By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor
Two business groups, Associated Oregon Industries (AOI) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have chosen a union campaign at Silverton, Oregon, headquartered BrucePac as the test case in their lawsuit against a new worker freedom of conscience law in Oregon. But from a union perspective, the BrucePac campaign is a poster child for why the law is needed in the first place.
BrucePac is a privately-held cooked meat and poultry processor with a largely immigrant workforce of about 350 employees at two plants in Silverton and Woodburn, Oregon. According to charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board, after employees met in June 2009 with representatives of Laborers Local 296 to talk about unionizing, BrucePac fired 17 union supporters. It would be illegal to fire workers for supporting a union, so BrucePac covered its tracks, union reps say, by laying off at least 25 other workers. The NLRB issued complaints in two of the charges, which were the subject of a week-long trial in mid-February before an administrative law judge. A decision in that consolidated case is still pending.
BrucePac hired Jackson Lewis, the nation’s pre-eminent union-busting law firm, and held several mandatory meetings in the last half of 2009. Workers attending the meetings were reportedly told that signing a union card could put their jobs at risk.
But to hear CEO Glen Golomski, BrucePac was the victim in all this. Golomski, in a document filed in support of the AOI/Chamber lawsuit, complains that BrucePac and its employees have been “subjected” to hand-billing, picketing, and “the display of large inflatable animals,” as well as “the dissemination of buttons, T-shirts, and other pro-union paraphernalia.”
Local 296 filed 20 unfair labor practice charges on behalf of fired employees. Golomski thinks Local 296 is responsible for the company’s other legal troubles as well, including up to six discrimination complaints under investigation by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, an audit by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, and a targeted audit of the personnel documents of 27 employees, conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But more to the point of the lawsuit, before the Worker Freedom Act took effect, BrucePac’s “mandatory group meetings” to provide employees “the company’s perspective on the ongoing organizing,” were part of its “communication structure,” Golomski wrote. To ensure that employees get information about the company’s stance toward unionization, BrucePac developed several communication pieces, at a significant cost, including speeches intended to be delivered to large employee groups. Now, Golomski lamented, in order to comply with the mandates of the new state law, “we would be forced to abandon a central tenet of our communication process about the union.”
Under the Worker Freedom Act, employers can hold such meetings, but can’t punish workers for not taking part; in effect, attendance at the meetings must be voluntary.
“I remain very concerned,” Golomski wrote, “that continuing to hold mandatory meetings after Jan. 1, 2010, would expose the company to public ridicule and legal actions.” Consequently, he said, BrucePac has refrained from holding mandatory communications since the law took effect.
AOI found two other business members willing to become test cases by committing civil disobedience in defiance of the law. In legal declarations submitted in support of the lawsuit, Donald Adler, president of Care Medical Equipment, and Robert Freres of Freres Lumber, declared their intent not to post notices about the Worker Freedom Act, as the law requires. But it’s not clear the posting requirement is that central to the case. BrucePac is central, because its experience gives AOI and the Chamber a target to sue.