This weekend, the Oregonian’s editorial board blasted State Senator Richard Devlin for daring to stand up for the rights of workers to organize. What “crime” did Devlin commit to cause such a tongue-lashing? He sent out a letter reminding agencies and service providers to not use public funds—money that’s supposed to be spent on providing critical services—on discussing the pros or cons of a unionizing effort.
“[T]he good senator has no business throwing his weight around in the middle of a union organizing drive,” the editorial clucked.
So why is the Oregonian so spun up about an innocuous letter? A peek into publisher N. Christian Anderson III’s past shows his long-standing animosity toward unionization.
You probably already saw this coming from a mile away—but guess how Anderson responded to a pressroom unionization effort when he was the publisher of the Orange County Register? By hiring one of the nation’s most notorious union-busting firms to run an intimidation campaign against the workers.
Among the tactics allegedly employed in the union-busting effort: physical assault, vandalized cars, mandatory anti-union meetings, and threats of termination and pay cuts.
From the May 3, 2001 issue of the OC Weekly, Orange County’s alternative news weekly:
Although Register officials from Anderson on down did their part, it was the Burke Group who allegedly orchestrated the anti-union campaign that terrorized the pressroom. All but one worker refused to be mentioned by name, claiming they would face retaliation--as in "termination," they said--if they spoke out.
According to [pressroom worker Juan] Oyarzabal, Anderson himself called a conference of all the press workers and urged them not to vote for the union.
Five months later, Anderson blocked another union organizing effort in the pressroom by firing 41 of the pressroom employees, guaranteeing that they wouldn’t be able to vote.
Talk about “throwing his weight around in the middle of a union organizing drive.”
Here’s more from the OC Weekly:
Having just learned that Local 404 of the Graphic Communications Union had withdrawn its petition to unionize about 100 of his pressroom "associates," Anderson typed this e-mail to his staff:
"The withdrawal of this petition is a testament to a lot of hard and outstanding work by a lot of our colleagues," Anderson wrote, thanking several Register officials by name. "All these people changed a lot of minds over the past few weeks, and they did it professionally and passionately."
Perhaps Anderson was lauding the professional way a Register supervisor allegedly shoved an employee who had spoken out in favor of the union. Or perhaps it was the passionate way other union supporters allegedly found their cars vandalized in the Register's guarded parking lot. Or maybe it was the never-ending, [anti-union] captive-audience meetings. Whatever it was, it worked.
The apparent moral of this story, according to the Oregonian: If you’re N. Christian Anderson III, you can employ literally any strategy of intimidation and threats in order to block workers from organizing into a union. But if you’re an elected official, you’d sure better not send out a letter pointing out that workers have a right to organize without tax-funded interference.