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A Ban on Ray-Ban?

World's largest eyewear maker took part in efforts to break union drive

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jul 19, 2021

Unions from three countries, including the United States are accusing and filing charges with the respective countries' labor boards against Ray-Ban maker Luxottica for union-busting after workers began organizing at the plant in McDonough, Georgia.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA), the AFL-CIO, and two other Geneva based global unions say that managers at the plant unleashed an “aggressive and fear-inducing campaign to discourage about 2,000 employees from seeking union membership. They also allege that global management based in Paris and Milan has failed to exercise due diligence to ensure compliance with OECD guidelines which require multinational firms not to interfere with workers’ organizing rights.

Luxottica, a division of the EssilorLuxottica group, is the world’s largest provider of eyewear products. This includes employing over 150,000 people worldwide. The company was formed by the 2018 merger of France-based Essilor, the world’s largest lens manufacturer, and Italy-based Luxottica, the world’s largest eyeglasses manufacturer and distributor.

According to the complaint, that was filed with the United States, French, and Italian governments, the union alleges that the company used their “LiveSafe” app to send anti-union messages about purported risks of organizing including that workers might lose pay and benefits if they succeed in forming a union. The app was originally created to give employees updates on COVID-19 issues in the workplace. Additionally, the company set up a website vilifying unions and suggesting dire consequences if workers signed a union card. They also hired anti-union consultants and forced workers to attend captive audience meetings where they attacked the union.

OECD guidelines require due diligence by global “home country” headquarters to ensure responsible business conduct in “host country” locations, which gives unions in the United States the ability to pressure the company in their home country. With many European countries being more labor-friendly, they might have a better shot of getting a real result from the French or Italian governments than from the United States government.

"I have been an employee at Luxottica for 4 years, I am proud to work hard at my job every day," said Lisa Ragsdale, a worker at Luxottica in McDonough, Georgia. "My co-workers and I are fighting to form a union so we can have a voice on the job. We are coming together to fight for respect, safe working conditions, and fair wages. We want to join with our sisters and brothers at Luxottica in Italy, who already have a union. We believe Luxottica should support a union for its workers, whether they are in Italy, or in the U.S."

Thousands of workers for the company in Europe are members of IndustriALL, an international manufacturing sector union that is based in Geneva. IndustriALL was one of the international unions included in the complaint. “Unions affiliated with IndustriALL enjoy good-faith collective bargaining relationships with EssilorLuxottica management around the world. The U.S. should not be an exception. We are calling on European headquarters management to exercise due diligence to bring their American management into compliance with OECD Guidelines and ILO standards,” said IndustriALL General Secretary Valter Sanches. Like many European companies Luxottica is said to have a good relationship with its European labor partners, but still refuses to allow workers in the United States to have a voice on the job.

The CWA said that they are pursuing the international strategy because US labor laws are broken and favor the employer.

"The NLRB is really broken," Tim Dubnau, deputy director of organizing at CWA, told Reuters. "We know exactly what's gonna happen. We go the NLRB, the company stalls and then spends 80 days intimidating people, acting like thugs at work, forcing people to listen to union-busting nonsense."

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