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Socially Responsible Businesses Redefine Labor Relations by Collaborating with Employees and Unions

August 27, 2007

Liz Cattaneo
202-822-2127 x104
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WASHINGTON, DC- In the 21st century workplace, adversarial relationships pitting employers against unions increasingly are being replaced with cooperative labor relations models.  In observance of Labor Day, American Rights at Work profiles successful partnerships between employers, their employees, and their unions in the third annual edition of the Labor Day List: Partnerships that Work.

"At this time of soaring foreclosure rates, plant closings, layoffs, bankruptcies, and numerous food recalls, corporations desperately need to reform their irresponsible business practices. The Labor Day List employers and their employees' labor unions hold an alternative vision for the American workplace," says Mary Beth Maxwell, Executive Director of American Rights at Work. "Too many companies are competing in a race to the bottom with wages and labor standards.  In today's economy, everyone profits when employees, their unions, and management work in partnership."

This year's Labor Day List includes a cross-section of national and regional employers of varying sizes in a range of industries such as telecommunications, construction, and health care.  All featured employers negotiated good contracts with their employees' unions and demonstrate a commitment to respecting workers' freedom to choose union representation.  Many embrace higher labor standards than those mandated by current U.S. labor law.

Corporate leaders see unions as an asset, not an obstacle to achieving business success.  Mark Royse, AT&T's Executive Vice President of Labor Relations comments, "AT&T and its customers benefit from the skills and professionalism of union-represented employees in our business units. Our company has long taken pride in our cooperative and respectful relationship with the unions that represent our employees." AT&T proves that a large company can have a cooperative relationship with its workers' unions and still remain competitive and profitable. 

The practices of featured employers illustrate how businesses work best when employees have a say in how they run.  Partnering with the United Steelworkers enabled paper firm SCA Tissue North America to develop an efficient and environmentally-sound manufacturing system.  An integral component of the labor-management partnership is the Joint Advisory Committee comprised of SCA company executives and union leaders.  Joey Weston, a converting technician and president of the union at one SCA facility in Barton, AL, speaks to the value of having an employer who respects workers' rights, "It gave me the feeling they were truly concerned about their employees and willing to listen to them." 

Organic strawberry producer Swanton Berry Farm encourages worker input in decision-making because it strengthens the success of the farm operation.  Swanton founder Jim Cochran says, "Everything we do is a result of a number of discussions between employees and management on what is the best way to do things."  Swanton Berry Farm and the United Farm Workers union offer leadership and communications training, preparing workers to take part directly in the decision-making process.

Other Labor Day List employers adopted neutral positions on union formation, ensuring that their workers have a free and fair choice to form unions without interference.  In November 2006, DoubleTree Hotel San Jose, part of the Hilton family of hotels, recognized UNITE HERE as the union representative for 270 of its employees.  Union recognition came through majority sign-up, a process that allows workers to sign cards indicating their choice to belong to a union.  Early on, Montefiore Medical Center recognized the advantages of collaborating with its employees and their unions to deliver high-quality patient care.  Montefiore is the first hospital in New York City to voluntarily recognize its workers' unions, the Service Employees International Union and the New York State Nurses Association.

Investing in employees and partnering with their unions creates a stronger workforce and a better end product.  Stromberg Metal Works CEO Bob Gawne views his company's relationship with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association as simply a sound business strategy.  As Gawne explains, "With a union you have better training, structures, order in place, [and] retirement security."  Thompson Electric's innovative partnership with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and industry trade group the National Electrical Contractors Association results in a skilled workforce that makes the company a leading provider of electrical services. 

The practices of Labor Day List employers are especially noteworthy when measured against the prevailing behavior of U.S. employers.  A recent University of Illinois at Chicago study found that 51 percent of employers facing union organizing drives coerce employees into opposing unions with bribes or special favors, and 30 percent illegally fire pro-union employees.  The study also found that 82 percent of employers hire unionbusting consultants to fight union organizing drives.

For a complete copy of the 2007 Labor Day List: Partnerships that Work, click here. For interview requests, please contact Liz Cattaneo at 202-822-2127 ext. 104, or at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .