Union corporate campaigns involve a coordinated assault against a targeted company in the hopes of exacting collective-bargaining and other concessions. As Union Corruption Update has chronicled, the Service Employees International Union’s campaign against Wackenhut Corp. has gotten especially ugly. Several months ago, the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based security firm, with more than 35,000 employees, announced it had filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the City of Los Angeles. The company alleged that in refusing to renew a three-year, $14.2 million contract soon after current Mayor (and former SEIU organizer) Anthony Villaraigosa took office, the City had “abused its discretion by treating Wackenhut materially differently from the other bidders.” The suit did not name the SEIU as a defendant, but made clear it viewed the union as persuading local officials to award the contract to another party.
Now Wackenhut has taken the fight national – and directly to the union. On Thursday, November 1, the company filed a 46-page civil RICO suit against the SEIU in Manhattan federal court. The complaint alleges that beginning in October 2003 the union launched a “malicious, international corporate campaign” following the company’s refusal to accede to union demands. The union had charged that Wackenhut, a subsidiary of the U.K.-based Group 4 Securicor, had failed to address security lapses at many of America’s nuclear power plants. The campaign, charged the suit, included a “continual barrage” of anti-Wackenhut flyers, newsletters, Web sites, public demonstrations and political maneuvering. Moreover, the union and its surrogates have made “false and disparaging” statements to the company’s customers, potential customers, employees and other persons in the hopes of driving business away. The suit seeks an injunction and damages, which Wackenhut claims to have run into the millions of dollars.
The Service Employees, now with 1.9 million members, wants representation at the company. Yet Wackenhut already has contracts in force with other unions. The problem is with the type of unions. The company refuses to recognize the SEIU because it is a “mixed” union that admits janitors, hospital workers and other non-security guard employees to its ranks. Company policy long has been to negotiate with “guard-only” labor organizations, the exceptions being three sites at which workers in mixed unions were present beforehand. Wackenhut, the complaint noted, is party to nearly three dozen separate collective-bargaining contracts with six guard-only unions.
The union counters that it is concerned about plant safety. In a prepared statement, Valarie Long, vice president of SEIU’s Northeast powerhouse Local 32BJ and director of the international union’s property services division, noted, “In the last month alone, Wackenhut security lapses were confirmed at one nuclear power plant and Wackenhut guards were caught sleeping on the job at another nuclear power plant.” She added: “Instead of addressing the problems that lead to security lapse after security lapse, Wackenhut fights its employees’ efforts to improve security. As long as Wackenhut continues to oversee lax security at nuclear power plants and other sensitive sites and undermine efforts by SEIU and others to raise the standards of private security in America, SEIU will continue to tell the truth about Wackenhut’s record.” Such an accusation raises the question: Why haven’t any of the unions now under contract raised these same issues? Surely, they most of all, would have found it in their interests. Hopefully, the federal court will consider this question as well. (Associated Press, 11/2/07; other sources).