Trends in Union Corporate Campaigns
A Briefing Book
Jarol B. Manheim
The George Washington University
This briefing book summarizes the phenomenon known as the "corporate campaign" and identifies current trends in campaign strategy and tactics. Among the principal observations and findings are the following:
- The corporate campaign was invented by the New Left in the 1970s, and by the 1990s was in widespread use by the labor movement. To date, unions have waged nearly 300 campaigns against employers, primarily, though not exclusively, to facilitate organizing.
- Corporate campaigns employ "power structure analysis" to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in the critical stakeholder relationships on which all companies depend. This broad strategic approach is then implemented through tactics that range from highly sophisticated financial and governance initiatives to street theater and even psychological warfare.
- Typically, the role of the corporate campaign today is to force management to accede to union demands for "card check and neutrality"—a process by which the union certification procedures administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are effectively circumvented. A recent innovation here is the substitution of non-NLRB elections for card check, which has been coupled with a widening attack on the NLRB itself.
The use and conduct of corporate campaigns has evolved over time. Some recent trends:
- increasing and highly strategic use of shareholder resolutions and proxy voting to pressure directors and senior management;
- continued development of infrastructure (courses, manuals, funding mechanisms) to support corporate campaigns, and a growing population of professionals, now numbering in the hundreds, whose primary job responsibility is to plan and lead them;
- increasing numbers of multi-union, or even movement wide, attacks on individual companies, including activity by transnational union alliances and international labor organizations;
- rapid expansion of networks and coalitions of nonunion allies and surrogates that advance and legitimize union attacks on companies, both within the U.S. and internationally;
- an increase in the use of corporate campaigns for political, policy or ideological purposes, rather than for economic/ employment purposes.
This report concludes that corporate campaigns play an important and growing role as an alternative to labor-management relations as envisioned in the nation's principal governing legislation. Their continued widespread use may have the result of rendering that legislation ineffective or irrelevant.