Is a coalition of private sector union-friendly employers possible?

IN the Unions21 publication ‘Extending Collective Bargaining, Extending Union Influence‘ the TUC’s Paul Nowak asks: “How can we get good unionised employers to speak up more strongly for better rights at work and for the positive role that unions play?”.


Perhaps the first step is to look to the TUC affiliate unions, asking them which of the companies and organisations they’ve worked with have had most benefit from the union relationship – and are happy to go on record. The next step would be to look at what these companies have in common – and whether others in the sector that share these attributes would be receptive to the idea of “speaking-up”.


The second approach might be to look at this from the consumer’s point of view. Listing and promoting products and services from unionised companies would leverage the power of the 6m union members who are also consumers. As Michael Edwards, director of Labor Outreach for the American National Education Association says on their blog: “When someone buys union-made products or hires a unionised service, she “supports the concept of a strong union movement, encourages employers to act fairly and responsibly, and promotes the rights and well-being of America’s working families.”


Edwards encourages writing to managers—whether CEOs of big corporations or managers of local stores—to explain the pro-union and pro-public education motivation for their shopping. “You’d be surprised how such comments can bolster good practices and move even a very large enterprise in the right direction,” he says. This grass-roots action would be the cash advantage to companies which work with unions and encourage others to follow suit.


This is an argument also put forward in the Unions21 publication Extending Collective Bargaining, Extending Union Influence by Dr. Maria Koumenta. She says that “Increases in demand for unionisation can come from consumers if they can be convinced to substitute union for non-union made products. This would involve unionisation becoming a signal of workforce quality including high levels of training, institutionalisation of and adherence to professional codes of conduct, as well as diffusion and incorporation of innovation within the occupation. Such an approach could also go some way in shifting employers’ negative attitudes towards unions.”


These two approaches to campaigning and research to promote the organising of employers  chime well with strategies already employed by unions, but only by creating a national resource that pulls together the fruits of this work could we have the information to decide whether a pro-union association of employers is possible, and how close the union relationship with them could be.


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