The Obama Watch

Obama’s Favorite Union Heavies

The Service Employees International lives to intimidate in the workplace.

By and 7.26.11

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Unions thrive on workplace conflict. The AFL-CIO, for example, sponsors a "Bad Boss Contest," which awards the employee who submits the best story about a horrible boss a "seven-night vacation escape" from his or her workplace travails. But aggressive union tactics are no laughing matter, as a recently unveiled playbook distributed by one of America's biggest unions reveals.

Over the last decade, aggressive campaigns against employers have enabled the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to grow into one of the country's biggest labor organizations. Now, its campaign manual -- which the union recently had to file during discovery in a federal court proceeding -- offers an unprecedented glimpse of how the union operates. It's not a pretty picture.

The SEIU manual instructs union activists on how to conduct a "corporate campaign." This consists of a union pressuring an employer to give in to worker demands by employing aggressive methods, including generating negative media coverage, filing complaints with regulators, and disrupting relationships between businesses and their customers, vendors, and lenders.

A union conducting a corporate campaign will often enlist the help of third parties sympathetic to the broader progressive agenda -- environmental activists, consumer groups, "human rights" advocates, and the like. For instance, an environmental group sympathetic to the union might accuse the company which the union is targeting of polluting, while the union itself might go after the firm's access to capital by attacking its creditworthiness.

The SEIU manual instructs union activists how to disrupt their employer's operations, undermine company profits, and even harass managers at their homes and in their communities.

It also encourages workers to lower their productivity, stating, "In many cases, the most powerful worksite tactic is for members to do only what they are required to do by the union contract and no more." If reducing productivity is not enough, SEIU then calls for personal attacks on managers, encouraging workers to make "life more difficult for them as individuals," through such methods as leafleting outside of their homes and at community gatherings.

In a corporate campaign, the union's message to the employer is clear: Agree to our demands or we'll drag your reputation through the mud. When the employer relents, the attacks cease.

Happy workers have little use for powerful unions, whereas unions thrive when worker dissatisfaction is high. It is unsurprising, therefore, that unions would provoke hostile relations between employees and their managers. This discontent enables unions to expand their membership rolls and increase their dues revenue.

Unfortunately, workers suffer as a result. According to a March 2011 Gallup poll, unionized workplaces in both the public and private sectors scored lower on Gallup's Work Environment Index than their non-unionized counterparts. The poll concluded, "Workers who are unionized are more likely to consider their supervisor to be a boss rather than a partner, and less likely to say their supervisor creates a trusting and open work environment."

President Obama has been trying to dispel the notion that he is "anti-business," but it's hard to take such claims seriously given his close ties with the SEIU. Obama has appointed SEIU officials to senior positions in his administration, including former SEIU associate counsel Craig Becker, who now wields considerable power over labor policy as a recess-appointed member of the National Labor Relations Board. If the President is serious about reaching to the business community, not appointing -- or reappointing -- any more SEIU officials to his administration would be a good start.

Meanwhile, House Republicans should explore what role, if any, Becker and other SEIU officials now serving in government may have played in the production of the SEIU campaign manual. Creating a manual that endorses intimidation tactics that border on extortion should disqualify anyone from public office.

Union efforts to incite workplace conflict are bad for businesses, bad for workers, and bad for the economy. If President Obama truly cares about America's working population, he has his work cut out for him -- and actions speak louder than words.

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About the Author

Ivan Osorio is editorial director and a labor policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

About the Author

Adam Michel is a research associate at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.