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Steel Workers: Companies Use Harassment To Stop Union Drives

November 25, 2009

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Polls consistently show that workers would choose to join a labor union if they could. According to some union officials, however, when an organizing drive begins, the employer often responds by firing or harassing pro-union employees.

Ron Brady, president of the United Steel Workers Local 14614 that represents West Virginia, says it happened to members of his union recently, at a factory where workers had contacted the union with concerns about unsafe working conditions.

"We would have rallies. They sent a supervisor to see who was at the rally. Then, the next thing you know, people were getting their shifts changed. And then, there was a girl that got terminated."

A Charleston attorney who represents employers disagrees that such situations are common. Attorney Kevin Carr says he has represented dozens of employers during union drives, and has almost never seen that kind of harassment.

"It's obviously illegal. The unions will argue that it happens all the time, and I think maybe 25 years ago that was true, but I think employers have come a long way to coming into compliance with the law."

Brady acknowledges that, when someone is fired after trying to form a union, it's usually very tough to prove that their pro-union activities were directly related to their termination. He believes that is partly because there are consultants who teach companies how to stop union drives. He says they go from place to place, using the same tactics.

"I've seen the same handouts, just the name and title of the company is changed. It'll read verbatim, word for word."

To address what he sees as an imbalance of power, Brady favors the "Employee Free Choice Act" now being considered by Congress. Some West Virginia employers don't agree that the current process unfairly favors management. If anything, says Carr, they think it gives unions too much leverage.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV