Big Labor Slapped Down. Congress Should Do Likewise.

This editorial was originally published at

By the Editorial Board

A jury in Houston handed down an important verdict this week that you probably haven’t heard about. It will affect the way unions behave when trying to organize workers.

The SEIU lost a $5.3 million judgment for business defamation in a lawsuit filed nine years ago. The case stems from an organizing drive it conducted to force America’s sixth-largest cleaning service, Professional Janitorial Service, to accept union representation without a secret-ballot vote by its staff.

The case sheds light on the tactics unions use with impunity against innocent companies. It also exposes their real intentions for workers. It shows why Congress needs to step in and thwart them. Their underhanded methods are becoming more prevalent as they have become ever-more desperate to rope in private-sector employees.

The union mounted a campaign to defame Professional because the company’s managers refused to give the SEIU a monopoly on representing staff without those employees having a say for themselves. The company demanded, as federal law allows but does not require, a federally supervised vote in which employees could decide whether they wanted the SEIU to represent them or not.

Unions win such elections more often than not, but the SEIU did not want to leave it to chance. So it retaliated against the company by libeling it with false accusations about illegal labor practices and overtime violations.

The SEIU claimed that Professional fired staff for trying to unionize, and had forced others to work off the books. Both allegations were dismissed as unfounded — lies, in other words — by the Labor Department.

The union’s libel was part of a broader campaign to drive Professional out of business unless it surrendered to union demands. Behind the scenes, the SEIU used its political connections to steer contracts away from the company. Emails showed SEIU officials electronically high-fiving each other every time Professional lost a contract.

This case is a big deal because it’s the first time the SEIU has been forced to defend its shabby behavior in court. The jury was clearly disgusted by the union’s gutter tactics and made its decision in just eight hours. The verdict, as former Harris County AFL-CIO official Richard Shaw told the Houston Chronicle, means “unions have to be more careful on what they say and how they say it.”

In other words, they are no longer exempt from the laws that apply to everyone else, newspapers included.

Congress can do much more to curb dishonest and underhand union tactics by passing the Employee Rights Act.

The legislation would require secret-ballot votes for unionizing, so unions could no longer retaliate against employers who demanded them, as the SEIU did in this case. It would prevent unions from bullying employees who try to hold a vote to decertify their union. Finally, it would break unions’ monopoly bargaining rights, and their rights to membership dues, by allowing workers to vote frequently on whether to keep or fire the union representing them.

Justice for workers was never supposed to mean putting them at the mercy of union bosses. It is heartening to see a court holding big labor to the same standards as everyone else. It would be even better if Congress did the same.