FLA Report on Russell Case
We have just received the FLA report on the Russell/Honduras case. I wanted to give you our brief initial assessment.
The FLA’s investigator for the freedom of association issues has concluded: (1) that anti-union animus was a significant motive for the closure of the Jerzees De Honduras factory, and (2) that Russell also committed other significant freedom of association violations at the plant. These are the same conclusions reached by the WRC. (The investigator also concluded that an earlier inquiry into these issues, commissioned by the FLA in November, suffered from severe methodological flaws and ignored vital evidence).
At the same time, there appears to be a significant inconsistency between the findings reached by the FLA investigator and the findings stated by the FLA itself in its summary report. The investigator, Dr. Adrian Goldin, is a widely respected labor rights expert and consultant to the ILO. Dr. Goldin states his conclusion on the closure as follows: “[T]he closure of the factory has been determined, at least to a significant extent, by the existence and activity of the union.” (I would strongly recommend that you review Dr. Goldin’s report in full.)
The FLA, however, has omitted Dr. Goldin’s conclusion from its own statement of findings. The FLA states that Russell did commit freedom of association violations, but that the closure itself was not a violation. The FLA’s apparent rationale for discounting their investigator’s finding is that (according to a separate report prepared for the FLA by Doug Cahn) there was a plausible economic justification for the closure and that, in the view of the FLA, this precludes the closure having been motivated by anti-union animus.
The FLA’s reasoning runs contrary to the well-established consensus among labor rights experts on the appropriate standard for determining when associational rights are violated. This standard recognizes that even if a company has a legitimate economic motive to close a factory, it may also have an anti-union motive – and that the presence, to a significant extent, of an anti-union motive violates freedom of association, regardless of whether an economic motive is also present. In reaching his conclusions, Dr. Goldin himself states this consensus view: “[E]ven if it had been established that economic or market circumstances justified the…closure, it appears that they would not in any case weaken the evidence, inferences, and presumptions that the closure is the result also of the existence of the union and the activities it displayed.” (emphasis added)
It is not clear why the FLA has taken the unusual step of disregarding both its expert investigator’s conclusion and the well-established standard for analyzing this type of situation. It is however clear that the expert the FLA selected to resolve the questions concerning freedom of association has concluded that anti-union animuswas a significant motive for the closure of the factory, and that, therefore, the decision violated workers’ freedom of association – whether or not Russell also had an economic justification for its decision. We will offer more detailed thoughts after we have had further opportunity to examine the various FLA documents.
Please note: The WRC will convene a conference call of the University Caucus early next week to discuss the current status of the Russell case. We will let people know the date and time of the call tomorrow. We hope you will be able to participate.
Please feel free to call us if you have thoughts or questions. I will be traveling tomorrow, but will be reachable by cell: 202/360-7957.