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September 21, 2005

OSHA Nominee A Gift to Workers From A Union Busting Law Firm

Reprinted From Confined Space

So it turns out that the nomination of Edwin Foulke as Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA last week is looking more and more like a typical Bush administration move: Appoint a Republican political operative to head an agency that he's spent most of his career working to undermine. Except in this case, there's an extra twist. Foulke is not just a Republican mover and shaker in South Carolina, he's also a partner at Jackson-Lewis, one of the most notorious union-busting lawfirms in the country. How appropriate for a Bush Administration Assistant Secretary of Labor.

I realized that when I wrote the original post that Jackson Lewis resided on the dark side, but I didn't have time to do much research that evening. Little did I know how easy the research would be. Just Google "Jackson Lewis" + "union busting" and you come up with 322 hits. Substitute "union busting" with the more polite phrase "union avoidance" and you get 304 hits.

Jackson Lewis publishes a newsletter called Preventive Strategies and one of their main Practice Areas is Labor Relations, including Preventive Practices"

Committed to the practice of preventive labor relations through issue assessment, supervisory training, policy development, and positive communications, Jackson Lewis has assisted many employers in winning NLRB elections or in avoiding union elections altogether. (emphasis added)
Much of Jackson-Lewis's evildoing, or "preventive labor relations" came to light nationally in a New York Times article last year that described how Enersys, a company that had hired Jackson Lewis to help it "avoid" a union, sued the law firm for malpractice, accusing Jackson Lewis of advising it to engage in illegal behavior.

You've really got to read the entire article. It's a nightmare about how the workers at the plant chose to organize with the International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE), despite the anti-union campaign organized by Jackson Lewis for the company. The company then fired a union steward and broke numerous other labor laws leading to an NLRB complaint citing 120 violations of federal law, among them wrongly firing union leaders, assisting the anti-union campaign, improperly withdrawing union recognition and moving production to nonunion plants as retaliation. The company then refused to sign a contract and threatened layoffs unless the union agreed to a "gainsharing program," that would provide bonuses based on productivity increases. The company never provided the bonuses and it was later discovered never had any intention to. (More on Enersys here.)

Even Tonight Show host Jay Leno doesn't think much of union busting firms like Jackson, Lewis:

Unionists have a good reason to watch "The Tonight Show". Its host, comedian Jay Leno, just busted the number-one union busting law firm, Jackson, Lewis, out of a lucrative deal.

Leno was scheduled to appear at the Society of Human Resource Management's annual convention in Las Vegas on June 25-28 - that is until union research Rick Rehberg found out about it. Rehberg, a corporate researcher for the Food & Allied Service Trades, an AFL-CIO department, kept coming across Jackson, Lewis in the 25 or so union campaigns he's worked on.

That's not surprising since the notorious law firm has defeated organizing drives in over 30 states. And they've done it mean and dirty. For example, the New York Daily News reported the law firm was responsible for setting up armed guards at factory gates in at least three states to stop union organizing campaigns. And Jackson, Lewis routinely advises companies to set up forced overtime when union meetings are scheduled, watch workers during break time to detect potential organizing drives, and prohibit workers' communication to thwart the distribution of union material.

Companies pay big money to Jackson, Lewis and other union busters for exactly that kind of information. In fact, union busting is a billion dollar industry. Jackson, Lewis charges $1,200 to $1,600 a person for running seminars titled, "How to Stay Union Free in Today's Era of Corporate Campaigns" and "Best Employer Practices to Stay Union Free in the Millennium". But thanks to Leno, Jackson, Lewis, won't be garnering a hefty check at this year's SHRM conference.

You can also find stories about J-L's participation in notorious campaigns against the unionization of Borders Bookstores, Berlin Health & Rehabilitation Center in Berlin, Vermont, Episcopal Church Home, nursing home in Rochester, NY, and Patient Care in New York City and many, many more. Infuriated after losing a 2002 election at Saint-Gobain Abrasives factory in Worcester, Massachusetts, Jackson Lewis even went so far as to file an unfair labor practice suit against Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) because he told workers that they should vote for the union (which they did.)

Foulke isn't directly part of J-L's union-busting practice. He belongs to the "Workplace Safety Compliance, including Violence Prevention" practice:

To assist in compliance efforts and to reduce the likelihood of a citation, we advise employers in developing safety programs and conducting preventive self-audits to pinpoint and remedy potential legal vulnerabilities.
Yes, you read that right. The purpose of Jackson Lewis's safety programs and self audits is not to protect workers from getting injured or killed, but to "pinpoint and prevent potential legal vulnerabilities." We all have our priorities.

And then there's the Violence Prevention part, which from J-L's perspective seems to be instruction in how to lay off troublesome employees without having them come back in and blow your head off. No mention is made of the overwhelming cause of workplace violence like retail store robberies and assaults of mental health and social service workers.

Foulke was also a member of J-L's Management Training practice, which includes programs on "maintaining union-free status."

Whether or not Foulke participated directly in Jackson Lewis's union busting activities, he certainly didn't have a whole lot of good things to say about one of labor's priorities throughout the 1990's, OSHA's ergonomics standard that was repealed by the Bush administration in 2001:

"It should be called the OSHA Lawyers' Full Employment Act," says Edwin Foulke, himself an attorney who specializes in OSHA-related issues for the Jackson Lewis law firm based in Washington, D.C. "I would have liked to have seen voluntary guidelines. Most employers want to do the right thing, but this will just be a big record-keeping exercise."

Foulke and other skeptics claim there isn't enough science yet to prescribe precise fixes for problems....

While Foulke was basically J-L's OSHA guy, questions need to be asked (preferably by Senators at his confirmation hearing) about what Foulke thinks about workers' right to organize. Was he in sync with the union busting activities of Jackson Lewis? Are union organizing campaigns that focus on health and safety issues a healthy sign of worker involvement or a sign of trouble? What does he think about behavioral safety programs that blame workers for accidents?

What does he think about the role of the "worker representative" as described in the OSHA law? Is it a good thing if workers exercise their rights to push management into improving safety conditions? Coming out of such a virulently anti-union firm, will he be able to work with unions? Unlike any other Republican administrations since OSHA was created in 1971, the Bush appointees have refused, with rare exceptions, to work seriously with unions. Will he continue this practice?

So what does all this mean for OSHA over the next 3 ½ years?

The bottom line is that we’re somewhat lacking in actual health and safety expertise in OSHA's front office. We now have attorneys in all of the top three jobs: Foulke, an attorney from a union busting lawfirm, a local Republican Party chairman and an officer in the Republican National Lawyer’s Association; Deputy Assistant Secretary Jonathan Snare, a former Texas political operative, member of the Republican National Lawyer’s Association and former lobbyist for Metabolife, maker of the killer drug ephedra; and Deputy Assistant Secretary Steve Witt, an attorney who has worked at a variety of positions in OSHA's Washington headquarters since 1985.

What all this means is no major regulations except those ordered by the courts, more emphasis (if that’s possible) on costly, unproven voluntary programs like VPP and alliances, continued frosty relations (or no relations) with labor unions, enforcement will continue muddle along increasingly strained for resources and there will be little, if any, Congressional oversight unless the Democrats take back one house of Congress next year.

In other words, status quo.

Posted by Jordan Barab at September 21, 2005 07:18 AM