Leaked files from IRI Consultants, a union avoidance firm, obtained by Vice’s Motherboard show the disturbing lengths to which companies will go in order to derail workplace organizing. The leaked records include a spreadsheet of anecdotal personal information the company had gathered about the employees of one client, Conifer Health Solutions, who hired IRI Consultants to thwart a union drive at two hospitals the company owns in Seattle. The document included data about employees’ private lives including descriptions of workers as: ‘lazy’, ‘impressionable’, ‘money oriented’, and ‘a single mother’. IRI Consultants was hired by Google in 2019 at a time when a growing number of the tech giant’s workers were pushing for unionization.
IRI Consultants is only one of many union-busting firms that help business prevent workplace organizing by intimidating workers, tracking employee behavior, and engaging in workplace anti-union propaganda. The war against workplace organizing in the United States through intimidation and surveillance has been an ongoing effort since the 1870s. In response to strikes and other labor agitation, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 was passed by Congress making it illegal for employers to spy on employees and guaranteeing workers the ability to organize and engage in collective bargaining. Nevertheless, companies like Google attempt to circumvent the law by hiring union avoidance firms like IRI Consultants as independent contractors to engage in surveillance and intimidation on their behalf.
As Lauren Gurley reported for Motherboard, “employers in the United States spend roughly $340 million on union avoidance consultants each year.” These union avoidance consultants usually move from one business to the next giving advice to management and holding anti-union education meetings.
Gurley further explains how the leaked documents also demonstrate the detailed profiling of workers that IRI has been involved in. As the documents show, the firm collected incredibly detailed information on 83 Seattle hospital employees, including “personality, temperament, motivations, ethnicity, family background, spouses’ employment, finances, health issues, work ethic, job performance, disciplinary history, and involvement in union activity in the lead-up to a union election.” After workers are profiled, they receive a rating between one to five, one being pro-union and five being pro-company, the metric is then used to target individuals and sway workers to vote “no” during a union election.
Google has since denied the allegations that they engage in personal data collection, arguing they enlisted consulting firms for other reasons and not for the purposes of union busting. However, this is suspicious given that they hired IRI Consultants, which specializes in union avoidance, during a time when Google employees were attempting to organize a union. January 2021 saw the creation of the first tech company union, the Alphabet Workers Union that represents workers at Google. The union has responded to Google’s denial that it collected personal data by telling Motherboard that “Google claims to value privacy, then expends resources on consultants like IRI who are intent on collecting worker data in order to manipulate employees to work against their best interests.”
There has been almost no establishment press coverage on the topic of large corporations hiring union avoidance firms to target workplace organizing. There was one article, published by the New York Times in November of 2019, which noted that Google has hired IRI Consultants. However, the Times has published no stories since then and there has been no corporate news coverage whatsoever of the leaks that Motherboard released in January. In August 2020, The Conversation published an article by John Logan about how “a handful of little-known law and consulting firms do much of the dirty work that keeps companies and other organizations union-free,” which included details about Google’s use of IRI Consultants.
Lauren Gurley, “’Lazy,’ ‘Money-Oriented,’ ‘Single Mother’: How Union-Busting Firms Compile Dossiers on Employees,” Motherboard (Vice), January 5, 2021, https://www.vice.com/en/article/pkdqaz/lazy-money-oriented-single-mother-how-union-busting-firms-compile-dossiers-on-employees.
John Logan, “The Labor-Busting Law Firms and Consultants That Keep Google, Amazon and Other Workplaces Union-Free,” The Conversation, August 24, 2020, https://theconversation.com/the-labor-busting-law-firms-and-consultants-that-keep-google-amazon-and-other-workplaces-union-free-144254.
Student Researcher: Cem Ismail Addemir (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)