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What is Union Busting?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Union busting is a practice in which a company attempts to interfere with organized labor at its facilities. This tactic comes in a wide variety of forms, with varying levels of legality, and firms which engage in union busting run the risk of public exposure, which can be very damaging to their image. Today, union busting is a huge business, with exclusive consulting firms offering their services to companies which would like to disrupt organized labor.

There are two basic forms of union busting. In the first, a company works to prevent its workers from organizing or joining a union, with the goal of keeping the company union-free. In the other, a company attempts to undermine an existing union to make it less powerful. While the union may not be driven out entirely, it may be so weakened that it is essentially useless.

The rationale for union busting activity is that unions are perceived as being bad for business. Unions tend to push for higher wages, greater safety measures, better benefits, shorter working hours, and other benefits for their members, and once a union is active, its protections often extend to all employees, even those who have not joined the union. Unionized workplaces are believed to be more costly to the companies which run them, and companies complain that unions restrict their ability to do business.

From the perspective of unions and workers who want to organize, unionization is important because it protects their rights and allows them to bargain as a group for specific benefits, which can range from basic safety to better pay. Unions can use a variety of tools to negotiate on behalf of their members, so it should come as no surprise to learn that union busters have an equally large repertoire.

Because attempts to restrict unionization are typically illegal, modern union busting is often very subtle. Many firms focus on undermining support for the union from within, sometimes through propaganda campaigns, well-placed agents, or pressure from supervisors and high-ranking company officials. Companies may also make it hard for unions to distribute material, and they may have a de facto policy to fire anyone who suggests that the workers should organize and join a union, despite the fact that this is illegal.

Unions are especially vulnerable to union busting practices during a strike, even when the company has been union-friendly before. The advent of a strike can cause a company to consider what life would be like without a union, and as a result it may engage the services of a firm which can help weaken the union in strike negotiations, and beyond. Some firms even offer deals which state that if the company doesn't come out ahead in the negotiations, it will not be asked to pay for the services of the union busting firm.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon168472 — On Apr 17, 2011

To the Maine Union member. Make no mistake. They are Union busting. The governor is working for the Koch brothers, hates government employees and his spokesperson Dan DeMerrit just quit because he has so many bankruptcies. Fight back. Go to the hearings

By anon165351 — On Apr 04, 2011

can we consider it a union busting? whereas previous higher officers of union were promoted, and the last one that is veteran left as a member is to be promoted also, all left in the union are those who are newly and has not enough knowledge in labor laws.

By anon112678 — On Sep 21, 2010

I am a union member. if I substitute voluntarily as a supervisor or help a supervisor with his duties and pass on only his directives to other union members and do not discipline, is that union busting?

By anon76624 — On Apr 11, 2010

If your employer is laying off 15 percent of the staff, you can expect some union employees will be amongst them. Being a member of a union does not give you priority come layoff time, quite the contrary as unionized employees cost more (all those benefits and pay your union got for you). This does not constitute union busting.

By anon55292 — On Dec 06, 2009

I work for a hospital in massachusetts that does the same thing. Our union is getting smaller and smaller.

By anon34683 — On Jun 26, 2009

I am in a Union in Maine for a county government. Right now we have 47 people in our union and the county employs 200 people. We have been told that the county is in a fiscal emergency and will have to layoff 30 employees. There are 7 departments in our Union and three of the 7 are going to be wiped out completely with these layoffs! These are services that the state of Maine has to provide to the county residents! Is this busting?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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