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Union Facts

Union Myths from Union Mouths

Lies, Damn Lies, and Damn Statistics

Union officials rely on statistics generated by friendly and well-funded researchers, often at academic institutions, to claim that there is widespread oppression of workers’ rights.

The most frequently cited data have been produced by Cornell University professor Kate Bronfenbrenner. She published a study alleging that employers fire employees in about one-quarter of all organizing campaigns and about half of the companies allegedly threaten employees with the partial or full shut-down of operations if the sites were unionized. The underlying data are from a survey of paid union organizers rather than NLRB data. It is incredible that anyone would cite this as an unbiased story.

And not just the survey should be considered biased. Bronfenbrenner herself is a former union organizer. Her university’s Institute for Labor Research received $577,053 from unions in 2005, according to Department of Labor financial disclosure files.

Bronfenbrenner’s work was rehashed in December 2005, when University of Illinois at Chicago professors released an unpublished study commissioned by the union-funded American Rights at Work (ARAW) organization. The principal findings were that in NLRB elections, 30 percent of employers allegedly fired workers when they engaged in union activities, 49 percent threatened to close or relocate all or part of the business if workers elected to form a union, and 82 percent used consultants to design and coordinate their anti-union campaigns.

Again, these stats were based on interviews with union staff and paid for with union money. The study was based on surveys of organizers in 62 Chicagoland elections in 2002, as well as case studies consisting of interviews with 25 union organizers and 11 anonymous employees. ARAW, the sponsoring organization, doesn’t bother to hide its biased agenda. ARAW’s chair is former Rep. David Bonior, whose failed 2002 run for Michigan governor received 55 percent of its PAC contributions from unions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. ARAW’s board includes AFL-CIO president John Sweeney and union activists. Unions gave ARAW $1,866,500 in 2005. While in Congress, Bonior voted with the AFL-CIO agenda on key votes 96 percent of the time.

A 2007 study by the labor-affiliated Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) claimed 23 percent of all unionization campaigns since 2000 involved an illegal firing. But the authors openly admit that the crux of the study relies on “a crude ‘probability’ that a pro-union worker will be fired” that was originally derived from data collected in the early 1980s. The authors also write that the “NLRB does not report the number of workers fired illegally in connection with union election campaigns.” But the NLRB does in fact track that statistic in its Case Activity Tracking System
(CATS) database.

Finally, the CEPR study tabulates only the number of actual elections held, rather than the number of election petitions submitted to the NLRB—a better indicator of the number of unionization campaigns—to determine this misleading conclusion. To that end, CEPR’s study is little more than a “crude” calculation based on outdated and shaky assumptions.

Most importantly, an analysis of government data by the Center for Union Facts found that only 2 percent of unionization campaigns result in an employee being illegally fired. This analysis was based on raw NLRB data from the agency’s CATS database. Among the information recorded is whether the firing is associated with an organizational campaign. This is critical to determining which discharges are associated with organizational campaigns, versus those that are associated with other labor-management disputes, e.g., theft, repeated absence, etc.

Union officials claim coercion stifles pent-up demand for unionization on the part of employees. To that end, the AFL-CIO commissioned a survey from Peter D. Hart Research Associates to suggest that tens of millions of Americans wanted a union but were unable to join one. The AFL-CIO has refused to release the underlying data to the public.

But poll after poll shows a different picture:

  • A majority of registered voters polled (48 percent) say they would rather not be in a union at their job, given the choice. (FOX News Poll conducted by Anderson Robbins Research [D] and Shaw & Company Research [R]) | March 14-16, 2011)

  • 80 percent of private and government union employees agree that workers should have the right to decide whether to join a union and that they should never be forced or coerced to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. (The Word Doctors | October 26-28, 2010)

  • By a polling margin of 46-to-42 percent, a majority of registered voters polled have a generally unfavorable opinion of labor unions. (FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll | March 31-April 1, 2009)

  • 44 percent of adults surveyed say most working Americans do not want to belong to a labor union. Only 23 percent believe otherwise. (Rasmussen Reports | March 13-14, 2009)

  • 81 percent of non-union member adults polled said they would not like to belong to a labor union where they work. (Rasmussen Reports | March 13-14, 2009)

  • 64 percent of workerssay they would prefer their present job to be non-union. (March 2007 Opinion Research Corporation poll)

  • Given the opportunity to vote to join a union, a plurality of employees (40 percent) said they were “definitely against” joining, while another 17.8 percent said they were “probably against” joining. (August 2006 Zogby poll)

  • And given that another 7 percent were “not sure,” that left only about one in three employees who would actually lean toward joining—and even then, those who were “definitely for” joining were the smallest group, at only one in eight. (August 2006 Zogby poll)

  • 51 percent of adults nationwide think labor unions mostly hurt workers who are not members of unions. (Gallup Poll | August 7-10, 2006)