Change to Win's nationwide racketeering campaign

Want to understand why Bashas’ just slapped the United Food and Commercial Workers union with a defamation lawsuit? Look at what the union is doing not just in Arizona, but all across the nation.

For more than a decade, UFCW attempted to unionize non-union employees at places like Bashas’ and Wal-Mart the old-fashioned way — persuading employees and filing for secret-ballot unionization elections with the federal government — all to no avail. UFCW’s failure to win elections at Wal-Mart and other targets prompted union president Joe Hansen to lament: “We can’t win that way anymore.”

So the union tried a new tactic.

Once it became apparent the union couldn’t win an election with confidential voting at Wal-Mart, it decided in 2005 to form Wake Up Wal-Mart, a non-profit with a rousing name aimed at making people think the retailer is bad for America. The goal was to drive away business and “encourage” the company to support the unionization campaign.

Having cut its teeth attacking Wal-Mart’s reputation, a year later UFCW launched a similar campaign against Smithfield Foods in North Carolina, the nation’s leading pork processor. The union is again attacking a company’s reputation with phony claims until it agrees to an organizing method slanted in the union’s favor, and against employee rights.

The union has an equally cynical campaign against Bashas’ — with an equally cynical name: “Hungry for Respect.” But now UFCW’s hunger for member dues money has taken it to the courtroom. Again.

Instead of limiting itself to defending against UFCW’s endless smears on the public relations battlefield, Smithfield made the decision to file suit under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. So, too, Bashas’ has gone to court, charging the union with defamation and interfering with the company’s operations.

To understand how UFCW’s actions could live up to these charges, consider some history. For more than a decade, the union tried (and failed) to organize Smithfield’s North Carolina workers with traditional secret-ballot elections. Unable to “win that way anymore,” the union tried to get Smithfield to agree to an alternative process called “card check,” where union organizers encourage employees to sign cards that are equal to a vote. No hanging chads here; the union organizer will know instantly if an employee votes “yes” or “no.” The union’s intentions for “card check” at Bashas’ are no different.

Of course, traditional elections use secret ballots for a reason: to protect employees from any outside pressures, whether from employers or from union organizers confronting them for their signatures. Every employer UFCW has targeted — including Bashas’ — has offered the union a secret ballot election. But UFCW can’t get what it wants under a fair election, so it’s engaging in shakedown tactics instead. Hence the lawsuits.

Smithfield’s suit details, among other things, how UFCW has disrupted Smithfield’s shareholder meetings, concealed its financial connections to “expert” witnesses who testified against the company in public hearings, and filed frivolous safety complaints with the federal government.

Meanwhile, Bashas’ has accused UFCW of planting outdated baby formula in the company’s stores, a claim which echoes the union’s conduct in a similar pressure campaign against the non-union Food Lion supermarket chain. UFCW’s “story” of food mishandling and unfair labor practices at the chain was fed to ABC News for a 1992 story — which cost the network a massive lawsuit after a judge found no evidence of wrongdoing by the company.

And it is not just Smithfield, Food Lion, Wal-Mart, or Bashas’ that experience shakedown campaigns. Other unions — members of the Change to Win labor coalition along with UFCW — are launching similar wars against employers who appear union-proof (if an employee secret-ballot vote is the metric).

UNITE HERE, for example, fooled expecting mothers in Northern California into believing a union-targeted hospital chain was using unclean linens in its maternity wards. That little fairy tale cost the union (and its current members) $17 million for defamation. And in Los Angeles, the Teamsters are working hand-in-glove with environmentalists to customtailor port regulations that will make it nearly impossible for non-union truckers to do business on the docks.

UFCW’s lawsuit count may be unusual, but its methods aren’t. If labor organizations keep trying to force business owners to help extort union dues from their employees, the racketeering and defamation charges will keep piling up. And organized labor will once again start to look more like organized crime.

- Jonathan Berry is senior research analyst at the Center for Union Facts.


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