The Los Angeles Times recently reported on a “poll” by Hart Research purporting to show widespread labor law violations in the restaurant industry – an industry currently under intense unionization efforts from many major labor unions. The “poll” was commissioned by SEIU worker center “Low Pay is Not OK” – the group orchestrating strikes at fast food restaurants around the country. Erik Wemple, media critic for the Washington Post, exposed that the LA Times merely repeated SEIU talking points and chastised the “poll” for not being randomly conducted and for offering respondents gift cards in exchange for their participation. Despite what the LA Times reported, paying a select group of people to give their opinions does not result in an accurate poll.
Companies that think only union employees can go on strike are sorely mistaken. Non-union employees can and do strike – oftentimes as part of a broader union organizing strategy. An auto parts supplier in Toledo, Ohio recently learned this the hard way.
Workers at Piston Automotive, an important parts supplier to Jeep, walked off the job around 9:00 AM on April 17, 2014 protesting the company’s refusal to recognize that most of the employees wanted to be represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union. By 5:00 PM that evening, without having a secret ballot election, the employees were back at work as members of the UAW.
Since companies have become successful at staying union-free after secret ballot elections, labor unions are reverting to organizing tactics that helped them gain a stronghold in manufacturing many years ago. Namely demanding recognition through card check and striking for recognition.
Card check is a process where employees sign cards that authorize the union to represent them. If a majority of workers in a bargaining unit signed a card, the union can demand that an employer recognize the union as the employees’ representative without having a secret ballot election. For many reasons, employers should generally not recognize a union based on purportedly signed authorization cards.
Once Piston Automotive refused to recognize the union, the workers who signed cards went on strike. Striking for recognition is rarely, but increasingly used. Employees do not like the uncertainty of strikes because they do not know how long the strike will last, are not paid to strike, and may lose benefits during the strike. Nonetheless, workers at Piston Automotive executed their strike flawlessly.
The UAW had demanded for months, without success, that Piston Automotive recognizes it. Fifty of the 70 hourly employees went on strike leaving too few people inside the factory to continue manufacturing parts for Jeep. With production lines stalled and a clear majority of employees supporting the union, the company succumbed to the union’s demand for recognition. This is a blueprint of how unions can achieve recognition and will be followed by other unions.
Piston Automotive apparently was not prepared to continue operating if its employees went on strike and likely did not have a strike plan detailing things like: a strike committee; security issues; temporary workers; subcontracting options; and whether to seek injunctive relief to limit strike activity. All companies – both union and non-union – are encouraged to have a comprehensive strike plan to combat the growing trend of employees unpredictably going on strike.
For additional information about the subject matter of this alert, please contact any member of the Roetzel Employment Services team.
Jose Oliva, a director for the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a prominent worker center, recently explained how worker centers are nonprofit groups that are an alternate form of labor organizing. Most major unions have established and funded their own worker centers to further their own causes.
According to Oliva, a union can collect dues from their members’ paychecks, but a worker center cannot do that. Worker centers do not have a steady flow of income, which means most of their money comes from private foundations – (most of which are funded by union dues).
Because there is a huge growth of worker centers and a sharp decline of traditional unions, Oliva believes workers centers are just third-wave unions. “We had craft unions, then industrial unions in the Industrial Revolution, and now we have a new economy. That new economy has given rise to a new form of unionism that we right now call worker centers.” Oliva went on to admit that one of the major advantages of worker centers is that since they are IRS 501(c)(5) charities, they are not “constrained by the National Labor Relations Act” and do not have to file LM-2s.
Unions are required to file annual LM-2s that transparently track union finances and business dealings. The United Food and Commercial Workers’ union (UFCW) recently filed its LM-2 again admitting that it is the front group for OUR Wal-Mart. Specifically, UFCW’s response to question 11(b) states: “The UFCW has a subsidiary organization maintained in Washington DC named the Organization United For Respect at Wal-Mart whose purpose as stated in the by-laws will be the betterment of the conditions of the current and former associates at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., within the meaning of Section 501(c)(5) of the Internal Revenue Code, and to make Wal-Mart a better corporate citizen.”
Elsewhere in its LM-2, SEIU disclosed that it paid the public relations firm BerlinRosen nearly a quarter of a million dollars from workers’ dues to consult on its Fast Food Forward and Fight for $15 worker campaigns.