In the past decade, dramatic shifts have occurred in how labor unions engage the world’s multinational companies.

The expansion of businesses across borders has motivated the world’s largest unions to form international coalitions and affiliations, enhancing their scope and capabilities.

Unions across the globe are cooperating on an unprecedented scale, sharing strategies and resources, and coordinating efforts to target multinationals as well as entire industry sectors.

NEW RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

Unions now seek decisive market shares in order to control the labor supply to major industry sectors. Union operatives and allies hold key leadership positions on various international organizations, shaping emerging policy in a way that favors their strategic campaigns. Unions spend hundreds of millions on international activities, leveraging the overseas campaigns to gain footholds domestically.

Unions conduct years of intense research on target companies and industry sectors. Comprehensive mapping exercises identify a target company’s:

  • key stakeholders
  • command and control systems
  • business operations, markets, competitors, growth plans, revenue streams and profit centers
  • workforce and related issues
  • legal and regulatory climate
  • supply chains, vital partnerships and core customer relationships

They then exploit weak points and other levers as themes in the campaign.

Unions employ an array of tactics: shareholder initiatives; leveraging relationships with human rights organizations; political and regulatory action; litigation; negative publicity, including coordinating sit-downs, hunger strikes and secondary boycotts that can intimidate the company as well as its customers, suppliers and other important stakeholders.

Unions seek global agreements that incorporate the pro-union tenets of international labor organizations, with core rights for workers and the right to bargain collectively for the employees.

These agreements often require target companies to impose the same obligations on its vendors and successors.

The campaign will attempt to create a negative image of the company through media blitzes and targeted public action. At the same time, in an escalating and coordinated effort to “prove” that problems exist, unions will sponsor litigation and regulatory enforcement actions, often unrelated to labor issues, e.g., mass tor t actions. Through discovery, unions obtain important additional information that can be used to launch the next wave of attacks.

BENEATH THE SURFACE

One of the greatest challenges for target companies is recognizing the campaign in the first place. Unlike more traditional attacks, strategic campaigns are long term, sophisticated and very difficult to identify early on.

What appears to be a series of random acts is, beneath the surface, really a strategic union campaign aimed at the company. By the time a company realizes that it’s a target, it is often too late to respond effectively.