John Schmitt and Ben Zipperer of CEPR have a new paper
estimating that "one in seven union organizers and activists are illegally fired while trying to organize unions at their place of work." Technically speaking, it's against the law to fire a worker for being involved in an organizing drive. In practice, though, employers just have to cop to a small fine—back pay averaging around $2,500 per firing—if they break this law. Most businesses are happy to pony up and take out a few key pro-union employees, which usually disrupts the campaign and intimidates the other workers. It's certainly cheaper than granting union recognition.
Under the Bush administration, the CEPR paper found, illegal firings have risen substantially—largely because the current National Labor Relations Board has little interest in punishing union-busting employers. It's no wonder so many unions prefer card-check elections
, in which a majority of workers simply have to sign cards signaling their approval in order to win union representation. The current system of NLRB elections drags on for much too long, giving the employer time to stall, figure out who the culprits are, and do a few illegal firings—which, it seems, happens quite frequently.