Big businesses trying to discourage their workers from unionizing can spend millions hiring outside consultants to spread information about the dangers of collective bargaining.
That's not surprising. Here's what is: Up until recently, employers could use a loophole to keep private the fact that they'd paid for these third-party consultants, who would often then appear to the workers as independent authorities on the dangers of unionizing.
"People are scared to death, oftentimes, because they'll get this parade of horribles about, 'If they join this union you'll lose your job, you'll lose [your] benefits.' And little do they know the company just spent $2 million on the consultant to tell them all these horrific things," says Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on a recent episode of The Ezra Klein Show podcast.
Perez, widely floated as a dark horse VP pick for Hillary Clinton, joined Vox's Ezra Klein for a wide-ranging conversation that touched on union organizing, President Barack Obama's economic record, and Perez's childhood in Buffalo, New York. (You can listen to the discussion by subscribing to the podcast or streaming it on SoundCloud or Spotify.)
Perez and Klein also talked about the Labor Department's new rule forcing employers to disclose the consultants they've hired for help fighting unions, and why Perez hopes it will help "level the playing field" between management and union organizers.
We want to make sure that during union organizing campaigns, workers understand the information that's coming at them. There's a whole world of consultants who are out there who advise employers on how to beat back union organizing efforts. …
Under the LMRDA — the Labor Management Reporting Disclosure Act — the law calls for disclosure when you have hired one of these union-busting consultants. But there was a loophole employers were driving a mack truck through — so if you're a worker and trying to figure out if you want to join a union, you're getting all the information. And what we're saying [to the businesses], "You have to disclose who you hired and how much you paid them."
If you can put sunshine out there, it can be a disinfectant. So the purpose of the LMRDA is to level the playing field. Under the status quo, ironically, unions' organizing campaigns have significantly greater reporting requirements than the company. The purpose of this is to help people make informed judgments; people are scared to death, oftentimes, because they'll get this parade of horribles about, "If they join this union you'll lose your job, you'll lose their benefits." And little do they know the company just spent $2 million on the consultant to tell them all these horrific things.
So we're thinking of everything we can do to create a level playing field, because we believe a big problem today is the issue of leverage.
Among the other topics Perez and Klein discussed:
- The minimum wage, and why Perez doesn't think the Democrats have moved too far to the left on the question
- The death of Perez's father when Perez was 10, and the role of his surrogate father — a Teamster — in helping raise him
- Whether America should make increasing the labor force participation rate a critical goal
- Why Perez defends Obama's economic record
- The daily routine of a labor secretary (and why Perez gets up at 5:30 am)
- What Perez did to dramatically raise "employee satisfaction" at the Department of Labor
For more podcast conversations — including episodes with Rachel Maddow, Bill Gates, World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and conservative activist Michael Needham — subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show.