In response to my two posts on the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), I got forwarded this story. Pro-union student activists, in a recent open letter to SEIU head Andy Stern, angrily denounced what they see as SEIU’s undermining of their efforts, according to Insidehighered.com. The big point of contention is an alleged secret agreement between SEIU and the hospitality union UNITE-HERE on one side, and the “Big 3” food service catering companies — Aramark, Sodexho, and Compass Group — on the other.
Under the terms of the alleged agreement, Aramark will not oppose union organizing drives at certain locations, in exchange for SEIU agreeing not to unionize other locals. Apparently, this took some student activists at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, by surprise.
Student activists have proven reliable allies to labor groups in recent history, and SEIU eagerly solicited their support at Chapel Hill. But, according to the letter, students did SEIU’s bidding on campus only to be left in the lurch.
According to the letter, North Carolina students began organizing workers — at the behest of SEIU — in 2005. They were joined in these efforts by workers from the Southwest Workers Union, a joint labor venture of SEIU and Unite Here. But after working side-by-side with the students, who said they were subjected to Aramark executives’ intimidation, the union leaders abandoned the cause, the letter states.
“When summer break came, the SWU organizers left, promising to return the following year,” according to the letter. “After weeks of unreturned phone calls, students and workers learned that SEIU leaders had cut a deal with Aramark.”
This begs the question: Why SEIU would seek the students’ help in the first place? The only plausible explanation I can see is to put pressure on Aramark to sign the now-controversial agreement, which, if reports about its terms are accurate, is disturbing on its own.
Union members were not informed of the deal, which specifically stipulates that secrecy is “critical to the success” of the agreement.
So what do the unions get from this deal? In the words of the agreement, the unions get “labor peace.” In short, the companies agree not to interfere with unionization efforts, as long as workers only organize on the sites the companies have approved.
Yes, managers should be able to enter into any agreements they see being in the long-term interest of the companies they run — and in this case, Aramark is within its rights to enter into whatever agreement it wishes to with SEIU or any other union. But giving in to threats of labor disruption — the politely named buying of “labor peace” mentioned above — and colluding with the union to determine employees’ decision of whether to join a union — or not — for them can only set a bad precedent. (Thanks to Ben Cunningham and Eli Lehrer for the Insidehighered.com link.)