Freedom Foundation

Guide explains how unions indoctrinate employees into joining

A report released last year by the union-backed nonprofit Jobs with Justice explained in detail how unions can use new hire orientations to indoctrinate employees into signing up for union membership and becoming union activists.

The nearly 30-page guide, “Making the Case for Union Membership: The Strategic Value of New Hire Orientations,” is not specific to public or private-sector unions, but takes on added significance for government unions because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending decision in Janus v. AFSCME, in which the Court is generally anticipated to strike down state laws requiring public employees to financially support a union as a condition of employment.

Nervous unions and their political allies in state governments have been hard at work for years to preemptively blunt the impact of the decision and make sure the cycle of government-facilitated union dues collection helping to elect union-friendly politicians continues unabated.

One of the more common methods government unions are implementing involves requiring newly-hired public employees to participate in captive-audience meetings with union organizers. Sometimes these requirements are negotiated with favorable government employers, as was the case when SEIU 775 and Gov. Jay Inslee agreed to allow union organizers access to newly hired home care workers in not one, but two captive audience settings.

In other cases, the requirements are simply written into state law, as occurred when the Washington State Legislature, under Democratic control, this year adopted SB 6229 and required all public employers in the state to give unions at least 30 minutes access to new hires.

These tactics, and similar efforts underway in other states, largely mimic the recommendations of the Jobs with Justice report issued in September 2016 and revised in October 2017.

Describing the orientations as “a strategic tool for building union power,” the guide explains in detail best practices to pressure, coerce and indoctrinate employees with the goal of persuading them to join the union at minimum and, if possible, become activists.

The report encourages unions to think of the orientations as “formal socialization” — a “structured and organized experience, typically occurring in a group setting” — the purpose of which is to “instill in new members… loyalty to the union, willingness to volunteer on behalf of the union, and sense of responsibility to the union.”

Throughout, the focus of the report is on overcoming “anti-union stigmas and political biases” and getting employees to view the union favorably through messaging and manipulation, not by providing a better product or service. It is, at its core, an indoctrination how-to guide.

To summarize some of the report’s key points:

