In the rolling hills 30 miles west of the City of Brotherly Love, lies the quaint and historic County of Chester, PA. Normally known for its beautiful horse farms and peaceful neighborhoods, the county boasts a median income of $84,800 with 51% of the residents over the age of 25 having a bachelor degree or higher. Per capita, it is the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania and was recently ranked 24th in the country, according to Forbes magazine. Follow me for the dastardly details of the county commissioner’s efforts to undermine workers’ rights to organize through fear and intimidation, including mandatory meetings with an infamous wingnut kook.
Workers from the Chester County Human Services department have been organizing to form a union and have scheduled an official vote on unionization in less than two weeks. The proposed bargaining unit consists of approximately 160 ‘caseworkers’ from the county’s human services departments. These departments include Aging, Children and Youth, Drug & Alcohol, Mental Health/ IDD and the Youth Center. The caseworkers are charged with working with the most needy and vulnerable of the county’s citizens, in many cases those unable to care for themselves. Despite the wealth all around them, these employees are frustrated by increasing workloads and budget cutbacks. They are constantly being asked to do more with less. They have not received a raise in four years and many feel they can no longer afford to live in the county they serve. They remain the lowest paid in the 5-county Philadelphia area. Read the published open letter from the Teamsters’ organizer, “Commissioners take aim at Chester County’s elderly and disabled, again”.
When I was informed of the mandatory meetings, I started feeling a little sick. I had heard of mandatory meetings before but had never been forced to attend one. Caseworkers were told to pick a time for the meeting that would least impact their caseload. The meetings were held over a few days, 10 employees at a time, scheduled for an hour and a half. They were billed as necessary, to “inform and educate” about the union. It would appear the commissioners were suddenly so concerned about their employees, they did not want them to get into something they did not understand. Although all caseworkers are college graduates and capable of providing excellent care to the most vulnerable of society, the commissioners, in their infinite wisdom, felt they were unable to do their own research and needed help with education about the union.
Enter wingnut kook extraordinaire, Peter List. Mr. List was not always a union buster. He was a CWA shop steward with AT&T before his job was outsourced to Mexico in ’92. After going back to school, he had an epihany and crossed to the dark side, using his labor relations degree to help companies beat organizing efforts. And his political philosophy has also continued to evolve:
Over time List developed a strongly pro-capitalist, anti-government ideology that still guides him. As a firm believer in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of radical individualism, he opposes all state efforts to regulate labor relations. The website of his company, the North American Employers Group, features links to Capitalism Magazine, the Center for the Moral Defense of Capitalism, and the Ayn Rand Institute. You won’t find a business address or phone number on the site, however. The only way to reach List is by e-mail.
As I conducted my research on this hired gun, I became more intrigued as to how someone with an obvious political agenda could be hired with taxpayer money. I came across a 2011 ThinkProgress story, “Florida City Paying $2,500 A Day To Radical Union-Busting Firm To Stop Workers From Organizing,” about city workers trying to organize in Winter Haven, FL in 2011. As it turns out, we are not alone in being targets of List’s anti-union crusade.
From the article:
All over the country, right-wing lawmakers are waging a war on Main Street America’s labor rights, purporting to do so out of a desire for fiscal restraint (while also backing budget-busting tax breaks for the wealthiest among us) ...
… A spokesman for the city told the Orlando Sentinel that it didn’t “do a political background check” on Kulture before hiring the firm and that the city just wants to inform workers about their options. Yet a cursory look at Kulture and the activities it conducts shows what the firm is all about: union-busting.
Kulture’s website is replete with right-wing ideology. It hosts op-eds claiming that sweatshops are an opportunity for the “third world poor” and bragging that the “labor movement is dead.” Its webpages direct users to far-right sources of information such as the Ayn Rand Institute and The Federalist Society. It also hosts the anti-union laborunionreport.com, which hosts anti-labor articles and a monthly “anti-union report.” The organization’s CEO, Peter A. List, has said that “unions are a by-product of a bad relationship.”
“We’re basically hiring them to make sure that factual, accurate information is given to our employees before they make a vote on whether or not to join a union,” says Winter Park spokeswoman Clarissa Howard. But one has to wonder how hiring a radical, Ayn Rand-promoting anti-union organization will do anything but try to scare workers into submission.
And so I entered my forced attendance indoctrination session. I had told myself I was going to stay calm, keep my mouth shut and just get through it. I lasted 20 minutes. The lies were becoming too blatant. I called them on it. They apologized for “misspeaking”. And it was on. Others began to question the “teacher’. Turns out Mr. List’ reputation preceded him. He was not prepared to deviate from his stump speech and could not keep up with the questions from my colleagues. $2500 a day well spent, commissioners He seriously did not prepare for this type employment situation. I view myself as a “socialist social worker”. We take money (funding) from the state and distribute it back to the needy and unfortunate among us. For me, helping others is the only work worth doing. List did not understand the type of work we do. Apparently capitalism and social work cannot coexist in his world. Obviously not used to and confused by the strength of the push-back, the meeting ended early, to the delight of ALL the employees. It took me the rest of the day to calm down. Being forced spoon-fed ideological nonsense that is against all your being is not good for your health. I am writing this as a form of therapy for myself, and as a message of hope to others who may find themselves in a similar situation.
The vote is April 11. Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise.