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Jackson Lewis

Union Avoidance Goes Online

Jackson Lewis holding union busting seminars on preventing the CWA from organizing

Kris LaGrange's picture
Aug 11, 2020

Jackson Lewis is one of the largest anti-union law firms in the country. On their website they brag about their work in union avoidance, helping companies like Boeing and Ikea stop organizing drives in their workplaces. On July 30th, Jackson Lewis brought their anti-union teachings to video game and technology executives.

In a webinar entitled “Breaking the CODE:” Union Organizing in the Video Game and Technology Industries, the law firm focused on the growing organizing effort to organize digital and tech workers. The effort known as the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE), is being organized by the Communications Workers of America (CWA). CODE recently won a big victory at a tech startup called Glitch. Silicon Valley has also seen a huge surge in activism at Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Kickstarter. The webinar was attended by OneZero and provided the following information.

The webinar was hosted by Patrick Egan, a principal at the firm’s Boston office. Egan started by noting that organizing at tech companies is different than at a lot of other companies. While workers tend to be paid well, tech workers are organizing around things like company culture. Examples would include Microsoft workers protesting the companies work with ICE or Google employees holding a walkout over their work with police departments.

“This has a whole different dynamic to it,” he said. “Part of it perhaps is the younger, more ‘woke’ component of the workforce; maybe it’s just a more socially active era we’re in. But it’s clearly an element of this kind of organizing that we’re seeing.”

Egan then went on to say that the CWA’s organizing effort will be slow and methodical and then pointed out who the lead organizers on the campaign are. He described one of the co-organizers, Wes McEnany as, “Based on his tweets, he is a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, he’s very aggressive, he’s an in-your-face type of organizer. He’d be like a dog on a bone.” Of the other co-organizer, Emma Kinema, who is also co-founder of a network of game workers with more than 20 global chapters called Game Workers Unite, he said, “She’s really good at understanding what is required to successfully organize.”

The executives in the room were warned that the CWA will try to organize all different types of companies from the subcontractors right on up to the big boys like Google. He then warned that organizing subcontractors provided the best opportunity for quick success in Silicon Valley.

“You are probably quite aware that a misclassification can be expensive in a wage and hour lawsuit. But it can also breed resentment which can fuel a union organizing campaign since ICs [independent contractors] won’t have benefits, their wages may be different, and they’re working side by side with folks who’ve got a different, better package. It’s a real volatile mix.”

Egan then provided advice for employers about keeping a union out of their business. He told them to make themselves unattractive to organize by training supervisors, talking up the “positive” aspects of the job, and encouraging workers to snitch to management when their co-workers begin talking union. He also encouraged them to fix problems in their workplace before a union effort could begin and talk to the employees about the “downside” of unions.

Another tactic Egan suggested was proactively identifying employees who they would want in the bargaining unit and those they would want out of the unit and adjust responsibilities accordingly. This means taking people who are pro-management and putting them into possibly lower positions so that they are a spy and a vote against the union, while either removing pro-union workers or promoting them into management so that they can not vote in a union election. He noted this is only feasible before a union campaign kicks off since firing someone for union activity is an NLRB violation.

Egan also handed out talking points that employers could use to discourage workers from joining a union. These included telling workers about union dues and uncertainty over what will ultimately end up in a union contract if workers do form a union. “It’s like the company picnic, everyone gets a T-shirt, a medium,” he said of union contracts.

With organizing rising in the tech industry, it is only a matter of time before companies like Jackson Lewis are hired by big tech to stop an organizing drive. Keep an eye out for these tactics and let the CWA know if your tech company starts making anti-union moves.

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