Local 11 fights decertification attempt at CNF

Two hundred and fifty -seven office workers at CNF Service Company — members of Office and Professional Employees Local 11 — may unwittingly be part of an anti-union campaign orchestrated at the highest levels of the multi-billion-dollar corporation.

Local 11 has represented office workers at the company for more than five decades. Its current five-year contract expires Sept. 30, but after only three rounds of bargaining for a new deal, the union was hit with a decertification election filed with the National Labor Relations Board. An election date has been set for Thursday, Oct. 2.

It is illegal for a company to involve itself in a decertification campaign, but Local 11 Executive Secretary-Treasurer Debbie Sluyter believes the company is behind the attempt to get rid of the union. She has filed three unfair labor practice complaints charging “company interference.” She has good reason to be suspicious.

CNF has a history of busting its unions — including the Teamsters Union and Airline Pilots Association at Emery Air (a division of CNF) in 2001.

Martin Levitt, author of the book “Confessions of a Union Buster,” told the Northwest Labor Press there is no doubt in his mind that CNF has hired an outside consultant to help break Local 11. Levitt himself worked as a union-buster from 1969 to 1988 before having a change of heart after seeing the damage he caused to hard-working men and women by tearing them away from their unions. He now works as a consultant advising unions on how to bust the union-busters. The Airline Pilots hired him in their fight at Emery Air.

Levitt said CNF has revealed classic signs of involvement in a union-busting campaign. Here are a few of those signs:

• At the bargaining table the company, led by members of the Human Resources Department, who have no power to sign off on any deals, cite profits and competitiveness as reasons for needing concessions. CNF has done just that, Sluyter said.

• In the media, union-busting companies will issue press releases about profits or downsizing or moving work overseas in order to scare employees. Two weeks ago, the Oregonian newspaper reported that CNF was considering outsourcing jobs to India in order to save money.

• Internally, union-busting companies will send letters (or e-mails) to employees and conduct mandatory meetings at which they paint the union as devious and/or responsible for much of the company’s troubles. Managers will promise improved working conditions if the union is gone. CNF has conducted meetings and sent e-mails to bargaining unit members, although the topics of those meetings were unknown at press time.

“The goal is to divide and fracture the unit. They’ll do anything and everything to impose on the solidarity of the union,” Levitt said.

As a union-buster, Levitt said 99 percent of the time the company motive for getting rid of the union was control. “They’ll tell you its about the bottom line, but all it’s really about is control, he said.”

Levitt told the NW Labor Press that CNF has a history of going to any lengths to bust its unions. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the campaign against Local 11 has been in the works for more than a year and, knowing how CNF operates, he guessed the company has spent between $10,000 to $15,000 per bargaining unit employee in its anti-union efforts.

“I think when employees see how much CNF is spending to decertify, they’ll be outraged,” Levitt said.

CNF is a $4.8 billion management company of global supply chain services with businesses in regional trucking, air freight, ocean freight, customs brokerage, global logistics management and trailer manufacturing. The company is headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., but was founded in Portland in 1929 as Consolidated Truck Lines — which later became Consolidated Freightways, then Leland James, and finally CNF.

CNF spun off Consolidated Freightways in 1996. Consolidated Freightways remained primarily a unionized company while CNF subcontracted and shifted its assets into non-union subsidiaries (known as double-breasting).

On Labor Day 2002, Consolidated Freightways announced it was filing for bankruptcy, putting 15,000 Teamsters drivers and several hundred union office workers out of work. A year earlier, in September 2001, 800 unionized pilots were let go when the Federal Aviation Administration shut down CNF subsidiary Emery Air. Levitt insists the company was behind both actions, and lawsuits have been filed by former Emery pilots.

Levitt said CNF also is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for “Enron and WorldCom-like accounting practices.”

Through the name changes and spin-offs, Local 11 has maintained its union contract with CNF Services.

“The company has had bigger fish to fry, and Local 11 probably hasn’t been too much trouble,” Levitt said.

Levitt predicts the anti-union rhetoric at the Portland office will intensify over the next two weeks.“The company will use whatever source it can to divide members and discredit the union,” he said.

Referring to the newspaper article about outsourcing work overseas, Levitt believes outsourcing will take place regardless of the outcome of the decertification vote.

“But without a union, it will be easier for them to strip employees of any termination benefits,” he said.

With first-hand knowledge of union-busting, Levitt said the only way to beat a union-buster is with solidarity and a union contract.

“Keep unity,” Levitt exhorted. “There’s not a union-buster out there who can beat you if you do that.”

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