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What kind of tactics? The complaints alleged by Sodexo sound like an episode of the Sopranos. Sodexo claimed SEIU officials threatened to harm the business unless it gave into union demands. They ostensibly carried through on those threats, which included:
- Throwing plastic roaches onto food being served by Sodexo USA at a high profile event;
- Scaring hospital patients by insinuating that Sodexo USA food contained bugs, rat droppings, mold and flies;
- Lying to interfere with Sodexo USA business and sneaking into elementary schools to avoid security;
- Violating lobbying laws to steer business away from Sodexo USA, even at the risk of costing Sodexo USA employees their jobs; and
- Harassing Sodexo USA employees by threatening to accuse them of wrongdoing.
Sodexo also claimed monetary damages, noting that the SEIU’s actions cost the company a contract with the Department of Defense worth $765 million, and contended that they had interfered with other contracts as well. If such allegations were proven, the monetary damages might have been great enough to put the SEIU out of business.
On July 27th, the case took a turn for the worse–for the SEIU. U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton rejected the union’s attempt to have the racketeering lawsuit dismissed because Sodexo “has stated a claim upon which relief can be had.” In a show of bravado, the union released a statement. “The ruling means that SEIU will have an opportunity to prove the facts about our organization, our members, and our work regarding Sodexo,” the labor group said in the release. “We look forward to proving what this campaign is really about and defending our freedom to speak out against abuses by corporate entities.”
In reality, the ruling was a critical turning point because it allowed Sodexo to proceed with formal discovery, giving them the right to examine a treasure trove of union information, including union letters, emails, internal memos and union finances. In other words, as incriminating as John Sweeney’s Contract Campaign Manual was in and of itself, it might have represented the tip of a far more thuggish, and possibly corrupt, iceberg.
Apparently union leaders must have thought so. On September 15th, Sodexo announced they had reached a settlement with the SEIU, in which they agreed to drop their RICO suit in exchange for the union ending its Clean Up Sodexo campaign.
Perhaps the most enlightening part of this case was the fact that the Manual was introduced as evidence. Even if one assumes Sweeney wrote it in his last year at SEIU, it means that these tactics of intimidation have been employed for at least the last 16 years and possibly far longer. Some of Sweeney’s chapter titles require no explanation. To wit: Escalating Pressure Tactics; Pressure on Individual Officers; Helping Reporters Do Their Jobs; Legal/Regulatory Pressure; Political/Legislative Pressure; Workers’ Role in Researching Pressure Points; Keeping Strikes Strong; and Organizing Successful Rallies and Demonstrations.
Such calculated thuggery has now become routine, with a new wrinkle: union mobs now feel entitled to air their grievances in front of the private residences of individuals they see as impediments to their agenda. And as most Americans are slowly becoming aware, unions and their tactics have been integrated into the OWS movement. In Oakland, such tactics are beginning to bear fruit: on Wednesday, the nation’s fifth busiest harbor was effectively shut down, while banks and other businesses were vandalized. By early Thursday morning, police in riot gear were battling protesters who pelted the officers with chunks of concrete, bottles–and molotov cocktails. According to City Administrator Deanna Santana, the initial protests included about 5 percent of city workers, and according to Oakland Unified School District spokesman Troy Flint, 18 percent of the district’s 2,000 teachers didn’t show up for work. Whether any of them were part of the more violent protests remains to be seen, when those arrested are processed.
Smart labor leaders would disassociate themselves from the OWS mobs while there is still time to do so. Yet as one peruses Mr. Sweeney’s Manual, a disquieting idea arises: coordinated intimidation may no longer be a last resort option for addressing union grievances. It may very well be the only option in the eyes of today’s union leaders. Leaders who have adopted the codified intimidation tactics of John Sweeney.
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