Union salting objectives

By Michael L. Fortney

Contents


The basics

A union salting campaign is designed to intimidate or cripple a nonunion contractor. Union salts want a contractor to sign a union contract. If the contractor refuses, union salting is designed to force the contractor to spend money and waste time defending unfair labor practice charges before the NLRB. Understanding the union's objectives and methods are the first steps toward defeating a union salting campaign.

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The union's objective

The union's basic objective during a union salting campaign is to force the company to sign the union's contract, without a vote by the employees. A union will use every method it knows of, scrupulous or not, to achieve its goal.

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The contractor's objective

The contractor's objective is to bid work, get contracts, do a good job, and get paid. Union salting can get in the way of all of these objectives.

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Methods used in a union salting campaign

In the non-construction industry, unions must be voted in by the employees, after an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. However, in the construction industry, the employee's vote is not necessary. Instead, a company can sign what is called a "pre-hire" agreement, which usually forces the company to employ only union members and forces the company to abide by a contract with the union that the company does not negotiate.

In a salting campaign, the union uses different methods to achieve one goal -- forcing the company to sign the union contract. Salting campaigns typically involve one or more of the following:

  • The union sends out a member/employee to apply for and get a job with the company, while concealing his/her union membership/employment. When the "salt" is hired, he/she usually openly tries to organize the other employees, and he/she may even picket the jobsite being worked on, claiming that the company is unfair to its employees. The "salt" normally ends up violating company rules until he/she is fired, or voluntarily quits. The union then files an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB, charging that the company discriminated against the salt.
  • The union sends out a member/employee to apply for a job, while wearing union hat and clothing, pointing out on the application that he/she is a union member and pointing out that he/she wants to organize the company. The salt obviously does not want a career with the company, he/she wants to organize the company. If the salt is not hired, the union files an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB.
  • The union sends the company numerous resumes of members of the local, requesting jobs with the company. Often, the "applicants" don't even know they have "applied" for a job at the company. If the applicants are not hired, the union files an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB.
  • The union successfully enlists a company employee to become a salt, and pays the employee to try to organize the company. The "salt" normally ends up violating company rules until he/she is fired, or voluntarily quits. The union then files an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB.
  • The union entices certain employees to leave the company during key projects, with a "guarantee" to the employee of union rate work for a limited period of time.

Notice that all of the examples end with the union filing an unfair labor practice charge ("ULP") with the NLRB. ULPs can be very expensive for the company to defend, and usually costs the union very little, since the charge is prosecuted by the NLRB, an agency of the federal government. 

During a salting campaign, the union's goals are either (1) forcing the company to sign the union contract, or if unsuccessful, (2) cripple the company with legal fees spent defending ULPs. Some construction trade unions have also used the election procedure of the NLRB to force an election of the employees. Even in losing such an election, the process enables the union to file even more charges with the NLRB, alleging campaign violations, and unfair election proceedings.

Salting campaigns are serious business. They can cost a company several thousand dollars and can result in a company going under. Company project managers and superintendents must understand that their actions can lead to serious liabilities for the company. Each project manager and superintendent must understand what the company believes and what he can and can't say within the bounds of the law.

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