The role of front‐line management in anti‐unionization employee communication

Lorelei A. Ortiz (St Edwards University, Austin, Texas, USA)
Julie D. Ford (New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, New Mexico, USA)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Publication date: 8 May 2009



The purpose of this article is to provide analysis of organizational communication used by one major US airline during a Teamsters unionizing campaign as a means for readers to examine what airlines do when faced with the threat of unionization, how they prepare front‐line management for communication with employees, and what role these managers play in unionizing campaigns.


A range of corporate communications from the airline were gathered within a seven‐month period and qualitatively analyzed, including management training manuals, e‐mails, and conference calls between line managers and regional directors.


Anti‐union communication strategies position front‐line managers in the key persuasive role of controlling and disseminating essential top‐down information in the effort to keep employees union‐free, utilizing a complex and multi‐layered organizational approach to train managers for employee communication during a unionizing campaign.

Research limitations/implications

While granted access by America West to observe conference calls and view internal documents the authors were not granted access to listen to Teamsters Union conversations or view Teamsters' internal documents. As a result, the authors realize that their study is limited to an analysis of only one side of the story. Additional research into this topic could include data from both campaigns.

Practical implications

Analysis of organizational anti‐union campaigns and the role of front‐line managers in these campaigns identify key areas of interest for both organizations and unions. This analysis, in conjunction with assessment of the overall results of a unionizing campaign, provides information that organizations can use when selecting strategies for internal communication in times of potential change.


This paper provides useful information about the complex function of line management in supporting and promoting the organization when external factors are perceived as endangering internal infrastructure. It also offers a practical glimpse into a unique type of managerial communication whose aim is to be both cautious and persuasive.



Ortiz, L. and Ford, J. (2009), "The role of front‐line management in anti‐unionization employee communication", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 136-156.

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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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