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In Season 2, Episode 15 ("Boys and Girls") of The Office (U.S. series), the warehouse workers in the Pennsylvania branch of the New York-based company begin deciding to unionize.

Vice President of Sales Jan Levinson learns of the workers' discussion from Regional Manager Michael Scott, who is her subordinate and their supervisor. Jan then tells the workers that the company will terminate their employment if they unionize.

Jan (to Michael): What? A union?

...

Michael (to Jan): Let's be rational here. What are the pros, what are the cons?

Jan (to Michael): The cons are that everyone will lose their job, Michael. Everyone. Office, warehouse. What do you think the pros are here?

...

Jan (to workers): Excuse me. Excuse me. I'm told there's been some interest in forming a union, and that Michael supported it. Obviously he's not a friend of yours, because he didn't tell you the facts. So let me.

Jan (to workers): If there is even a whiff of unionizing in this branch, I can guarantee you the branch will be shut down like that. (Snaps) They unionized in Pittsfield, and we all know what happened in Pittsfield. It will cost each of you a fortune in legal fees and union fees and that'll be nothing compared to the cost of losing your jobs. So I would think long and hard before sacrificing your savings and your futures just to send a message.

My understanding was that U.S. employees could not be fired for forming a union.

However, if that were so, this scene would square oddly with the rest of the series, as entire episodes are devoted to displaying that company's reticence towards lawsuits.

A. Was it illegal for Jan to state this threat to their jobs?

B. Would it be illegal for the company to carry out the promised actions?


EDIT: Clarified who the conversations were with.

  • @GeorgeWhite, yes. Michael is Regional Manager for the Scranton branch. Jan is Vice President of Northeastern Sales. Org chart: Warehouse workers -> Michael -> Jan -> CFO (Though as suggested by its content, the last part is from Jan directly to the workers.) – Paul Draper Feb 16 at 21:39
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A. Yes it is clearly illegal to fire employees for unionizing.

B. Companies get around this all the time by closing the facility. That means the managers lose their jobs too, which is incentive for management to keep a union from forming.

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  • Isn't firing an entire facility for unionizing just even bigger version of A? – Paul Draper Feb 17 at 4:52
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    @PaulDraper Corp argues it didn’t fire anybody; it just decided it no longer needed that facility, and therefore no longer needed those employees, so they were let go. Former employees can sue, but now they need to prove in court that the corp wasn’t actually just closing a facility, but instead was trying to prevent unionizing/retaliate against unionizing. If they can prove that, then the court will proscribe some remedies. If not, then the corp has legally done nothing wrong, and they get away with it. Winning the case, of course, requires lawyers, which are expensive. – KRyan Feb 17 at 5:47
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    That said, answers on Stack Exchange must be backed up, Scott. You can’t just say it’s “clearly” anything. If the answer were clear, the question wouldn’t have been asked in the first place. – KRyan Feb 17 at 5:50
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    First - the activity is threatening to close the the location which might be worse than closing it - The United States Supreme Court held in 1965 that closing a business in response to union activity is “not the type of discrimination which is prohibited by the Act.” Textile Workers v. Darlington Mfg. Co., 380 U.S. 263 (1965). – George White Feb 17 at 6:02
  • @KRyan, A. That is of course the case with any employment law ever..."it's not that she was pregnant/black/old/gay; it's that we didn't have a need for that position right then." B. Does the statement "If there is even a whiff of unionizing in this branch, I can guarantee you the branch will be shut down like that" affect anything? – Paul Draper Feb 17 at 7:24

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