Union-Buster: Why We Need To Stop Using The Term

“Union-buster” is almost the stuff of playground name-calling. Taken at face-value, it trivializes the UnionProof culture that so many companies have worked to create. In today’s global economy, companies strive to attract the best talent for their business, and work hard to take care of those team members. Used during union organizing campaigns today, the term union-buster is actually being used outside of the context of it’s original meaning.

It’s time to get rid of it.

Where Did the Term Union-Buster Come From?

The term union-buster dates back to Great Britain in the 19th century when workers were no longer prohibited from creating unions. It was a pejorative term back then — unions used it in a negative way to describe employers and other people who opposed union efforts to protect over-worked, underpaid, and frankly, exploited, workers. But now, it’s a term that’s stuck around for more than 250 years.

The truth is, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the term made sense. In those days, at the bargaining table, the goal truly was to protect profit at all costs and “bust” the union if necessary. During that time, stopping violent strikes and keeping people safe even took the form of police and even military intervention, something rarely seen today.

In the U.S. today, much of what unions used to address is taken care of through Human Resource departments (which of course didn’t exist in the 1800’s) and labor legislation such as the Railway Labor Act (1926), the Wagner Act (1935), Taft-Hartley (1947), and Landrum Griffin (1959). Employers today therefore see activities such as picketing, calling for a boycott, or a union waging a corporate campaign as an attempt not to protect workers but to negatively impact the business in order to collect dues.

In order to give strength to the union message, the definition of  union-buster is no longer limited to describing violence against strikers or a refusal to bargain. It has expanded to describe any activities perceived as “unfriendly” toward unions or union organizing. However, one could argue that by applying the label “union-busting” to less dramatic efforts to remain union-free, it is actually losing the power it once had.

Why We Should Stop Using It

Union-buster is a divisive term, once meant to rally workers but now used to accuse employers who are often operating with the best interests of their employees in mind. It conjurers up images of strike-breaking and suggests that those who champion a union-free operating environment are “bad guys” who will do anything to keep employees down, including violence or other illegal activities.  It implies a divide-and-conquer mindset, where union-free businesses and labor organizations are just out to destroy each other. But in a global economy, where companies seek out the best talent to help the business succeed, that kind of divisiveness has no place and will not help anyone succeed.

Today’s union-free companies aren’t focused on union-busting but instead on creating great companies where unions are no longer needed. This is where the idea of a UnionProof Culture comes from. More often, companies are intentionally creating a brilliant workplaces, focusing on engagement and rewarding high performers. Employers want engaged teams, and an environment where every employee enjoys what they do and plays a leading role in the company’s success story.

You can find out more about what it means to have a UnionProof culture here.

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