Thursday, March 20, 2008

Montgomery College’s Union Busting Campaign: Part Four of Four

In Part Three, we began examining the FAQ sheet that Montgomery College sent to its adjunct faculty to spread propaganda about unions. We demonstrated how the administration tried to make SEIU Local 500 look like an intimidating, coercive organization and how they tried to attach questionable generalizations about unions to the local. Now, we expose how their questions and answers serve a third tactical objective:

3. Scare the workers and make them think the union is not worth it.

Q. How long does it take for a union to negotiate a contract?
A. Recent studies show that contract negotiations usually take more than one year when employees are represented by a union, and that unions are successful in negotiating an agreement within a year only 25% of the time.

Q. Will I have to walk a picket line?
A. That is a possibility. Although there is a “no strike” provision in the law, a union may require members to picket in an effort to get its point across. Many unions also require their members to serve picket duty at other companies where they have a strike. The SEIU is known for its frequent picketing of businesses that it is trying to get to accept its positions.

For example, look at the article in the Washington Post on February 18, 2008 titled “A Stubborn Union Storms the Gates at Carlyle Group,” which reported on the SEIU’s picketing on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Post noted that picketers “swarmed through the Carlyle building, jumping on and off elevators, running up stairways and trying to get into Carlyle offices in an effort to confront [a] Carlyle co-founder… After some heated moments, security and D.C. police escorted the union from the premises.”
The FAQ sheet neglects to mention that many first contracts are not reached because of “union avoidance” programs of the kind that Montgomery College is now running. And the SEIU action at Carlyle, a troubled company by any measure, involved a campaign at nursing home chain Manor Care. Local 500 does not organize nursing homes and did not participate in the picket action against Carlyle. And Local 500 does not require picket duty of its members because most of its employers are in the public sector and in Maryland are are not subject to strikes. Montgomery College is well aware of this but nevertheless tries to smear Local 500 by talking about the actions of a different SEIU group on a different campaign.

As someone who has been fighting law-breaking employers for more than 13 years, I’m accustomed to this sort of misleading propaganda from private-sector employers. But now a public institution has hired a “union avoidance” attorney to apply these same tactics to county employees – all through our tax dollars. How many thousands of dollars is Montgomery College spending on its union-busting campaign? How many students could be educated with that money? And why is Montgomery College being allowed to pay a “union avoidance” lawyer hundreds of dollars an hour at a time when the county is projecting a $297 million budget deficit and is raising property taxes to pay for it?

What will Montgomery College do next? Union-busting campaigns usually do not end with FAQ sheets. Common tactics include captive audience meetings, one-on-one interrogations by supervisors, promised improvements (which may or may not actually materialize), threats of job cuts and even firing union supporters. Is this what the college’s adjunct professors have to look forward to?

Montgomery College’s union busting campaign is an absolute abomination in a progressive county like Montgomery. Adjunct professors and any other public employees should be free to choose, or not choose, union representation without being subjected to taxpayer-subsidized propaganda and fear. The County Executive and the County Council should immediately take measures to terminate Montgomery College’s “union avoidance” attorney and compel the school to let its employees make their own labor decisions in peace.

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