Two regular features of reporting about unions are sometimes hard to tell apart: A lot of reporters don't know basic facts about labor, and anti-union forces have a powerful PR machine tirelessly working to insert anti-union language into the media as "neutral" language. Some mistakes are just that. They're wrong but not necessarily harmful. Others may have become naturalized, repeated so often that even people who don't intend any harm to unions have picked them up. But it's important to try to get things right, and it's particularly important to combat the spread of right-wing messaging, maybe especially when it's been so successfully inserted into the discourse that people don't recognize it for what it is.
This list isn't anywhere close to exhaustive, but it features a few of the big problems I see repeated the most often.
Big labor—Ooh, scary, right? Not just labor, not just unions, not just millions of working people joined together, fighting together rather than one by one, having hired some lawyers and organizers to represent their interests, but big labor. It must be a fair fight between corporate money and Koch brothers money and U.S. Chamber of Commerce money and big labor money, right? No, of course it's not. But those are the assumptions embedded in the term, which is exactly why it's important to push back on it.
Union boss—Try this: "union leader." Though union officers are elected through different processes, some at conventions at which delegates from around the country vote, some by a vote of the union's entire membership, union officers are elected leaders. The term "union boss" is used to create a false equivalence between the boss in the workplace put there from above who holds the power to hire and fire workers, to promote or discipline them, and the elected union leader.
Merit shop—Any time you see this one, you know that the person using it is straight-up anti-union. "Merit shop" refers to non-union companies, usually construction companies, implying that workers are hired and paid according to their individual merit, not union rules. Of course, it turns out that the individual merit of "merit shop" workers leads to lower pay, fewer benefits and a whole lot of misclassification. One of the particularly Orwellian things about this term is that construction unions and union contractors typically invest heavily in apprenticeship and training, while non-union construction firms are less likely to do so.
Closed shop—This term describes something that doesn't exist under law—a workplace in which only existing union members may be hired. Not only are collective bargaining agreements prohibited from limiting hiring to existing union members, they are prohibited from forcing workers to join the union once hired. Any worker can decline to join a union and pay a fee covering their fair share of the work the union does directly representing them. Yet anti-union organizations like the Associated Builders & Contractors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will still use this term, just to see if they can get reporters to quote them doing so without challenging it.
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