'We don't hide it, nor do we publicize it'

Unions' secret no-vote deals boost dues, silence workers

For the past three years, two big American unions hungry to expand their ranks maintained secretive arrangements with several companies that allowed organizers to recruit workers as long as they kept quiet about their successes.

The agreements permitted the Service Employees International Union and Unite Here to sign up 15,000 foodservice, laundry and housekeeping workers at individual workplaces. But no one beside the unions, employees and companies involved was made aware of the deals—a strategic concession because the unions couldn't publicize their victories.

Some activists questioned how much the unions gave up in such behind-the-curtain deals, but labor officials played down the criticisms, saying the most important fact is getting in the door at large companies that have held them off.

The U.S. labor movement has been struggling for years with declining membership, and the quiet deals represent an unorthodox strategy to get in some big companies. The deals acknowledged Saturday by union officials are with Sodexho Inc., the Compass Group USA and the Aramark Corp.

"There is something very good here," said Bruce Raynor, president of 465,000-member Unite Here, the union created by the merger of the garment workers and hotel workers unions. "It's our job to organize workers."

The unions and companies negotiated at which job sites the organizing would take place, and who could be organized, union officials said. The companies agreed not to challenge the unions' organizing drive.

In turn, the unions agreed to lower the heat on their corporate campaigns against the three firms, said Rick Hurd, a Cornell University labor expert familiar with the agreements.

Labor experts said the arrangement with the three companies was not the only one like this, but because they have been kept confidential it isn't clear how many such deals exist. An article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal broke the silence.

"It is a widespread practice and they [unions and companies] are careful about not releasing the details," Hurd said. Unions have increasingly bargained for neutrality agreements when they think cannot find another way to get a foothold within the company, he explained.

"We don't hide it, nor do we publicize it," Raynor said. And Lynda Tran, a spokeswoman for the SEIU, said unions tell the workers about the agreement when they begin their organizing effort.

However, Eliseo Medina, executive vice-president of the 1.7-million member SEIU, and who leads the union's South and Southwest operations, said he wasn't aware of any deal with Aramark.

"There's constantly a lot of stuff going on within the union, so we don't necessarily know everything," he said.

A Sodexho spokeswoman said she couldn't comment on the specifics of the agreement.

"The company respects employees' right to unionize and … we negotiate with the unions in good faith and hopefully reach an agreement that's in the best interests of the employees and the [company's] client," she said.

About 17 percent of Sodexho's 110,000 U.S. employees are unionized, she said. Officials from the two other firms could not be reached.

The two unions created a new organization called Service Workers United, which has signed contracts at individual locations of the companies rather than company-wide deals, union officials said.

But the unions' deal with Aramark broke down earlier this year, and the company has been faced with about six strikes since, Raynor said.

The newly organized workers might receive lower wages than long-term union members elsewhere within the companies' nationwide operations, union officials said. But many of the newly organized are getting improved wages and benefits, Raynor said.

At a Sodexho-owned laundry in Buffalo, workers saw their wages rise from just above minimum wage to $10 an hour, he said.



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Anonymous said...

Sal Roselli you are corrupt like Andy and Sweeney.

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