Raid Elections: Another Problems for Unions?

By Scott, Clyde; Arnold, Edwin et al. | Public Personnel Management, Winter 1992 | Go to article overview

Raid Elections: Another Problems for Unions?


Scott, Clyde, Arnold, Edwin, Odewahn, Charles, Public Personnel Management


One of the problems confronting the American labor movement is the raid election. In a raid election an outside, or challenger, union attempts to increase its membership at the expense of an incumbent union. This article examines the extent and outcomes of raid elections as well as the legal environment of such elections. In addition, the results of a survey of employers involved in raid elections are presented.

The problems confronting the American labor movement have been widely discussed and the subject of much research in recent years. These problems include the increasing number of decertification elections, the decreasing percentage of the labor force represented by unions, and the growing number of contracts rejected by the members. These, and others, have been viewed as either problems or symptoms of problems facing the labor movement and as possible threats to the institution of collective bargaining.

One potential problem that has not been the subject of much research is the raid election (a multi-union election involving an incumbent). Raid elections pose two problems from the union perspective. First, by definition a raid election involves inter-union rivalry in which an outside or challenger union is attempting to increase its membership at the expense of an incumbent union. No new union members are added to the rolls as a result of the election. Of course, if the challenger wins the election, it gains new members. At the same time, however, the incumbent has lost an equal number of members. If the incumbent wins the election, the challenger gains no new members. Thus, the net effect of a raid election won by either the incumbent or the challenger is a zero membership gain for the union movement. Additionally, the unions involved have expended funds and effort fighting each other that might have been used organizing the unorganized.

The second problem with raid elections from the union perspective is that neither the incumbent nor the challenger is assured of winning the election. The election could result in the incumbent being decertified and no new bargaining agent being certified. Thus, the raid election can have the same outcome as a decertification election and could result in a net decrease in the overall number of union members.

From the perspective of bargaining unit members, however, raid elections serve a useful purpose. They allow members who may be dissatisfied with their union the opportunity to discontinue their relationship with that union while continuing to enjoy the benefits of union representation. In a decertification election the choice is between the incumbent and no union. A raid election gives members the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the union that currently represents them while simultaneously voting in a new bargaining representative.

From the employer's perspective, the raid election presents the employer with the opportunity either to actively work for non-union status, to work to retain the incumbent, or to support a challenging union that the employer would prefer dealing with.

This article investigates the extent and outcomes of raid elections that occurred between 1980 and 1988. Additional insights into the raid election are provided by data from a questionnaire sent to employers involved in raid elections during this time period.

Extent and Outcomes of Raid Elections

As Table 1 shows, a total of 632 raid elections involving over 90 thousand eligible voters were conducted by the National Labor Relations Board between 1980 and 1988. Of these, 340 (53.8 percent) were won by the incumbent, 223 (35.3 percent) were won by the challenger, and 69 (10.9 percent) resulted in neither union winning. Table 1 also reveals that while there is some yearly variation, overall 84 percent of those eligible voted in raid elections (a slightly lower percentage than vote in all representation elections).

Some variation in election outcomes is also shown in Table 1.

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