Alfred T. DeMaria, a tall, glib, raven-haired Manhattan lawyer, teaches corporate America how to dismantle unions. He is the Carl Sagan of union dumping -- a popularizer of what he calls "the process of de-unionization."

"There are no secrets in this field, no magic wands, no special tactics, no voodoo," says DeMaria. "It is all good solid law that gets you where you are going. We are in a battle for workers' minds."

DeMaria has become wealthy as an arms merchant in a growing corporate battle against unionism, a battle that, according to the National Labor Relations Board, last year cost American labor a record 27,510 union members.

The labor lawyer has written the only step-by-step guide for businessmen that teaches them how to "recapture the union-free status your company once enjoyed!" Just 167 pages long, it sells for $49.95.

DeMaria conducts one-day seminars throughout the Eastern United States where business executives pay $495 each to learn how to manage campaigns so that union members will vote to decertify -- that is, to get rid of their own union.

At lunch during his seminars, DeMaria hands out his business card and tells executives that the best way to decertify a union is to hire "professional help," such as himself. DeMaria boasts that his law firm brings "incredible efficiency" to excising unions. He says he handles one decertification campaign a month and charges an average fee of about $15,000, excluding litigation. Litigation -- years of litigation -- is common.

DeMaria is one of a growing cadre of high-priced consultants who've helped engineer a dramatic increase in the number of elections where workers in individual factories and offices have decided to cast aside their unions.

Accordingly, consultants such as DeMaria are despised by organized labor.

Says Charles McDonald, an AFL-CIO official who helps unions fight back against decertification campaigns: "His living is made off the idea of exterminating us . . . He is a pernicious germ."

Federal government figures show that the number of decertification elections has more than doubled in the past 10 years to 855. Since 1947, when the Taft-Hartley Act empowered workers to vote out their unions, the number of decertification elections has increased tenfold and the percentage lost by unions has grown steadily. Last year unions lost three out of four campaigns.

While the number of workers lost to decertification remains a small fraction of the nation's 22 million union members, experts in industrial relations see decertification as a major threat to organized labor.

"It is important not because of the absolute numbers but because it reflects the recent inability of unions to get the commitment of their members," says John Anderson, an associate professor of industrial relations at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business. "This trend suggests that management is getting much more aggressive in trying to stop employes from having an effective voice in the work place."

Anderson and other labor experts see the surge in decertifications, along with a growing inability of unions to win organizing elections in the first place, as symptoms of both a weak economy and the troubled American labor movement.

Labor's problems, these experts say, include a severe recession that has crippled manufacturing, labor's traditional base; a changing workforce with far more women and young people who are either indifferent or suspicious of unions; movement of industry to Sun Belt areas where unions have never been strong; increased foreign competition forcing management to wrest concessions from unions, and union leaders ignoring the needs of their membership.

Union officials and academics agree, however, that the number of decertifications would not have exploded without the help of anti-union consultants like DeMaria.

"These consultants represent the most important development in American industrial relations in many years," says Richard B. Freeman, a professor of economics at Harvard who specializes in labor law. "You'd have to go back to the 1930s, to the rough, tough, head-busting of the Pinkerton armies, to find anyone as successful in fighting unions. These new guys, however, are not toughs. They are lawyers and media-consultant types. These guys will be around a long while."

George Meany, the late president of the AFL-CIO, warned union members of modern-day union busters who "carry briefcases instead of brass knuckles."

In his Manhattan office, Alfred DeMaria, 45, dressed in a blue pin-stripped suit, white shirt and red silk tie embossed with tiny blue scales of justice, takes offense at being called a "union buster."

"There is no such word. It is a figment of somebody's imagination," complains DeMaria, who says that four years ago his family was threatened by Teamster members who didn't like the way he practiced law. " Union buster is just a shallow kind of appellation that you can throw at somebody when you can't really articulate what it is that is being done."

While arguing that unions, not anti-union consultants, are to blame for the rash of decertifications, DeMaria jumps up from behind his desk, paces and waves his arms.

"You can't attribute this boom, this geometric rise in decertifications, to persons like myself," says DeMaria, the son of a New York City chiropractor. "When unions behave as if they are untouchable, when they are more interested in their own financial affairs than in their membership -- then workers will get uptight. If workers are uptight, then lawyers like myself play a very key role."

