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EMPLOYMENT LAW 5/23/07

Chicago trial set to examine union organizing tactics

A trial set for June 11 before a federal labor judge in Chicago could force major changes to union organizing tactics used to pressure employers and employees into accepting union representation.

While the case centers around the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and building owners and managers in the Chicago area, its outcome could have broader implications for "top-down" union organizing campaigns that seek to force companies to recognize unions without giving employees the benefits of secret-ballot elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The trial is the result of an unfair labor practice charge filed by the Wackenhut Corporation against the SEIU Local 1 and the Chicago Building Owners and Manager's Association (BOMA). The charge accused the SEIU and BOMA of entering into labor agreements that effectively forced association members to hire only security companies with SEIU unionized work forces. The effect of the agreement also coerced building managers to end any existing business relationships they might have with non-union security companies.

"This type of secondary activity is clearly unlawful under federal labor law," said attorney Dennis Devaney, who is counsel to Wackenhut on the matter. "Federal law expressly prohibits labor agreements that force employers to cease doing business with neutral third-party companies."

After investigating the initial charge, the General Counsel of the NLRB took the next legal step by issuing a complaint, which will lead to the June 11 trial scheduled before an NLRB administrative law judge in Chicago.

Labor experts nationally are expected to watch the trial closely because of the broader impact it my have on union organizing tactics. In recent years labor unions have suffered losses in membership. In response, they now aggressively push "top-down" organizing strategies that pressure employers to passively accept union organization, whether or not employees have fairly decided they want it.

In the SEIU/BOMA case, the SEIU attempted to use its agreement with BOMA-Chicago as a lever to force non-union security companies to accede to non-democratic organizing tactics.

Those tactics include neutrality agreements, in which employers are typically required to "see, hear and speak no evil" about unions and their organizing activities, and card-check agreements, in which employees are denied their right to vote on representation in a secret-ballot election.

If the NLRB finds the SEIU/BOMA agreement unlawful, it would limit the union's ability to coerce neutral parties. It could also bring about a broader legal precedent that would curtail union top-down activities which, in practice, produce unlawful secondary boycotts throughout the country.

Source: Strobl & Sharp P.C.

For more information on this and other topics, consult CCH Employment Practices Guide or CCH Labor Relations.

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