Controversies about unionization or employment rights rarely bring out the best in people. When disagreements arise about whether or not workers should unionize, almost everyone involved in the situation is likely to have a strong view about the right course of action, and can be quite aggressive in his or her quest to convince others. While a vigorous debate with a multiplicity of viewpoints is almost always welcome, there is a line between expressing one’s opinion bluntly and doing so in a manner that is offensive or threatening.
The employees at Precision Castaparts Corp. were facing the latter situation in the days leading up to their historic unionization vote on June 6 and 7. As the Oregonian reported, this vote was the largest one regarding private-sector unionization that Oregon had seen in 30 years; approximately 2,300 employees voted on a bid to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Meanwhile, Precision Castaparts had one of its subsidiaries, PCC Structurals, Inc., engage the Burke Group, an anti-union consulting firm, to help its efforts to oppose unionization. Unionizing the workers at Precision – a multinational corporation that manufactures parts for airplanes and other industry machines – would have been a large boost for the Machinists, who have seen declines in union membership in recent years. The workers, however, voted against unionization, having possibly been influenced by an intimidating flier.
The anonymous handbill, which was distributed among employees at two of Precision’s Portland-area plants, warned them that, if unionization passed, their jobs would likely be sent to Mexico. The flier adopted a sardonic tone in telling workers to work on their Spanish language skills and telling them that a yes vote would mean saying “hasta la vista” to their jobs in Oregon. It also includes a picture of one of Precision’s plants in Mérida, Mexico, and warns that the plant could be the “casa” for the employees’ jobs. The flier also went on to make comparisons between labor unions and mafia or mob syndicates, pointing out that the Spanish term for labor union is “el sindicato.”
While Frank Larkin, the spokesperson for the Machinists, notes that the message of the flier is consistent with the message that Precision’s managers gave to their employees – namely, that unionization leads to outsourcing – Precision, PCC Structurals, and the Burke Group all deny any responsibility in its writing or distribution. They say they would never condone any such racist or offensive message. As a sign of just how contentious this unionization dispute was, the Oregonian notes that, despite the pro-management message contained in the flier, there is still a possibility that a unionization supporter wrote and distributed it in the hopes that Precision would endure some negative blowback for it.
Despite their loss, the Machinists union still plans to try to organize another election in the hopes that they can galvanize even more support in the second try. While it is not clear if the flier had any effect at all on the outcome of the unionization vote among Precision’s employees, this situation shows just how nasty some of these disagreements can become. If you need someone to protect your best interests in an employment rights or unionization dispute, please contact one of our dedicated attorneys, who will fight for your rights.