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Pulling Back the Curtain on Union Busting

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This week, the Labor Department finalized the "persuader rule," which will require corporations to disclose their relationships with consultants and lawyers hired to run behind-the-scenes, anti-union campaigns. The new rule, in the works for about five years, will take effect on July 1.

"It's a matter of basic fairness," said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. "This new rule will allow workers to know whether the messages they're hearing are coming directly from their employer or from a paid, third-party consultant. Full disclosure of persuader agreements gives workers the information they need to make informed choices about how they pursue their rights to organize and bargain collectively. As in all elections, more information means better decisions."

The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA) requires reporting by unions, employers, and labor relations consultants.

Employers have been taking advantage of a giant loophole in that law, however, citing a provision that said companies only had to disclose hiring union busters if those outside consultants interacted with employees directly. As a result, consultants created anti-union strategies, materials and policies, then advised and coached management how to deliver that message to workers, completely bypassing the reporting requirement. Although 71 to 87 percent of employers hire union busters, the Labor Department received very few reports on these activities.

In 2011, American Airlines, then under different, extremely anti-union management, filed for bankruptcy. At the same time, American passenger service agents were organizing for a CWA voice. Management fought the agents every step of the way, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside consultants and law firms to block the workers' organizing drive. The only reason workers knew this was because American had to publicly report its expenses to the bankruptcy court.

Agents were outraged and rallied against the company. It took a few more years but finally in 2014, American agents won their CWA voice.