Don’t Buy the Hype, Go Ahead and Shop
The truth behind Black Friday's so-called 'protests'
It is that time of year again: Wednesday night reunions at hometown bars, Thanksgiving dinners on Thursday and shopping on Black Friday.
However, a union created, and not so quaint, tradition is emerging.
For most people, the day after Thanksgiving means taking advantage of holiday sales or recovering from a turkey induced food coma. For some labor unions, Black Friday means ginning up overhyped media stories to bully companies into taking away the secret ballot from their workers during unionization elections.
In September, pro-union writer Josh Eidelson reported in the The Nation that in an "emailed statement, a campaign closely tied to the United Food & Commercial Workers union promised 'widespread, massive strikes and protests for Black Friday'."
A headline in the Huffington Post last week declared: "Walmart Protests Promised To Be Even Bigger This Black Friday." That should not be too difficult since last year's protests garnered more media hype than actual protesters.
Last Black Friday, "After the Bell" host David Asman noted on Fox Business that, "unions fail[ed] miserably to shut down Wal-Marts all over the country … after union activists couldn't gin up enough Wal-Mart employees to join their protests."
On Monday, the Washington Post reported that, "Last year, hundreds of Wal-Mart workers walked off the job in 46 states on Black Friday, according to OUR Wal-Mart, a group advocating for Wal-Mart workers."
Even taking the union front group's statement at face value and inflating its estimate to 1,000, this means that last year's Black Friday protest convinced less than .08 percent of Wal-Mart's 1.3 million employees to join. That's hardly a widespread, massive show of support.
Reports showed that many protesters were not employed by the retailer. As described by "CNN Money" regarding last year’s protests, "hundreds of people — including some employees — have taken part in Black Friday demonstrations."
The UFCW is notorious for paying for protesters — many times even non-union protesters. In 2010, "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central lampooned the UFCW for hiring non-union protesters to protest Wal-Mart. The show revealed that the union was not giving the workers benefits and was paying them minimum wage.
In 2011, Michigan Capitol Confidential documented a case in Michigan where a Grand Rapids carpenters union constructed a fake dispute and paid homeless men to "banner" a business it did not like. In another twist, the homeless men were living at a shelter that received significant funds from the company they were protesting.
What really is at issue is that unions such as the UFCW want to unionize large retailers such as Wal-Mart to boost their ailing membership and generate new dues revenue. Instead of trying to organize the employees themselves, these unions are attempting to strong-arm employers to, among other things, take away the secret ballot from workers.
The strategy is a classic union tactic called a corporate campaign. In a corporate campaign, a union bullies a business by trying to destroy the company's reputation, and in some cases, attacks the reputation of the company's officers personally. They also try to bring regulatory or legal pressured to get the company to capitulate.
To make it all go away, the company simply needs to sign neutrality agreements. These agreements usually include a gag order where the business will not talk to its employees about unionization, will allow the union access to the employer's property, give the union names and the private addresses of employees and have the employer agree to a "card check" election.
A card check election means that the employer will forgo a secret ballot election and recognize a union if a majority of employees sign cards expressing their interest in the union. The problem is that these signatures can be obtained through deception, coercion and intimidation. Card check elections are at the heart of almost all corporate campaigns.
While groups like "OUR Walmart" and "Making Change at Walmart," which claim to be worker centers, are the ones publicly organizing many of the Black Friday protests, they actually are union front groups for the UFCW. The UFCW uses these groups to try to skirt certain labor laws and distance themselves from organizing activities.
In the end, despite the façade of an employee driven disagreement with an employer, the protests Friday are really about one thing: unionization by taking away the secret ballot from workers.
The best thing the public can do is show they understand that the rhetoric is simply a tactic by labor leaders to strong-arm companies and not give in. The easiest way to combat these attacks is simply to ignore them and go shopping.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.