Union-busting in Canada by U.S. Law Firm Jackson Lewis
The U.S. law firm that is attempting to break the union at Windsor Salt’s operations in Windsor, Ontario is Jackson Lewis. It is one of the top anti-worker, anti-union law firms in the United States. In 2019, after professors at the University of New Mexico (UNM) signed a petition to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors, Jackson Lewis was brought in by the University to prevent the union from being established. The attempts to prevent the professors from organizing failed miserably with the professors getting their first contract in May 2021. The following are excerpts from an article by David Correia, an associate professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, about the firm.
“Jackson Lewis is not just any law firm. It is big business’s go-to firm for anti-union campaigns. They’ve represented thousands of employers, including large retailers such as Ikea, manufacturers such as IBM and Boeing, and health care firms from coast to coast. In the past decade, it has moved aggressively into public-sector higher education union busting. In recent years, in addition to UNH [University of New Hampshire] and now UNM, it has represented Barnard College, Emerson College, Northeastern University, Middlesex County College, Columbia College, and NYU among others. College administrators hire Jackson Lewis for the same reasons for-profit employers do: to bargain to impasse with existing unions, or, in the case of UNM, to stop unions from being formed in the first place.
“Jackson Lewis charges its clients hundreds of thousands of dollars — in some cases millions of dollars — because it’s good at what it does. Its two founders got their start at a firm called Labor Relations Associates of Chicago, Inc. (LRA), which was founded in 1939 by Nathan Shefferman, a man labour historians consider the father of the ‘union avoidance industry.’ Shefferman got his start when Sears and Roebuck hired him to oppose efforts by Sears retail clerks to unionize. Shefferman parlayed that experience into LRA, which had hundreds of clients by the 1940s. According to Professor John Logan, a prominent labour historian, ‘LRA consultants committed numerous illegal actions, including bribery, coercion of employees and racketeering. Congressional hearings into its activities effectively forced LRA out of business in the late 1950s. But the firm provided a training ground for other union avoidance gurus such as Louis Jackson and Robert Lewis of the law firm Jackson Lewis.’
“What do you get when you hire Jackson Lewis? Jackson Lewis doesn’t just advise and consult for its clients. As Logan told a reporter, Jackson Lewis runs the entire anti-union campaign. It ‘basically runs the entire show,’ Logan explained. ‘They’re writing speeches, training supervisors, making video and websites to convey the anti-union message. They script everything.’
“There are thousands of law firms in the U.S. that do management-side labour law, and most do it much cheaper than Jackson Lewis, and most do not bend and break the law like Jackson Lewis. When a company or university hires Jackson Lewis, it’s because of its specialty at no-holds-barred anti-unionism. As Professor Logan told me when we talked on the phone, ‘you don’t hire Jackson Lewis if you want an agreement with a union or you want to respect your employees’ right to unionize. You hire them for their hardball tactics.’ You hire Jackson Lewis if you want to delay an NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] election, as UNM is now doing. You hire Jackson Lewis for their success in ‘undermining union campaigns.’
“Jackson Lewis is in-demand by university administrators because of its reputation, not despite of it. And Jackson Lewis’s reputation is as notorious as its origins. During union organizing at the New York Daily News, Jackson Lewis posted armed guards at factory gates in multiple states to stop union organizing efforts. It directs companies to set up forced overtime when union meetings are scheduled, as it did with Ikea. It threatens workers, as it did in its notorious, and illegal, EnerSys campaign. It intercepts the distribution of union material. It places negative stories about union officials in tabloid newspapers. It operates in a legal gray area, explained Professor Logan, and considers the subsequent legal penalties the cost of doing business. Breaking the law is part of its overall anti-union strategy. Labour busting used to be the domain of Pinkerton goons in jackboots. Now it’s right-wing lawyers in Brioni suits.
“And labour busting today is not just a partisan obsession among the political right. Jackson Lewis has emerged in the past few years as a major contributor to Democratic political candidates. During the 2016 election cycle, Jackson Lewis’s political action committee handed out more than $70,000 to federal candidates. More than 60 percent of those donations went to Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-CA).
“The University of New Mexico, according to Professor Logan, will most likely deny it’s familiar with Jackson Lewis’s reputation and claim it just needs legal representation. The latter might be true, he said, but the former is most certainly not. ‘The university will claim this is just a legal process and Jackson Lewis is well regarded, but it’s quite clear that most of the time, when you hire Jackson Lewis, it’s to take a hard line.’ And it will be expensive. A basic anti-union campaign, as the one UNM is clearly gearing up to fight, ‘will cost at least a few hundred thousand dollars. It could be less, but Jackson Lewis isn’t the firm you hire if you have a budget in mind.'”
According to its website, Jackson Lewis appears to have relations with the Canadian management labour and employment law firm Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP, as it has held at least two seminars with them on what U.S. companies need to know about Canadian labour law. To give an example of the deals this Canadian firm has been involved in, one of the firm’s lawyers, Brian Mulroney (not the former prime minister of Canada), boasts of being mergers and acquisition counsel to the U.S. vulture capitalist firm Bedrock Industries when it became the new owner of Stelco in Hamilton using the Companies’ Creditors Arrangements Act (CCAA) which was used to defraud the workers by imposing two tier wages and pensions and restructure the company to the benefit of its new U.S. owners.
It appears that in the case of Windsor Salt, Jackson Lewis is trying to operate in Canada directly and establish itself as an anti-union law firm in its own right. It is crucial to go all out to defeat their tactics by exposing what they stand for and mobilizing working people across the region and even the country to support the Windsor Salt workers’ just cause.