By Tom Robbins
Monday, June 14, 1999
The labor relations seminar underway in the
midtown hotel suite was interrupted at 3 p.m. Thursday by the
sound of shrill whistles and chanting from the street below.
Everyone in the room stopped and listened.
They got up from their tables and walked
to the window. Below, at the corner of 52nd St. and Seventh Ave.,
was a cluster of 100 men and women brought there by the city's
Central Labor Council, blowing whistles and standing around two
large, inflated gray rats. One rat wore a sign with the name "Jackson"
on it, the other bore a sign with the name "Lewis."
The chant was mostly garbled, but the words "union buster"
came through clearly.
To labor unions, the name "Jackson Lewis"
is as welcome as a rodent in a restaurant. The law firm has spent
three decades honing a reputation for a no-nonsense, pro-management
approach to workplace issues. One of the surest ways for employers
to send a get-tough message to unions is to have a representative
of Jackson Lewis sit down at the bargaining table. The firm has 20 offices, from Seattle to Long Island, and 325 attorneys. Its lawyers also teach seminars
such as the one held last week at the Manhattan Club on 52nd St.
The title for the two-day event was "How to Stay Union-Free
Into the 21st Century." About 20 companies plunked down $1,295
to have executives pick up useful tips.
Promotional literature for the seminar promised
hard-edged lessons: "The Management Perspective . . . This
cram session makes no pretense at being impartial." And:
"No-Holds-Barred Content. Please note: The discussion will
be frank. The use of recording devices is strictly prohibited
. . . Individuals affiliated with labor organizations are not
eligible." Despite the ban, an individual affiliated
with a labor organization had appeared that morning with a check
for the full fee and been accepted warmly. The individual was
busy taking copious notes when the noise from the rally below
prompted a sudden stop to the anti-labor meeting.
Finally, one of the seminar instructors spoke
up. "Ignore them. They'll hoot and holler
to get it out of their system, and then they'll go," he said.
"I guarantee they won't stay past 4 p.m. Unions never work
late." There were a few chuckles. Earlier in the
session, an instructor told the class to "think of unions
as a guy named 'Big Louie.' There is one behind every union,"
he said. "Those days aren't gone. The Big Louies are still
Students heard a step-by-step description
of a Jackson Lewis campaign to frustrate a Teamsters organizing
drive at an airline food preparation company. An old tape of an
AFL-CIO "Union Yes" campaign was played and critiqued.
A teacher described one counter-union strategy as "litigation
by ambush." Outside, the chanting went on past 4 p.m.
"We're going to close an hour early," said a seminar
instructor. "Just for safety's sake."
On Friday, following complaints from hotel
managers, the sessions were moved to Jackson Lewis' Park Ave.
offices. The rats followed. In the conference room, the lawyers
got suspicious. "If there is anyone in the room who would
like to go downstairs and join them, go ahead," said an instructor.
The students giggled.
Jackson Lewis representatives declined comment.
Former carpenters union lawyer Bernard Cohen,
who recently pleaded guilty to union-related offenses, did not
admit stealing from the union, as reported here last week. In a plea-bargain agreement, he pleaded guilty
to falsifying business records - a felony - and violating state
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