, like the kaiser/seiu partnership, could be a template for the kinds of things that could and couldn't fly under a cooperation agreement.  it might be something as simple as a neutrality agreement, or maybe an agreement to have an independent third party certify the company's neutrality and good faith bargaining practices.

But I don't know the nuts and bolts of this sort of thing well enough.  If there are any union shop stewards or HR managers who have on-the-ground experience with good union/company working relationships, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

by Shai Sachs 2007-10-06 06:01AM | 0 recs
Excuse me...

I can't stop from laughing. I have the impression that the average employer will think that this is the wolf dressed like grandma. I come from two generations of union organizers and can assure you that it will not fly.

by joliepoint 2007-10-05 01:19PM | 0 recs
Love it!

I created an account (I've been a DailyKos member and mydd lurker for some time) just to respond to this.

I am a writer and would be incredibly interested in this.

You'll never guess my name from my e-mail:
jeremy (dot) n (dot) mendonsa (at) gmail (dot) com

by jmendonsa 2007-10-05 01:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

Pro-Union employer?

Or Pro-Working Family employer?

Unions are about creating stronger communities and families.

by JordanLFW 2007-10-05 02:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

Good idea.

Let me know how I can help.

by TomP 2007-10-05 02:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

I'm really thrilled about the feedback here.  I spoke with Shai over the week after the original idea was posted and I'm glad that we're taking this further.  I'm a college senior planning on attend law school with an interest in union side labor law and some background in labor policy and quantitative labor research.

The one thing I'd like to say on the subject is that, for a name, I've thought that something involved "Progressive Workplace" would fit.  Of course, the name is much less important than getting all of us interested writers together and figuring out a system of contributions.

Anyway, great to see the feedback and I can't wait to get this going!

by circlesnshadows 2007-10-05 04:28PM | 0 recs
Wow

Amazing idea. I'd be glad to help cover Minnesota related union events. I'm just a student right now but I know some of the U of M strikers and keep up with Minnesota labor news (http://www.workdayminnesota.org/). I could go out and get some film and ask some of the strikers to do updates. I live blocks away from the strikers and my brother also attends the U of M so I could do updates on that and more. I could also score some interviews with union people (I'm getting a video camera soon!).

I think you should talk to the OpenLeft people for this. I know they are rivals in a way but they have gotten some union people to be FPers and do guest-posting. Chris was a union organizer and so he might be willing to set up a BlogPac fund to help with this. Mike Lux who has friends high up in the union movement has written a great post you might like:

http://www.openleft.com/showDiary.do?dia ryId=484

I think if we started this blog we could get some of the top e-labor people to come on if this is something we get the whole netroots on board with.  It won't be the most trafficked site but hopefully the more activist types will visit and it can be a online center for action.

Oh and my e-mail is kesinger (at) gmail (dot) com.

I love the idea. Lets get it started!

by Populista 2007-10-05 07:17PM | 0 recs
Re: Wow

Thanks!  I'll certainly get in touch soon.

I follow OpenLeft pretty religiously, but somehow I missed this particular post.  I'll check it out soon.

Once I get a little more headway on this idea, I'll post an update, here on MyDD and also over at OpenLeft.  Already I think we've got a lot of great momentum, but hopefully that'll help us pick up some steam!

by Shai Sachs 2007-10-06 06:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

There are already such efforts underway, perhaps you should investigate them before re-inventing the wheel.

For example SEIU has a site devoted to Walmart:
http://walmartwatch.com/

They have picked Walmart as their focus since it is the leader in number of employees and has one of the worst labor records around. Their thinking is that if they can get Walmart to behave better other firms will have to follow. I don't think they are, presently, trying to unionize Walmart.

The AFL-CIO has a blog:
http://blog.aflcio.org/

The NY Working Families party has a blog:
http://wfpjournal.blogspot.com/

Then there is this spinoff of the AFL-CIO
http://www.workingamerica.org/

Perhaps you feel that since these are affiliated with an interest group they won't be seen as "impartial", but they do have the advantage of an existing infrastructure and audience. If you start your own site you start from zero.

