Boston Business Journal reports that the SEIU and Change To Win’s Pension Funds will spend the next two weeks increasing their attacks against Bank of America and its CEO, Ken Lewis. The campaign will include media events, demonstrations and a shareholder proxy movement to oust Lewis. The Journal notes that "some are beginning to question the motives" of the union:
“They’re after blood. They’re chumming the waters for sharks,” University of North Carolina-Charlotte finance professor Tony Plath says of the union’s campaign. “I’m not a cheerleader for BofA. But let’s be objective about this: These attacks are all about card check.”
Taking the fight to BofA, Plath and others suggest, allows the union to build support for proposed federal legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act, commonly called “card check.” It would allow unions to form by way of a majority, public vote. Secret ballots would no longer be required.
Plath is right. But the union’s intended objective may be narrower than obtaining passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The SEIU is engaged in what is known as a "corporate campaign." Labelled by union organizers as the "death of a thousand cuts," these campaigns attempt to bury the target employer in an avalanche of negative publicity, consumer pressure and legislative regulation, in order to coerce acquiescence to union organizing efforts. Most often that acquiescence comes in the form of agreement to a "neutrality and card-check" recognition process. Once the company agrees, the publicity and pressure stops.
A few years ago, a number of employers who found themselves targets of these campaigns filed RICO suits against the unions responsible. Cintas, Smithfield Foods and Wackenhut Security all sued alleging that the campaigns constituted unlawful racketeering activity. Smithfield settled its case last year after it survived a motion to dismiss, but just last week a federal judge dismissed the Cintas suit against UNITE-HERE and the Teamsters. As a result, it remains to be seen whether or not the corporate campaign will remain a viable organizing tactic going forward. Employers must follow developments. If EFCA fails in its efforts to replace secret-ballot elections with card-check as the primary method of organizing, one might expect to see a resurgence in corporate campaign activity.
More on corporate campaigns:
- Paul Levy, the President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center, has chronicled SEIU corporate campaign tactics in numerous posts at his Running a Hospital blog.
- "The Death of a Thousand Cuts: Corporate Campaigns and the Attack on the Corporation" by Jarol B. Manheim; or, his piece for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "Trends in Corporate Campaigns," available online in its entirety.
- "Comprehensive Campaign" — Wikipedia
- MLA’s Seth Borden is quoted throughout "RICO Suits: Employers Fight Back Against Union Smear Campaigns" in the Capital Research Center’s Labor Watch.