It seems like a classic labor-management sweetheart deal. But a case set to go before a federal administrative law judge in Chicago is likely to have implications well beyond the deal itself. The trial, scheduled for June 11, pits a major security firm, the Wackenhut Corporation, against the defendants, Service Employees International Union Local 1 and the Chicago Building Owners and Managers’ Association (BOMA). Wackenhut earlier had filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, charging the SEIU and BOMA with entering into agreements that effectively forced association members to hire security companies with SEIU-unionized work forces. Additionally, Wackenhut charged, the defendants coerced building managers to end any existing business relationships with nonunion security companies. The real significance of the case, however, may be as a test of the legitimacy of pending card-check legislation.
Wackenhut charges that the union and the building owners association colluded to coerce both employers and employees to accept union monopoly bargaining. “This type of secondary activity is clearly unlawful under federal labor law,” said attorney Dennis Devaney, who is representing the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based Wackenhut. “Federal law expressly prohibits labor agreements that force employers to cease doing business with neutral third-party companies.” Both SEIU and BOMA deny engaging in illegal under-the-table deals. But after investigating the charge, the NLRB took the next legal step by issuing a complaint against the two organizations, and requesting a trial.
The larger issue is the tactics that unions are using with increasing regularity at a time when their overall share of the labor force is down to 12 percent. They’re brazenly using “top-down” pressure against employers to accept collective-bargaining agreements, regardless of what workers want. Tactics include “neutrality agreements” that force employers to accept a “see, hear and speak no evil” approach to union organizing around them. Often, such agreements cover union card-check campaigns by which unions can bypass standard employee elections in order to win representation. The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on March 1 passed legislation, the oddly-named Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800), by a 241-185 margin that would force employers to recognize a union as the sole bargaining agent if a majority of workers sign cards. Card checks, though legal, are especially controversial because union organizers often intimidate workers, including in their homes, in an effort to obtain signatures. An NLRB ruling in favor of Wackenhut almost assuredly would limit the circumstances under which unions could impose card checks and other coercive methods to boost membership. (PR-inside.com, 5/15/07).