I participate in an independent Walmart-focused blog where labor issues come up frequently. It's
The Writing on the Wal. You are free to comment on any of the stories and we are always looking for additional regular contributors who have a desire to participate with original reporting or ideas.

by rdf 2007-10-06 05:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

Thanks for your feedback.  I've seen the SEIU Wal-mart blog (but haven't followed it carefully), and I skim the AFL-CIO blog every day, and get email updates from Working America, so I'm a bit more familiar with the content at those places.  I think on the whole, these are good places to go for the latest news in the union world.  They do a good job of informing and motivating union members, activists and allies, and bravo for that.

However, what I'm trying to start is something a bit more niche-oriented: a blog which points out the beneficial aspects of unionization, from an employer's point of view, in order to discourage union-busting.  This is not a preach-to-the-choir-so-they-will-sing blog, this is a make-solid-arguments-with-evidence-to-pe rsuade-people-to-do-the-right-thing blog.  Part of my motivation for doing this is to balance out the steady beat of anti-union propaganda, aimed at employers, coming from well-heeled salesfolk at union-busting firms like Jackson Lewis, and at anti-union blogs like Union-Free Employer and EFCA Updates.  If we can reach employers and balance out this propaganda, convincingly refute the anti-union arguments from the other side, and point out the downsides of hiring a union-buster, we might make a dent in this odious practice.  Another part of my motivation (although it's a long shot) is the hope that someday, this effort will pay off and help make some money for hard-working pro-union employee relations experts.

If you know of any blogs doing something along these specific lines - dedicated to countering anti-union propaganda, and targeted at business managers and owners - then I'd certainly like to hear more about it!

by Shai Sachs 2007-10-06 06:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

I don't think the idea of a "pro-union" employer is going to fly in the current environment. There may be employers who tolerate unions or are neutral but "pro" seems a stretch.

If you want to lay out a case why a union might be beneficial for a firm I think you should start there. Before you do, I'll give you a couple of things you will have to address from the other side.

1. Most firms are headed by "type A" personalities (that's how they got to be the CEO). Their personality is such that they don't like any limitations on their freedom of action. They are autocrats. Allowing a countervailing force of workers goes against their psychological makeup.

2. International pressures make the imbalance of labor costs a significant factor. Unions can't do anything about overseas labor costs and thus any inclination by the boss to treat workers fairly is going to have a real cost. Notice that unionization is only growing in those areas that can't be outsourced, like janitors or home health care workers. (This leads into the issues of immigration, but let's ignore that for the moment.)

3. Firms are moving away from a permanent employment model. Once again Walmart has taken the lead here. Their new computerized scheduling program makes workers bid for hours. It assigns work schedules on the basis of competitive bidding. Those who are the most willing to take bad shifts get more hours worked. The real aim is to eliminate full-time workers altogether and make everyone conditional. This provides the most flexibility and eliminates the need to pay fringe benefits.

4. Firms are eliminating benefits. The new UAW-GM contract is shifting this to the union. Once the union provides benefits then there is no reason for the firm to be unionized, only the workers. They are, in effect, independent contractors assigned to a specific firm. Once again an increasingly popular model. Try hiring a house cleaner or home health care worker (or even a temp worker for an office). They will be provided by a placement firm which now does more than just be an employment agency, but is itself the employer. The extreme is Blackwater where the army now is half conditional employees.

I see the need for a new model for unions, but I'm not sure it lies with companies. My own 2 cents on this in this short short essay:
A proposal for a worker's affinity group

Interestingly one of the models never discussed is a worker-owned firm. There were some fake attempts in the airline industry awhile back, but in the past there were some successful cases. The German optical firm Zeiss was run this way for over 150 years. The arrangement only ceased when it was broken up by the division of Germany after WWII.

by rdf 2007-10-06 07:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Help start a new blog - The Pro-Union Employer

Well, you make some very good points, and I agree that many of these, and more, are to be anticipated and refuted.  For each of these ideas, however, there are arguments to be made against - it does not always make sense for a company to outsource work, as workers to bid on hours, etc. etc.  In many cases such practices are short-term beneficial and long-term destructive.  In some cases they create a plainly unpleasant environment.  And so on.

