The United Steelworkers union took it on the chin twice in recent weeks in fights, significant mainly in measuring the strength-or lack of-of organized labor today.
Essentially, in one decision the USW gave in rather than try to uphold its perceived right to discipline its members. In the second case, a National Labor Relations Board panel ruled it was OK for management to thank workers for tattling on union organizing efforts.
There were side issues in both cases that weighed against the Steelworkers.
In the settlement, the USW faced a complaint by three USW Local 2 members and a contract worker from Goodyear who quit the union and crossed the picket line during an 86-day strike. Supported by the anti-organized-labor group the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, they complained to the NLRB that the union harassed them for their action, including a threatening phone call and hate mail.
The union could muster little defense for such harassment. The more difficult issue was when the Steelworkers brought internal charges against the workers and fined each $625.
Legally, the USW didn't admit to wrongdoing. The reality, though, is just the opposite-harassment is harassment. More importantly, though, the conclusion shows the union can't prevent its members from breaking ranks.
The second incident occurred at Bridgestone/Firestone's Aiken, S.C., tire plant. The side issue was a pro-union employee who acted out during a union organizing campaign and subsequently was booted by the company. Cursing anti-union workers, driving his vehicle toward them in a threatening manner-actions like that will get you fired, period.
More interesting was when the plant manager encouraged anti-union employees to spy on their pro-union peers. An administrative law judge ruled in the USW's favor on that point, but the three-member NLRB panel overturned that decision. Thanking workers for voluntarily keeping management informed about union activities, that's fine, the panel ruled.
A decision certainly not in organized labor's interests, made by three Bush Administration appointees. At least it didn't surprise the union: ``We've learned not to expect much from this administration's NLRB,'' a USW spokesman said.