Bosses have lots of strategies to block their workers from unionizing. There’s firing or disciplining union supporters (which is illegal, but carries such tiny penalties it can be worth it), captive audience meetings, one-on-one interrogations designed to intimidate workers, and so on—but this is one I hadn’t heard of. Midwestern hardware chain Menards (owned by a huge Scott Walker supporter) really, really doesn’t want unions, it’s safe to say. So much so that the contract that managers sign threatens them with a big pay cut if workers join a union on their watch:
A section of the employment agreement titled “Union Activity” sets forth: “The Manager’s income shall be automatically reduced by sixty percent (60%) of what it would have been if a union of any type is recognized within your particular operation during the term of this Agreement. If a union wins an election during this time, your income will automatically be reduced by sixty percent (60%).”
A copy of one such agreement signed in 2015 was obtained by The Progressive magazine. The clause calling on managers to be punished for union successes appears as Appendix J to the agreement. Newly hired managers are asked to initial every page. The agreement also specifies that managers “may be terminated at any time for any or no reason, with or without cause.”
Now, as The Progressive’s Bill Lueders points out, this is not necessarily illegal, since managers don't have the same protections against retaliation over union activity that rank-and-file workers do. But, gosh, do you think this sort of pressure might push a manager to edge right up to that line of illegally threatening or retaliating against workers? And once you’re right on a line, you know how easy it is to just kind of stumble over it. Especially when a 60 percent pay cut is on the line. According to one labor law expert, the employment agreement itself could be illegal:
Carin Clauss, emeritus professor of law at the UW-Madison and former U.S. Solicitor of Labor, told Lueders that the company could face a valid legal challenge were a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board because it's illegal to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees” who are exercising their union rights.
"You can interfere with employees by threatening a third party,” she said.
However this plays out now that the Menards employment agreement is public, remember that while this is an unusual example, Menards isn’t alone among big chains in its extreme opposition to unions. That’s why so many workers are fired or disciplined during union drives, and why workers are so rightfully afraid of their bosses knowing they want to join a union.