[UPDATE] Oct. 29th, 2010 Chapel Hill News reports that Clark and Bigelow have been fired. They will have 14 days to appeal the decision. It appears Council was informed but as per the Town’s rules played no part in the decision.

The Council chambers were definitely rocking last night.

The strange issue of Town employees Clyde Clark’s and Kerry Bigelow’s suspension took center stage as a coalition of local social justice groups and supporters presented their grievances to Council.

According to their petition (OrangeChat) three (Stan Norwood, bus driver) employees were disciplined in “retaliation against workers …for filing grievances relating to racism, abusive management, and health and safety concern”.

This isn’t the first allegation of racism within the public works department (here is my post from 2008, Council Oblivious:How Long Must This Go On?).

I’m waiting with interest to see the results of Town Manager Roger Stancil’s “complete, thorough and fair investigation.”

The petition alleges that the Town hired Capital Associated Industries (CAI) in an effort to derail worker efforts to organize. I know a few of the sitting Council members – Mark Kleinschmidt and Sally Greene, for instance – have been quite clear in their support of labor.

Hiring a consultancy at odds with the declared intent of the Council seems strange but I have observed such inconsistency before – just another case among many (it’s not always clear why a particular consultancy is hired, sometimes it appears that a consultancy is hired to “bless” an existing policy, rates paid are out-of-whack at times, existing relationships between principals of the consultancies and the Town aren’t always disclosed, etc.).

As far as the presenters this evening, Al McSurely stated we were paying $60,000 to CAI, a group notorious for its “union busting”. I spent a few moments googling CAI to see how the claims of “union busting” held up.

I found much of this material on CAI’s website www.capital.org. [BOLDs are mine].

From an event they hosted:

WHAT: Capital Associated Industries, Inc., (CAI), the largest employers’ association in the state, in conjunction with the Employers Coalition of NC, will be holding a legislative breakfast to discuss collective bargaining in North Carolina. CAI anticipates over 30 legislators to attend the event, called The Difficulties in Governing With Unions. Speakers include Greg Mourad, director of legislation for the National Right to Work Committee.

Invitation to Event (PDF)

Their CEO Bruce Clarke on the Employee Free Choice Act:

Business leaders contend that the current process for forming a union is both fair and optimal. If secret balloting is optimal for every other election in America, they say, why not union elections? Union organizers and businesses are both able to make their cases in those elections, says Bruce Clarke, president of Capital Associated Industries. “If a decent employer has time to do that, they’re going to win the election,” Clarke says. Clarke adds that unions want to circumvent secret ballots because they don’t want to lose the elections. (CW: debatable at best)

Triangle BizJournal

From CAI’s online white paper Welcome to CAI’s “Employee Free (Forced) Choice Act” Guide

What Might the New Union Card Look Like?

Unions claim that EFCA preserves the secret ballot and that EMPLOYEES, not EMPLOYERS, would then control whether there is a secret ballot election or just a public “card check”. This is untrue. The fact is that the actual language on the union card itself controls how the card can be used. It is a binding legal document. Guess who designs the card and prints the copies? Yes, the labor union controls the card language. There is NO possibility that unions will print cards which give employees the option to choose a secret ballot election. Further, nothing in the law requires them to offer that choice. (CW: really debatable)

From CAI “constituent” letter template they ask folks to send to the Legislature:

Federal Arbitration of a Collective Bargaining Agreement is an Oxymoron

This bill imposes arbitration of all undecided contract terms after a brief 120 day period of failed negotiations. Every aspect of the work, the pay, the benefits, the rules and the work processes can be put before this panel. This is not bargaining in any sense of the word and it would lay a foundation for future relations between the parties that is fatally flawed. American entrepreneurs and business leaders should not and will not stand for outside determination of their work methods and expense levels. They will shrink US operations and grow in non-union facilities. In Canada, where they have experience with an EFCA-like law, companies have actually closed after dissatisfaction with an arbitrator’s decree (see the E. Gagnon Ltee case).

From their 2010 Summer update:

“Organized Labor Reaches a Roadblock”: Will Focus More on Influencing Executive Orders and Appointments; Watch for a November Surprise?

A senior union official, Stewart Acuff, says labor hopes to get EFCA-like changes from the NLRB:

“[If] we aren’t able to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, we will work with President Obama and Vice President Biden and their appointees to the National Labor Relations Board to change the rules governing forming a union through administrative action to once again allow workers in America access to one of the most basic freedoms in a democracy–the freedom of speech and assembly and association so that workers can build the collective power to challenge the Financial Elite and Get America Back to Work.”

The President has made several pro-labor appointments recently, some on a recess basis. The NLRB now has the votes to make major changes in process, policy and regulations governing a wide spectrum of labor relations topics.

More recently, there is talk of an “November Surprise” where lame duck Members of Congress force through pro-union legislation, perhaps as part of a “must pass” emergency spending bill. Journalist Peyton Miller said recently:

“While he’s stopped campaigning for EFCA, the president may yet have an opportunity to sign it in some form. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka is determined to see card check attached to an urgent bill while Democrats still have decisive congressional majorities. Democratic leaders have indicated that the lame duck session following the November elections may be the best opportunity.”

What does all this mean?

Washington politics and processes are very unpredictable and dependent on the status of seemingly unrelated bills, pressures, perceptions and events. The completion of health reform may open up more time for legislative mischief in the workplace. Stay vigilant and stay tuned!

Call on us if we can help.
Bruce Clarke (bruce.clarke@capital.org)

You might recall that the National Labor Relations Board was weakened by the Reagan administration, ignored mostly by the Clinton administration, gutted by the Bush administration. Obama promised to restore some of its former powers during his candidacy – claiming possible “surprise” is disingenuous at best.

Finally, CAI is a member of the Coalition for NC Jobs (along with other notables like the North Carolina Pork Council, National Right to Work Committee, North Carolina League of Municipalities, etc.).

In January of 2006, associations and businesses concerned about pro-union legislation at the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) joined forces to form the Coalition for North Carolina Jobs (NC Jobs). For the past two years, NC Jobs has successfully stopped every pro-union bill and amendment at the NCGA even after labor unions gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to legislative campaigns.

Unions such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) are intensifying their lobbying and grassroots efforts at the state and federal levels to obtain collective bargaining rights for public employees, which is currently prohibited under North Carolina law. It could mean tens of millions of dollars in dues revenue to their unions.

To combat the unions’ dollars and clout, NC Jobs must expand our membership and increase our grassroots activity at both the federal and state levels.

If the Council’s intent is to support “collective bargaining rights for public employees”, then they need to explain why hiring CAI makes sense.

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