I don't imagine that this blog will sway the virulently anti-union firms of the world, like Wal-Mart.  Instead, I hope to target the corporate decisionmakers who are "on the fence" about unionization, and could be swayed by good arguments and solid evidence.

I think I came across your proposal a while ago.  It seemed good, and I've run across similar ideas before.  There are SEIU offshoots like United Professionals and Qvisory which seem to be going in that direction.  If these groups can be helpful to workers in need, I think that's wonderful.  But I'm also a bit worried that affinity groups might undermine the concept of solidarity (mutual aid and interdependence) which is the key strength of a labor union.  Affinity groups are, in some ways, very similar to the concept of "business unionism" (i.e. providing services to members without worrying much about organizing) which, I think it's fair to say, helped lead to the present weak state of the labor movement.

Worker ownership, although not common, does come up from time to time.  For example, The News Guild made a bid to buy some of the Knight-Ridder papers when they went on the block about two years ago.  The structure of the deal was some kind of employee stock ownership plan.  I'm not sure why, but the bid fell through.  It's a rare concept, of course, and mostly I'd imagine that's because corporate owners don't like to sell their controlling interests, and unions don't generally have the kind of money necessary for a hostile takeover.

by Shai Sachs 2007-10-06 08:33AM | 0 recs
why shai is correct

I think Shai has a good idea. My view is that we are on the edge of a new paradigm. Employers - and all of us - have been sold the claim that globalization is good for us, that privatization is good for us, that getting rid of unions is good for us, that cutting taxes, cutting wages, on and on is all good for us.

But anyone with a pulse can see we are in serious trouble in this country. Just look at the financials - look at housing - look at the lack of health care - jobs going overseas to people who poison us.

So I think things are about to change. We are on the cusp of that change. So it is a good idea to be there with the explanations for why things are as they are and a chart for where we must go to fix them.

Shai is suggesting taking a road that says - WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

I think this is a message people are more and more interested in.

by shirah 2007-10-28 07:29AM | 0 recs
Re: why shai is correct

thanks!

and just to give credit where it's due, I stole the "we're all in this together" phrase wholesale from one of Paul Waldman's books.  He suggests this is a good "elevator pitch" for the progressive worldview, which seems about right to me.  it certainly is the central assumption of the labor movement.

by Shai Sachs 2007-10-28 08:11AM | 0 recs
What cooperation is
There were some comments above worrying about issues involving cooperation and whether it is illegal. Let me help you out on this issue. NLRA section 8(a)(2) says it is an unfair labor practice for an employer "to dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to it . . .." So no violation I can see from what Shai proposes. Other laws, such as criminal laws, might be violated if there are bribes, kickbacks, etc. Finally, on the violation issue, section 302 forbids many exchanges of money. I believe this was added as part of Taft-Hartley. There are some other relevant sections, such as the preambles to Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin that say their policies are to promote cooperation. Take a look at Section 1. [ 141.] and Sec. 201. [ 171.] of the statute - you have to scroll way down for these sections. It's too long for me to paste in here, but here is a link to the statute: http://www.nlrb.gov/about_us/overview/na tional_labor_relations_act.aspx
by shirah 2007-10-28 07:41AM | 0 recs
Re: What cooperation is

wow, thanks for the in-depth research!  i should add that, in all likelihood, the real goal of the blog will be to make as many employers as possible neutral on the question of unionization.  That is, if an organizing drive starts at a workplace, our goal will be to have the employer get out of the way, and accept the workers' decision, come what may.  I certainly wouldn't want to see a sham union imposed on a group of workers by management, as that can be very harmful to worker rights as well.  On the other hand, I doubt we're anywhere close to that happening in the near future.

by Shai Sachs 2007-10-28 08:14AM | 0 recs

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