  • Unions are advised to conduct orientations “as close to a new hire’s start date as possible,” since “(w)aiting to orient new hires on the union and its value to them allows others, like an employer or friend with anti-union views, time to have more influence over a new hire’s perception of the union.”
  • If possible, the report strongly encourages unions to conduct their membership pitches during the employer’s regular orientation program:
    • “Employer orientations are typically mandatory, on the clock, and during new employees’ first few days on the job. If a union’s own orientation is part of a formal workplace orientation program, the union has the means to interact with every new employee in person. Participation in an employer’s new hire orientation can also validate the union’s role in the workplace, giving it legitimacy in the eyes of new hires.”
  • Lengthy orientations are strongly promoted: “The longer the orientation, the better.” The report notes, “If your local union’s orientation is 15 minutes in length, increase it to 30 minutes. If you typically hold a 30-minute orientation, increase it to 60 minutes. If there is a way to make it three hours, then do so…”
  • Ever mindful of progressive identity politics, unions are encouraged to send organizers, called “facilitators,” who share the same “race, age, gender, language preferences and other characteristics” of the employees they are seeking to persuade.
  • Defending unions’ high levels of political activity is emphasized throughout: “Don’t assume people will know why unions choose to participate in politics or engage in community service. And when it comes to politics, do not shy away from the role of unions…”
  • One of unions’ biggest peeves is being described as third-party entities separate from the employees which is, of course, precisely what they are. Standard union messaging involves telling employees that they are the union. This point is driven home ad nauseum in the report, which notes, for example:
    • “Facilitators should also find ways to talk about the union as ‘we’ to develop a sense of identity, rather than talking about the union as a third-party institution that is separate and apart from bargaining unit members.”
    • “Referring to the union in the third person (‘they’ rather than ‘we’) should also be avoided, as it can create a sense of separation between the union and the members and new hires present at the orientation.”
    • “…(R)esisting the inclination to describe ‘the union’ as a third party that acts for people, and instead using terms that give members agency, such as ‘joining together’; replacing terms that people don’t identify with, like ‘worker,’ in favor of humanizing terms such as ‘working people…’”
  • Another means of suggested subtle coercion involves having organizers present union membership forms as though signing up is normal, expected and, implicitly, required:
    • “Unions should present the cards and related forms with confidence. Assume the new hires want to join the union.”
      “…(P)resent the union application as matter-of-factly as any other paperwork.”
  • The use of peer pressure and group-think is strongly encouraged:
    • “Telling new hires that many members participate in one union activity or another can encourage participation since people tend to do what is popular. Explaining to new hires that members are expected to participate can also encourage follow-through, by establishing a norm.”
  • Conflict should be downplayed, even if it exists in the workplace and the union is part of it:
    • “Facilitators should also remain upbeat and positive, even if the union has an antagonistic relationship with management. New hires must associate joining and forming unions with a move toward something positive. This is an important time to demonstrate that unions are a source of solutions, and not a source of problems. New hires do not know any past bad history with management and do not want management to view them as troublemakers.”
  • Bribe workers with trivial giveaways:
    • “Unions should also hand out branded freebies at their formal orientations. People like free stuff, and they like to show that they are a part of something… Giving new hires free union gear and goodies can build an identity with the union inside and outside the workplace…”
  • Apply a little extra pressure to employees who are reluctant to join up:
    • “Unions should also clarify that certain benefits are only available to full, dues-paying members. Providing a calm, matter-of-fact explanation can help win over new hires who are ‘on the fence’ about joining, and don’t realize all that union membership has to offer.”
    • If that doesn’t work, “There are still opportunities for unions to educate members about the benefits of union membership with individuals who initially decide against joining. The Michigan Education Association developed a useful approach to sign up new members in a right-to-work environment. When new hires indicate that they do not want to join the MEA, a facilitator asks them to complete a ‘non-member informed consent form.’ This document lists all the rights and opportunities the new hires are choosing to decline by not joining the union. The facilitator walks them through every item, creating the opportunity to explain one more time the value and benefits of union membership. The MEA reports that many new hires who initially decline to join the union eventually decide to sign up after reviewing the non-consent form.”
  • Use “rituals” to make people feel like they just joined a cult and can’t get out:
    • “Celebrate a new hire’s decision to join the union.”
    • “The unions should play up the fact that it is now a part of a new member’s life. If unions already have initiation ceremonies or rituals to recognize new members, they should maintain and improve them as necessary. Unions that lack initiation ceremonies or welcoming rituals should create them. Rituals can include:
      • Recognizing new members at their first union meeting, including providing a round of applause from other members and the presentation of a small token of appreciation.
      • Written recognition of new members in the union’s newsletter or other member communications.
    • “Actors’ Equity, the union for stage actors and stage managers, exemplifies this practice. Equity members celebrate the moment they join the union. The union takes photos of new Equity Members with their union cards at their orientation session. Soon after, the union posts these pictures on social media channels, and encourages the new members to do the same on their social media accounts. A public celebration of a person’s induction into the union helps develop commitment and a positive attitude toward the union, while also creating free, positive public relations exposure for the union.”

While some legislative advocates of these captive-audience meetings attempt to defend them as merely educational opportunities for employees to learn about their new job, the report is clear about the ultimate goal of these meetings: “Encourage new hires to become active union members”; “sign up new members”; and make sure the union “does not lose out on dues money and the potential participation of new active members.”

As bad as the fairly sanitized report may sound when read by a detached observer, the reality on the ground is far worse.

For example, public records obtained by the Freedom Foundation from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) indicate the captive audience meetings state-paid home care aides sit through with SEIU 775 organizers are highly coercive. In the documents, DSHS staff describe SEIU 775 organizers presenting at the IP contracting appointments as, “aggressive,” “forceful,” “rude,” “unprofessional,” “coercive,” “demanding,” and “bullying.” These same staff report caregivers feeling, “pressured,” “misled,” “tricked,” “coerced,” “intimidated” and “forced” into signing SEIU membership forms. In at least one case, DSHS staff report a caregiver being reduced to tears by the high-pressure tactics of two SEIU organizers.

Thanks to the Legislature’s passage of SB 6229 earlier this year (a bill sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, a union-represented fire fighter from Sequim), all public employees in the state will soon be subjected to similar treatment.