To help save them, unions are being urged to return to an old tactic: Planting people into companies and trying to unionize them from within.
With union membership in the United States at an all-time low—even after eight years of having a pro-union president in the White House, more than 93% of the private sector workforce is union free—unions now face very uncertain future under a Trump presidency.
With the majority of states now considered “Right-to-Work” state–which give unionized workers the choice to pay union fees or not without fearing the loss of their jobs–and a National Right-To-Work Act introduced in Congress earlier this month, both public and private-sector unions are facing existential threats on a multitude of fronts that seemed unlikely just a few months ago when the election of Hillary Clinton was considered a certainty.
To make matters worse for unions, in 2016, 43% of union households voted for Donald Trump, while labor leaders funneled tens of millions of their dues dollars to groups supporting Hillary Clinton.
To be certain, the perilous decline of unions—in spite of having a champion in the White House for eight years, the most pro-union National Labor Relations Board since the Roosevelt Administration, and spending millions on electoral politics—puts the institutional Left’s path toward European-style Marxism into peril as well.
As a result, there is a renewed push for unions to do what was once commonplace with unions: To “salt” non-union workplaces in an effort to rebuild union ranks.
Simply put, the practice of “salting” is the planting of an unofficial union organizer into a union-free company with the express purpose of unionizing the company from within.
As the Society of Human Resources Management explains:
Salting is a union organizing tactic whereby the union pays an individual to apply for job within a targeted company and, once the job is obtained, to begin union organizing efforts. Salts—the term used for such individuals—may be overtly direct about their intentions or may use more subtle techniques. A salt’s role is to gather information as a company insider and use it in the union organizing campaign.
Writing for the pro-union site In These Times, union sympathizer Erik Forman states that salting “can help overcome the gap between the Left and the working class by quite literally meeting workers where they are: at work.”
As unfair as it may seem, the practice of a union planting a person(s) in an organization in order to unionize it is perfectly legal…at least it is for now.
For a union-salting proponent like Forman, however, the rationale is about more than rebuilding unions.
A turn to the workplace is the logical step for the thousands of people who have turned to socialism in the past year. Salting offers a meaningful and accessible point of entry to activism, because almost all of us have to sell our labor for a living. Millennials especially are experiencing historic downward mobility. We may have not have gone looking for the class struggle, but the class struggle has come looking for us. [Emphasis added.]
While unions do, to varying degrees, currently use union salts (also referred to as “moles”), the problem has been that, while at times successful, it has not been widespread enough to reverse unions’ dwindling membership.
Despite the fact that, even during the Obama years, unions never really took advantage of the pro-union NLRB by filing more petitions to represent workers, there is a real question whether or not union leaders are going to put their efforts into rebuilding their unions during a Trump presidency.