- Hot Topics
- Take Action
- Press Center
- About Us
- Support Us
|“Relentless And Unlawful Campaign to Oust the Union” Exposed In Malpractice Suit Against Unionbuster|
Hired guns make millions attacking workers who stand up for themselves, says American Rights at Work
WASHINGTON, DC—The ongoing discovery phase of a malpractice case against workplace law giant Jackson Lewis offers an extraordinary inside look at a well-financed and all-too-common attack against workers who attempt to form unions.
Industrial battery manufacturer EnerSys is suing its former legal counsel to recoup costs associated with an eight-year campaign to oppose and dismantle the union formed by employees at its now-closed plant in Sumter, South Carolina. In the complaint filed with the South Carolina state court on April 23, 2004, EnerSys claims that from 1994 through October 2003 the company “relied exclusively” on Jackson Lewis “for all legal dealings with the Union and employees at the Sumter plant.” In January 2004, EnerSys paid $7.75 million to its former employees in settlement of numerous lawsuits and labor law violations incurred during its unionbusting efforts. In addition to that settlement, EnerSys allegedly paid Jackson Lewis $2.7 million in fees for services that included what EnerSys characterized as “a relentless and unlawful campaign to oust the union.”
“Hired guns make millions attacking workers when they try to stand up for themselves,” says David Bonior, Board Chair of American Rights at Work, the new workers’ rights advocacy organization that surfaced the case and is continuing its efforts to uncover the pattern of unionbusting occurrences across the country. The New York Times published a feature story on the lawsuit today (see "How Do You Drive Out a Union? South Carolina Factory Provides a Textbook Case"). “Unions aren’t declining because workers no longer want them. Union membership is down because employers will spare no expense to keep them out.”
According to research by Cornell University’s Kate Bronfenbrenner, 75 percent of employers faced with union organizing campaigns hire union avoidance consultants like Jackson Lewis. Additionally, 25 percent of employers illegally fire pro-union employees during organizing campaigns; and 51 percent illegally threaten to close down worksites if employees choose to form a union. When workers beat the odds and form unions despite these obstacles, union avoidance firms often counsel employers on avoiding contract negotiations.
“What makes this case so unusual is the public exposure by an employer of the strategies often used to crush unions or prevent their formation,” says Fred Feinstein, former General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency mandated to protect workers from violations of U.S. labor law. “There are serious concerns about the failure of the law to adequately protect the important right of workers to organize.”
According to Jackson Lewis’ website, the law firm has placed “a high premium on preventive strategies and positive solutions in the practice of workplace law” for over 45 years. The firm also claims to have “assisted many employers in winning NLRB elections or in avoiding union elections altogether.”
Court documents from the malpractice case reveal anti-union activity including:
• Manipulating the contract to workers’ detriment: In February 1999, an arbitrator ruled that EnerSys illegally implemented a gainsharing plan in the union contract that resulted in a 16% pay reduction.
• Firing employees for union activity: The NLRB issued an Unfair Labor Practice complaint that alleged that EnerSys illegally fired seven union leaders related to union organizing between 2000 and 2002.
• Hiring human resources staff to implement unionbusting strategies: Former EnerSys Human Resources Manager Choice Phillips testified in the gainsharing arbitration that he was fired by EnerSys in February 2000 for failing to execute unlawful anti-union strategies the company ordered him to implement.
• Actively participating in the union decertification drive: Tom Brown, former EnerSys worker and leader of the campaign to decertify the union, testified that he was receiving “under the table” cash payments for his work to promote the decertification campaign.
• Illegally withdrawing union recognition: EnerSys contends that it relied on Jackson Lewis’ advice to withdraw recognition from the union in June 2001, without an official NLRB decertification election.
“The settlement to former EnerSys workers does not begin to adequately compensate them for what they’ve been through,” says Stephen Koslow, the IUE-CWA attorney who represented the EnerSys workers in the legal proceedings.
Former quality control inspector Vince Gaillard, who was illegally fired in 2001 after 26 years at the Sumter plant, believes that the company’s anti-union campaign was designed to send a clear message, “you have to stay in your place and no place else.”
American Rights at Work continues to monitor the assault on workers and the inadequacy of current labor law to protect them. The group currently is collecting stories from across the country where workers face anti-union campaigns involving Jackson Lewis. Next year, American Rights at Work will release reports on the anti-union industry and unionbusting activity at major corporations like Wal-Mart. “This case is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Bonior.
|Press Center Home|
|In the News|
American Rights at Work is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the freedom of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with employers.