Can Unions Win Without the Employee Free Choice Act?
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It was also tremendous encouragement to the organizing committee. They felt so backed up, no longer alone. On some days, when the union reps came the committee welcomed them, and marched in with them. Union reps marched in with 25-30 workers. It was definitely crucial.
The company had created ads of this supposed UFCW organizer, swarthy, unshaven, knocking on the worker’s door at his house. The worker opens the door, and it’s chained, he’s peeking out at a glaring union rep. In the background his wife is holding a baby. The union guy pushes his way in and sits at the table with the worker and his quivering wife, pushing a card at him.
They also had big posters in the plant before we made the agreement, saying union organizers are like cockroaches: “Once you get them in the house it’s hard to get ’em out.” After all that, to have the union walk in the plant with security was a real contradiction.
LN: What about the “no disparagement” agreement?
GB: In the end it didn’t help that much. Smithfield figured out a way to talk about dues and all that stuff anyway. They were not allowed to threaten to close the plant, but they got all these articles about plant closings and put them all over without comment.
The role of the monitor was that he kept them honest. Nobody got fired, and if they did we would have had an immediate hearing. We saw all their literature first. If we couldn’t agree, the monitor would decide within 24 to 48 hours. Both sides went to the monitor a bunch of times.
One fact that was really important was the limit on the mandatory meetings management could call. There were only two, the length was defined, they had to be scripted, and the union saw the script in advance. Limiting those to a half-hour script really helped, especially in the last week when companies always get really aggressive. The company couldn’t take any questions from the floor.
LN: So these election rules that Smithfield agreed to were very unusual. How did UFCW get Smithfield to agree to rules like that?
GB: Those rules came about in a settlement of Smithfield’s suit against the union, which they filed because of our two-and-a-half-year national public campaign criticizing their treatment of workers in the plant. We had demonstrations at supermarkets, at their annual shareholders meetings, and at numerous events of Paula Deen, the cooking celebrity who was under contract to promote Smithfield’s brand. This type of activity prompted the company to file suit -- and we continued it even after the suit was filed.
LN: Can the penalties in EFCA keep employers from breaking the law, or are they still too mild?
GB: Stiff penalties are definitely important, but what I would like to see would be that a fired worker could be put back to work immediately. That is much more important than the triple back pay. Getting one of our best people put back 10 years later didn’t help us for the 10 years he was gone.
But if they fired somebody and that person was put back to work immediately and everybody saw that, it would be really powerful.
Even after we get card check with EFCA, companies can still run effective campaigns against card signing. It’s the same scare. Everybody would rather have the choice of EFCA rules, but unions still have to realize that we can’t avoid organizing and empowering workers -- that’s what it’s all about.