8. UNION BUSTING WITH BRIEFCASES NOT BLACKJACKS
Union busting conjures up images of violent strike-breakers armed with
blackjacks, brass-knuckles, and revolvers, but this is an image of the
past. Today, hidden behind a corporate veneer and armed with briefcases,
a. new army of union busters, known as labor relations consultants,
stalks the land.
The largest of the new consulting firms is Modern Management Inc.,
known as 3M after its founders, Melnick, McKeown, and Mickus. It employs
100 consultants, most of them with advanced degrees in psychology, business,
or industrial relations,
Union leaders charge that the sole intent of these consultants is to
prevent union organizing and to eliminate existing unions. Herbert Melnick,
chairman of 3M, denies this charge. Instead he prefers to see himself
as a "marriage counselor between worker and boss" and speaks
proudly of his efforts to open up new channels of communication between
employers and employees. Trade unionists have a different name for Melnick:
"union buster." "His business is to lie and to cheat,"
says Robert L. Muehlenkamp, chief organizer for the National Union of
Hospital and Health Care Employees, District 1199.
An unpublicized investigation by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Labor-Management
Relations concluded that firms such as 3M "come dangerously close
to justifying whatever means are necessary" to defeat unions. Some
techniques in use show how control of the workplace can be used to legally
weed out potential union sympathizers before they are hired; turn supervisors
into an anti-union organizing force while restricting campaigning by
union supporters; make employees fear reprisals for unionization or
expect rewards for voting against the union; and delay elections or
contract negotiations so long that union sympathizers lose faith in
Under federal labor law, consultants who help management campaign against
a union are supposed to report their activities to the Labor Department.
The penalty for violation ranges up to one year in prison or a $10,000
fine. 3M, like most similar firms, neither reports its activities nor
suffers penalties for two reasons: 1) the Labor Department does little
to enforce the law; 2) consultants usually act only through the client's
supervisory staff, making it almost impossible to prove them culpable
for labor law violations.
The media's failure to publicize this assault on American workers'
rights to organize qualifies this story for nomination as a "best
censored" story of 1981.
National Catholic Reporter. 4/17/81, "Congress, Labor Board Reports
Blast 'Anti-Union' Consulting Firms;" The Nation, 6/13/81, "Secrets
of a Union Buster;" both by Kinsey Wilson and Steve Askin.