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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'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 nations largest
nursing home chain and a demand that she turn over research notes based on
confidential interviews with union activists.
"Im 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 professors 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
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 companys "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."Beverlys current anti-labor counteroffensive is
directed by Donald L. Dotson, senior vice president for labor and employment, who headed
the Reagan-era NLRB.
"Beverleys 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
"Anyone whos 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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'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 PMAs 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 Boatmans 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
"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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