Press Releases | Unions and Labor Standards

News from EPI Employers are charged with violating federal law in four out of every 10 union elections

Employers are charged with violating federal law in 41.5% of all union election campaigns and illegally firing workers in nearly 20% of all elections, according to a new report by researchers at the Economic Policy Institute and University of Oregon.

The report provides a comprehensive analysis of employer conduct in union representation elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in 2016 and 2017. The authors find higher rates of unfair labor practice (ULP) charges filed overall, and for firings in particular, compared with the most recent data from the early 2000s.

“Employers routinely threaten, intimidate, and fire workers when they try to form a union at their workplace. Employers face few consequences because our current labor law fails to provide workers meaningful protections,” said Celine McNicholas, EPI Director of Government Affairs and co-author of the report. “These findings should sound the alarm for policymakers and underscore the need for significant labor law reform to hold employers accountable and restore workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain.”

The report also sheds light on the “union avoidance” industry, estimating that employers spend nearly $340 million per year hiring anti-union lawyers and consultants to help prevent employees from organizing. Over the past five years, employers such as Coca-Cola, UPS, AT&T, and Google have used union avoidance consultants.

“Far more workers want union representation than are able to obtain it under our current system,” said Ben Zipperer, EPI Economist and co-author of the report. “This is a result of not only decades of legislative and judicial attacks to workers’ rights, but also a largely secretive industry dedicated to helping employers derail unionization efforts.”

In nearly a third (29.2%) of all elections, employers were charged with illegally coercing, threatening, or retaliating against workers for union support. Employers with larger bargaining units were more likely to be charged with violating the law, including more than half (54.4%) of employers in elections involving more than 60 employees.

The authors explain that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) fails to provide penalties sufficient to deter employer violations, and as demonstrated in a previous EPI report, the Trump administration’s NLRB has significantly weakened worker protections under the NLRA. The report proposes several policy solutions to combat employers’ efforts to impede organizing efforts, including the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would restrict the most significant tactics of aggressive employer opposition and impose meaningful penalties on employers who violate the law.

The report is authored by McNicholas, Zipperer, Margaret Poydock, and Julia Wolfe at EPI and Gordon Lafer and Lola Loustaunau at the University of Oregon.