This Wednesday morning Sisters’ Camelot, a non-profit mobile food shelf engaged in a two-month-long strike of its canvass workers, rejected a settlement offer from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), opting instead to fight the union in court. In order to do so, they have hired a right-wing, professional “union-avoidance” attorney, John C. Hauge from FordHarrison, a nation-wide anti-labor law firm, shocking the striking canvassers of the progressive organization. Concerned that Hauge is seeking to set precedent against independent contractors’ rights, the canvassers are seeking support from other unions and organizations.
The settlement offer included immediately rehiring fired union member ShugE Mississippi, paying his back wages, and posting a public apology at the Sisters’ Camelot office. Since the Sisters’ Camelot collective declined this offer, the NLRB will take Sisters’ Camelot to court to seek a binding order from a judge enforcing their decision. Fewer than 15% of unfair labor practice filings reach this stage, with the vast majority of employers negotiating prior to being brought before a judge.
The anti-union attorney the collective has hired, John C. Hauge, has a long history of fighting workers attempting to win better conditions on the job, and advertises on his FordHarrison profile his ability to help businesses “avoid union incursion.” In the past several years, he has represented employers against multiple unions, such as SEIU, UNITE HERE, and others. In addition to this, he has represented multiple firms fighting charges of sexual harassment and discrimination by female employees, and touts on the same online profile that he has “represented an employer in OSHA administrative action involving an employee fatality, with client completely exonerated of any liability.”
“It’s beyond comprehension that Sisters’ Camelot’s managing collective would be less willing to sit down and work with us, their employees, than to work with someone who makes a living fighting against workers trying to better their work conditions, against female workers battling sexual harassment, even against a family seeking damages for a worker who died on the job,” Said Maria Wessserle, a striking canvasser. “The settlement offer is entirely reasonable. It seems like they’d rather work with someone whose career is based on advancing exploitation, sexism, and racism than admit their mistake. It’s like the principles of the organization have been thrown out the window.”
In an April 22nd facebook post, the managing collective asserted that Hauge was working with them pro-bono, while one from April 20th, most likely written by Hauge, asserted that the National Labor Relations Act does not apply to the canvassers, as, “we believe the evidence demonstrates that Sisters’ Camelot is not an employer – the canvass is made up of independent contractors.”
“While we can’t know for sure, we have to imagine Hauge is offering his services for free in this case for ideological reasons,” said Bobby Becker, a member of the canvasser’s union, “He could just want to put one more notch on his belt, or worse yet, set precedent against the ability of independent contractors to organize under the NLRA.” Such a precedent could affect millions of workers across the country.
While the union is confident that the labor board will find in their favor and rule that the canvassers’ independent contractor status is due to misclassification, the stakes of a loss are such that they are calling on any and all labor unions, workers’ centers, or other groups invested in worker’s rights to demand that Sisters’ Camelot’s managing collective abandon this potentially disastrous course, end their relationship with Hauge, and negotiate to end the 2-month-long strike.
The campaign at Sisters Camelot represents a new step for Food and Retail Workers United, an organizing committee of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks and Jimmy Johns workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.