Many large employers, particularly retailers, include anti-union information or videos as part of their new hire training process in an effort to prevent unions from gaining a foothold with workers. These videos have been around for a while in all their cheesy, disinformational glory. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) permits employers to share their views on unionization even if they oppose unionization.
The NLRA permits employers to inform workers and explain certain things that can happen if the workers unionize; but employers cannot go so far as to threaten harm to a worker’s job, such as threatening to close the work site if the workers unionize or threatening to terminate “troublemakers”.
Union activity at Target
I’ve seen several of these anti-union training videos but it is rare to find one publicly available. Target’s most recent anti-union video leaked as posted by gawker.com. You can see the video here. These videos typically share a common set of characteristics. They are cheesy, poorly acted and contain subtly repeated catch phrases of anti-union rhetoric. These include the old saw, “There might have been a need for unions in the past but times have changed.”
The Target video has the usual message that unions just suck up employee funds and can’t deliver on anything because they don’t have managerial authority.
However, the video suggests that an individual employee could somehow convince management to give him or her whatever raise/benefit/shift he or she asks for. So what we learn is that having the power of numbers is less meaningful than taking on an enormous organization by yourself. Sure, that makes a lot sense, right? As usual, the video stresses the value of the open door policy as a way to bring your needs and concerns to management. This is laughable and you know it’s laughable if you’ve spent more than a day working in a retail environment. The open door policy might mean you can go into the manager’s office and voice your concerns but the most likely result is that the manager is going to share with you his or her open door policy: take what you have or go out the open door and find a new job.
The video content itself is less important than the viewing environment. Watching the video at home by yourself gives you freedom to chuckle and eye roll. However, new hires watch the video in a group while trainers and human resources people watch them. That’s not an environment where it’s easy to chuckle at the cheese or respond to the anti-union commentary. People who act defiantly to the video will stick out like a sore thumb. That is sure to put them under greater scrutiny. It’s not just an indoctrinating video. It’s an entire experience to show authority and indoctrinate while screening the new hires for risks of pro-union sentiment. That’s a much more ominous experience than watching the video on your computer or smartphone.
What to do if your employer requires you to watch anti-union propaganda
This practice is extremely common for large businesses with large workforces of poorly paid workers where unionization might change compensation. With the nearly twenty year movement to increase minimum wages and revive collective bargaining it might surprise some that this is such a common practice. Employers treat workers with the attitude that one bad apple spoils the bunch so they want to root out any pro-union employees if they can as early as possible. Sadly under the National Labor Relations Act and state labor laws this practice is generally legal. If your employer makes you watch anti-union videos you should be concerned. That is usually a sign that the employer cares more about paying as little as possible for as much work as possible, rather than fair pay for fair work. It is also a sign that your employer will probably respond poorly to efforts to improve your pay, benefits, or work conditions. There may not be claims to pursue with a labor law attorney for these videos but you should keep your eyes open for labor law violations.