Intimidation of non-union workers in Oregon? Say it ain’t so!
Not surprisingly, this is going completely unnoticed by the drive-by media.
Competition between union and nonunion companies has long existed in the construction industry. But with more hands grabbing for fewer contracts, some open-shop firms say the battle has become downright nasty.
Nonunion contractors say they are accustomed to unions’ claims that the wages they pay are too low. But lately, those contractors say, union representatives’ behavior often feels invasive and intimating. Union representatives rebut the allegations, and counter that their actions are completely legal.
Nevertheless, the nonunion firms say, they want the unions to stop using tactics such as following employees and sitting outside their homes.
“The past couple years (the unions have) intensified their efforts,” said Cal Carlson, operating manager for Columbia Drywall, a nonunion firm based in Portland. “They didn’t need to hassle us three years ago because they didn’t need our jobs.”
Carlson said unions formerly targeted his companies by sending representatives to hold up banners outside jobsites. Most of those banners accused Carlson of paying wages below the standard for the area.
These days, though, union representatives have set aside their signs, Carlson said, and instead follow him and his employees when they drive company vehicles. On some occasions, when Columbia Drywall employees go to their homes, they’re followed by union representatives, who then sit and wait in their parked cars. Carlson said that when he has tried to confront the people sitting in vehicles outside his house, they pull out cameras and try to document the confrontations.
Eric Franklin, a spokesman with the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, said his union will follow work vehicles of nonunion firms in order to discover other jobsites that they’re working on or may work on. In some instances, he said, that requires following the work vehicles to employees’ homes and waiting for them to leave and possibly travel to another job site.
The approach isn’t intimidation, Franklin said, but rather activity permitted by federal law under the National Labor Relations Act.
“If they don’t like it, we’re sorry, but it’s our right,” Franklin said. “I can promise you that we’re not harassing them, and definitely not harassing their friends or family.”
To prove that point, Franklin said union representatives who employ the follow-and-park tactic carry a form letter that explains the unions’ rights as follows:
“In order to exercise this federal ambulatory picketing right, the union must locate employer jobsites. Unless the employer cooperates and provides the union with current, verifiable information on jobsite locations, the most reliable means of determining these jobsites and potential jobsites is to follow the employer’s supervisors and employees. The monitoring activity is part of a parcel of the right to engage in ambulatory picketing and is not a violation of any stalking laws.”
Rich Meneghello, an employment lawyer and managing partner with Fisher & Phillips, said cases focusing on issues concerning unions’ rights to engage in tactics such as picketing and drive-and-park are not black-and-white. Instead, they tend to be judged on a case-by-case basis.
“I will say that just because a union official has a letter that references a federal law, doesn’t give them the right to do anything they want,” Meneghello said. “But at the same time, in my experience, these union folks are the best at getting right up to the legal-illegal line and not crossing it.”
Franklin stressed that the intent of his union’s picketing and drive-and-park tactics is only to gather information and never to harass, but Tina Slogowski isn’t convinced.
Slogowski, a co-owner of Newberg-based merit-shop K2MG Interiors, said both she and her employees, including some in their early 20s, often feel intimidated when being followed by union representatives.
“It’s not only intimidating; it’s spooky,” she said. “I don’t want my employees to have to worry about people watching them and their families.”
Unions have a wide gray area regarding steps they can take under the NRLA if they feel contractors have not provided accurate information about project sites, Meneghello said. But those steps, including following company employees, must be done in a reasonable manner.
“It’s not like a fishing trip – you can’t just drop a bunch of lines and see what happens,” he said. “Plus, you can’t be harassing family members, like shining a light on a window to a room where the children are playing.”
Nonunion companies can file harassment or loitering complaints against unions if they feel that the law has been violated, Meneghello said. But barring that option, contractors say they’ve been able to find some satisfaction.
Carlson of Columbia Drywall said he once blocked a union representative in a vehicle in an intersection. The vehicle’s driver was following Carson and one of his employees, who were each driving company vehicles. The employee was able to drive away while Carson kept the driver of the trapped vehicle at bay.
“We’ve had some pretty scary situations on the road a few times trying to get away from them,” he said.
Marc Dollahite, owner of Paragon Tile & Stone, said his open-shop company has dealt with aggressive union tactics for years. On a few occasions, Dollahite said he has paid his employees to drive around randomly for a few hours, while being tailed by union representatives.
More recently, however, Dollahite has found that a better solution is to simply hold his ground.
“The bottom line is they want you to go out of business,” he said.
John Killin, president of the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, said he would like to see a sweeping end to what he calls an “intimidation tactic.”
“We need to figure out a way to not put private homes and personal lives on the marks,” he said. “It’s time to put an immediate stop to these senseless acts of intimidation.”
Cross posted at ThoughtsFromAConservativeMom.com