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Assaults on Free Speech

In confrontations played out in mill towns and mining villages across the country and through the years, free speech has been a powerful tool in the hands of working men and women seeking a better life.

The basic rights of organizing a union, bargaining collectively or striking are impossible without the right of free expression.

The current attempt in Congress and state legislatures and ballot initiatives to limit unions’ political action is an attack on free speech. So are the employer lawsuits described on this page.

In one case, the boss demands confidential interviews with victims of unionbusting. In the other, an employer group wants to force activists to name others on the picket line and to reveal their organizational affiliations, now and in the past.

There can be no going back to the days when honest union members were jailed for exercising their Constitutional rights.

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Assaults on Free Speech - #1

'Don't Accuse Us of Breaking the Law!'


A university professor who testified on the anti-union practices of Beverley Enterprises Inc. faces a $225,000 defamation suit by the nation’s largest nursing home chain — and a demand that she turn over research notes based on confidential interviews with union activists.

"I’m very frightened and outraged by this, because it represents a real attack on scholars like myself from taking part in public debates," said Dr. Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research at Cornell University.

The suit is based on remarks made by Bronfenbrenner last year at a "town meeting" here attended by 300 people, including Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) and five members of the House of Representatives. The Cornell professor testified that Beverley systematically dismissed pro-union workers and engaged in other illegal practices to beat back organized labor.

The Cornell professor’s research on anti-union tactics has involved many years of interviews with organizers and rank-and-file workers to learn what anti-union tactics companies use, and which union tactics work best. (Bronfenbrenner is co-author of the recently published book, Organizing to Win: New Union Research on Union Strategies.)

With more than 700 nursing homes nationwide, Beverley Enterprises has been the target of numerous organizing drives by various unions — and is notorious as the perpetrator of flagrant labor law violations.

According to a 1995 report of the General Accounting Office, Beverley was one of 15 companies guilty of "more serious" labor-law violations. Last November, an NLRB administrative law judge noted the company’s "wide-ranging and persistent misconduct." Beverley had violated the law by failing to reinstate hundreds of strikers at 20 nursing homes and had engaged in "coercive tactics such as blatant surveillance of union activities, threats of retaliations, suspensions and discharges of union supporters."Beverly’s current anti-labor counteroffensive is directed by Donald L. Dotson, senior vice president for labor and employment, who headed the Reagan-era NLRB.

"Beverley’s actions in this matter present a threat, not only to academic freedom, but to free inquiry of any kind in a free society," says Ron Filippelli, professor of Labor Studies and Industrial Relations at Penn State University. Particularly bothersome, he said, is that "a respected scholar of labor relations is being sued for using her research findings as the basis for participating in a public policy debate."

"Anyone who’s doing research in labor relations and uncovers and publicizes wrongdoing by corporations or flagrant violation of labor law, and I do that often, could end up getting sued," said Dr. Charles McCollester, a former UE chief steward who is now the associate director of the Pennsylvania Center for Labor Relations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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Assaults on Free Speech - #2

Supporting Workers?
'We Want Names!'


Dock workers in Liverpool, England have been fighting for their jobs since a mass firing in September 1995. So when the Neptune Jade sailed into San Francisco Bay last September carrying a scab cargo from Liverpool, union supporters set up a picket line. Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) refused to cross the picket line. The cargo was left unloaded.

The bosses struck back with anti-picketing injunctions and lawsuits aimed at the ILWU, the Labor Party, other unions and union supporters.

In the discovery proceedings, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) demanded to know the names of everyone on the picket line — and the names of any organizations to which they now or have ever belonged.

Some 700 union members representing a wide section of the ILWU and the Bay Area labor movement marched on the PMA’s offices in downtown Oakland on Feb. 26, demanding an end to the lawsuits and harassment of those who picketed the Neptune Jade and those who honored the picket line.

Messages were received from around the world, among them messages from dockworkers’ unions in Denmark, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand and Sweden.

On March 10, Superior Court Judge Henry Needham Jr. threw out the cases against the Golden Gate Chapter of the Labor Party and ILWU Local 10 Executive Board member Jack Heyman.

But the judge declined to dismiss the lawsuit against Robert Irminger, the San Francisco Region Chairman of the Inland Boatman’s Union, or the suits pending against the Laney College Labor Studies Club and the Peace and Freedom Party.

The court ruled that the PMA can proceed only against those for whom there is evidence of direct participation in "illegal" activity". This may allow the PMA to proceed with its McCarthyite attempt to force defendants to "name names."

"The ruling on Heyman and the Labor Party reaffirms our contention all along that this is a First Amendment issue and that these lawsuits are illegal harassment and intimidation," said ILWU Intl. Pres. Brain McWilliams. "The PMA does not have a legitimate right to the information they are seeking."

"This is not over until every lawsuit against every individual and organization is dropped," McWilliams said. "Until then the PMA will face ever escalating actions by the ILWU and the national and international labor movement."

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UE News - 04/98

Home -> UE News -> 1998 Archives -> Article

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