On September 12, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wrote to National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Member Craig Becker, asking him what role he had in drafting a Service Employee International Union (SEIU) manual instructing union organizers how to intimidate business into taking away the secret ballot from workers.
Becker served as Associate General Counsel for SEIU before being recess-appointed to the NLRB by President Obama in March 2010. His nomination was stalled in the Democratic controlled Senate because enough Senators to uphold a filibuster felt his views on labor law were too controversial.
Becker, despite being a former union attorney, is now supposed to be a neutral judge on the NLRB. His writings and many decisions since being appointed indicate a strong bias against business.
The manual, first exposed by The Washington Times in July, came to light during a lawsuit brought by the catering company Sodexo Inc. against SEIU. Sodexo claims that SEIU engaged in an “illegal campaign of extortion,” and brought Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act charges against the union.
However, the revelations came too late for the Senators who questioned Becker during his NLRB nomination hearings.
Sen. Hatch mentions several instances where he questioned Becker “both in person and in writing” about corporate campaign tactics. “At no point in any of [Becker’s] answers did [he] disclose [his] opinion about the propriety of “corporate campaign” tactics or any information regarding [his] role in advising union members that engage in these tactics,” says Hatch.
However, during one answer, Becker dodged a question on whether he counseled the SEIU on corporate campaigns. He responded, “My duties as Associate General Counsel to SEIU have included providing advice concerning organizing and contract campaigns.” The manual in question is called Contract Campaign Manual, which shows at the very least Becker knew about and probably used it.
Hatch described the manual as advising “union members to engage in tactics designed to attack the reputation of an employer as well as its managers and to purposefully damage an employer’s relationship with vendors and customers. In addition, it advises employees to uncover “dirt” on management officials and publicize the information in order to obtain leverage in contract negotiations. The manual even goes so far as to encourage union members to disobey certain laws when it serves the union’s purposes.”
In its handbook, SEIU details how “outside pressure can involve jeopardizing relationships between the employer and lenders, investors, stockholders, customers, clients, patients, tenants, politicians, or others on whom the employer depends for funds.” The manual also advises the use of legal and regulatory pressure to “threaten the employer with costly action by government agencies or the courts.”
It details the use of community groups to “damage an employer’s public image and ties with community leaders and organizations.” It advises going after top management officials personally and any group which associates with them.
Taken together, these tactics comprise what is known as a corporate campaign—a strategy unions use to strong-arm companies into signing so called “neutrality agreements.” In exchange for having the union stops attacking their business (and in many cases the managers personally,) companies will capitulate to the union’s demands and sign away employee rights. The demands generally include: taking away employees’ right to a secret ballot in the union elections, the ability of an employers to communicate with employees, signing exclusive representation agreements, and agreeing to allow an arbitrator to write the first contract between the company and the union.
Sen. Hatch and Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) recently introduced The Employee Right Act (S. 1507, H.R. 2810) which would help end some of the most egregious practices of corporate campaigns. Among other provisions, the Employee Rights Act provides a guarantee for workers’ right to a secret ballot and require the union to recertify by the secret ballot every three years. The bill also protects workers against union coercion and intimidation while trying to decertify a union.
Finally the bill also criminalizes union threats. The Supreme Court’s 1973 Enmons decision exempted 1973 union violence from prosecution under the Hobbs Act of 1946, which makes it a federal crime to inhibit interstate commerce by robbery or extortion, as long as it is carried out to further “union objectives.” The Employee Right Act would close the union exemption.
While not criminalizing the actions of corporate campaigns Hatch and Scott’s bill does make them superfluous because it does away with their goals. More than any other bill in recent memory the Employee Rights Act protects both workers and employers.
Sen. Hatch raises very serious questions which could bring to light the extent of Becker’s involvement, and whether he advised the SEIU or other clients to engage in these extortionate and possibly illegal tactics. While his involvement with the intimidation manual is still unknown, his having spent years as an attorney at the SEIU makes it hard to believe he wouldn’t have known of its existence. In the coming weeks, Becker may have to provide some difficult answers to Congress—answers he has avoided to date.