Consultants like DeMaria -- along with multimillion-dollar anti-union consulting firms such as West Coast Industrial Relations Association of Santa Clara, Calif., and Modern Management Inc. of Bannockburn, Ill. -- claim that getting rid of a union can benefit not only a company, but also its employes.

"Vote for your company, vote for yourselves, vote for the future, vote for progress . . . No more haggling. No more dues taxation. No more distrust."

That's the message DeMaria tells employers to deliver before a decertification election. This anti-union exhortation is excerpted from a sample "Twenty-fifth hour captive audience speech to all employes" that's included in DeMaria's book. He advises companies to deliver such a speech, where employe attendance is mandatory, "as the last shot" before a vote.

"This should be delivered by the most credible in-house company official who is articulate enough to give a persuasive speech," DeMaria says. In the weeks before a decertification vote, the lawyer says he coaches company officials on how to speak clearly and avoid what the National Labor Relations Board calls "unfair labor practices."

NLRB rules, in theory, strictly limit company involvement in a decertification campaign. Neither company officials nor their consultants are supposed to initiate an anti-union drive, make threats or promises concerning the outcome of an election, or even inquire about the progress of a campaign. But labor scholars, union officials and NLRB records show these rules are often ignored.

"In over 10 percent of the decertifications in California in 1978 and 1979 we found explicit evidence that management had committed unfair labor practices by planting someone who either encouraged anti-labor feeling or informed to the company on pro-union activity," says Columbia University's Anderson, who has written extensively on the subject. "In a significant number of cases these company 'plants' are part of a consultant's strategy."

But for his part, DeMaria says he "bends over backwards" to avoid unfair labor practices, which he calls "U.L.P.s." He says unions pounce on such violations, using the NLRB to overturn decertification votes and nullify all "my other good efforts. We try to keep our clients pristine clean as far as those U.L.P.s are concerned."

What follows is a DeMaria mini-course on staying what the lawyer calls "U.L.P.-free":

"A supervisor might say to an employe, 'Hey, Joe, remember you told me you were going to circulate a petition to get the union out? How's that thing doing, anyway?' That's illegal, a U.L.P. That is considered interrogation.

"Now what you could say, not in question form, is this: 'Joe, you were interested in filing for decertification a while ago. You know, Joe, under NLRB rules, a decert petition has got to be filed 60 to 90 days before the union contract expires and you know what? If you are going to file, you've got 10 days to do it.'

"That is artful and legal."

Among union officials, DeMaria has a reputation as a "sophisticated," "slick" and "shadowy" consultant who steers his clients clear of blatant NLRB violations. DeMaria, in fact, is often so shadowy that some local union leaders never find out that the New York lawyer engineered a union's decertification.

In Louisville in the winter of 1980-81, DeMaria helped manage the decertification of two International Chemical Workers Union units at the Porter Paint Co. without the local union president ever learning DeMaria's name.

"As far as his name is concerned, I didn't know," says Ben Jeffries, then president of ICWU Local 604. "There were no gross unfair labor practices. They were slick. We knew the company had a consulting firm, but we didn't know who it was."

Porter Paint first got wind of DeMaria and the advantages of decertification when the company's personnel manager, Roy Kreuger, went to one of DeMaria's one-day decertification seminars in 1976.

At the seminar, Kreuger says, "we found out that while the company couldn't force workers to vote out the union, it could create an atmosphere that would encourage them to do so."

Jeffries contends the campaign to dump his union at Porter Paint began about a year before the decertification vote when the company began refusing to settle union grievances and told employes they could get better benefits without a union. Union leaders say both of these tactics, which Porter Paint denies using, are often used by management to sour workers on a union.

"The company has a captive audience and we don't. They force people to go to their meetings and listen to the pro-company propaganda. That is what they did at Porter Paint and it worked quite well," says Jeffries.

DeMaria doesn't like to talk about decertification campaigns. He prefers that unions not know he is involved. He bars union officials and reporters from his decertification seminars. He is reticent for good reason. Many unions, fighting for their lives, make a major issue out of a company's hiring of an "outside labor-busting consultant."

That is, if they can find out who the consultant is.

"I don't want the union to have that political advantage," says DeMaria. "They will tell the workers, 'Look, the company hired this guy from New York City.' I try not to let the union take that potshot at me. I don't think it is fair."