Bullying of workers crippling to unions

To the editor:

I appreciated the Eagle's Jan. 18 editorial, "Unions' image, weakness hurt U.S. workers." Unfortunately, it failed to mention another likely factor leading to the decline in union membership: worker intimidation.

While some of labor's problems are certainly self-imposed, it is worth remembering the role that employers play in promoting a negative image of unions.

According to Kent Wong, director of the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California at Los Angeles, union workers average 30 percent higher wages and benefits than non-union workers. Thus, he added in an April interview with the Guardian, "There's tremendous incentives for corporations to intimidate the workers from joining the unions."

Nationally, we all know the borderline illegal methods that major retailers like Wal-mart and Target have used to keep unions out of their stores: forcing employees to watch anti-union videos; disciplining, firing or transferring employees who try to form unions, and so on.

Locally, Big Y Foods features a segment on its "Learning Hub" (a computer-based employee training system) on "Understanding Union Card Authorizations." Thanks to an acquaintance who once worked at a Big Y in the Berkshires, I had a chance to view this segment. I found that it presented a distorted view of union organizers and simply tried to stir up fear of unions in employees.

Echoing this view are comments by current Big Y employees on Glassdoor.com, a website that allows employees to post anonymous reviews of their workplaces. Last year, one worker wrote that "the anti-union bias is so strong" among supervisors at Big Y, "you risk your job by even thinking the dreaded u-word."

As I write this letter, the nation is observing the life and work of Martin Luther King. It is important to remember that Dr. King also spoke eloquently of the "dignity of labor" and died while supporting the rights of Memphis sanitation workers to unionize. So, let us honor his legacy by upholding labor rights wherever they are threatened.

Seth Kershner Lee