Monday, March 02, 2009

My first captive audience meeting

Last week I attended what is referred to as a "captive audience meeting" -- when your employer gives you the benefit of their views on unions. What I took from the experience is that my employer's views on this subject are not favorable.

The meeting was run by our store manager, and held in a conference room with fewer than ten employees in attendance. It began with a history lesson about how in the days when the bosses did not treat their subjects nicely, unions played some useful role in protecting workers. Today, employers -- for example, ours! -- treat people very well, and, besides, "there are laws" which protect employees on the job. So unions have outlived their purpose, now that employers and the government have taken up their cause.

A graph was presented showing the rate of union decline since 1983, and a figure was cited about only 7% of the US workforce being unionized, versus 93%. Clearly, "most Americans don't choose unions."

This declining unionization rate, so the story goes, has prompted American labor unions -- "for-profit businesses," we were told -- to push the Employee Free Choice Act as a way for their "salespeople" to break back into the market. I would say the portrayal of union organizers as conspiratorial, self-interested outsiders made a definite impression on the audience, leading as it did to a discussion of the extent to which employees might be deputized by management to oust any potential offenders from store property.

It is hard to gauge the persuasiveness of the event on the group as a whole, for one thing because there is no incentive to challenge one's employer openly in such instances. To all appearances, framing the issue as one which pits the work community as a whole against meddlesome outsiders who make empty promises in order to lock in dues money seems effective. It would seem that a science has evolved out of the business of union-busting, and it is being implemented to good effect by employers across the country.

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