USW campaign featured in report about union busting: The Double Standard at Work

The AFL-CIO today released a report on European corporations’ anti-union activities in the United States titled “The Double Standard at Work: European Corporate Investment and Workers’ Rights in the American South.”

The report, produced in cooperation with the European Trade Union Confederation, exposes the aggressive union-busting conduct in the American South of European corporations that respect workers’ organizing and bargaining rights in their home countries.

This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde management damages Southern workers and threatens European workers.  

The report describes the anti-union history of the South where conservative politicians, community leaders and corporate officers have spurned labor unions for more than a century and where labor leaders were even lynched.

Although European corporations, such as Volkswagen, work cooperatively and constructively with labor unions in their home countries and in other nations where they operate, when they build in the South, they frequently adopt that region’s anti-union practices, even in ways that defy their stated commitments to international norms on freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Among the examples cited in the report is the bashing of this union, the United Steelworkers (USW), by Finnish company Outokumpu Oyj Corp., which bought a stainless steel facility in Calvert, Ala., from the German firm Thyssenkrupp in 2012.

Almost all of Outokumpu’s thousands of workers in 30 countries are represented by trade unions. But its workers in Alabama are not. For more than six years, Outokumpu fought an order by the National Labor Relations Board that it post a simple notice. The bulletin was to tell workers that Thyssenkrupp had sent them a misleading letter in 2012. That letter wrongly described a settlement that Thyssenkrupp and the USW had reached over labor law violations by the German company.

This and other examples illustrate the lengths to which European corporations have gone to abide by Southern norms of union thwarting. The report points out that the South’s depressed union density, which results in lower wages and benefits, is one reason for its higher poverty rate and comparatively poor educational achievement. At the same time, Southern states hand these international companies workers’ tax dollars in the form of billions in tax abatements and other benefits. Alabama gave Thyussenkrupp more than $1 billion.

The report offers numerous recommendations for change. These include having European companies ensure neutrality when U.S. workers try to organize and guarantee that their U.S. managers implement international freedom of association policies that the corporations have publicly endorsed. 

The AFL-CIO suggests that socially responsible investors monitor European corporate practices in the South and hold them accountable for violations of workers’ rights, including confronting management at shareholder meetings.

The report also recommends more difficult goals, such as Southern state officials renouncing both their anti-union activities and excessive giveaways to corporations.

The full report is available here.

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