Thick as a brick

While two town workers have been told to hit the bricks, the Town Council moved quickly Wednesday night to resolve a petition that would use bricks to help raise money for the town library.

The bricks got quick action as the council voted to approve a petition enabling the motion to move forward, but the town workers, who say they have been disciplined for union activities, were left twisting in the wind.
Town solid waste workers Clyde Clark and Kerry Bigelow were suspended from their jobs in September and banned from returning to town property pending an investigation by the town. The town alleges multiple complaints lodged against the two by residents and town workers, but refuses to state what the charges are. The workers claim they are the targets of a union-busting effort paid for by the town and directed by an organization that advises industries on how to stay union-free.

The bricks were part of an effort by the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation to sell bricks and pavers that would be engraved with the names of donors as a way to raise funds for the library. God knows the town needs to raise money anywhere it can get it to pay for the expanded library. But maybe it could have started by saving the $65,000 consulting fee that was paid to Capital Associated Industries (CAI), a Raleigh workplace consultant that some town workers and several of the speakers last night say was hired in an anti-union effort to keep public workers divided.

CAI (or CIA, as several petitioners called it during the petition) is at the heart of the workers’ issue. CAI advertises that it can help workplaces maximize employee engagement through human resources and management advice. The petitioners flat out labeled the company a union-busting service.

Bigelow, who is a lay minister, compared his plight to that of an unskilled worker named Jesus Christ, who was punished for his efforts at enlightenment. Bigelow said his and Clark’s efforts to enlighten town workers about management intimidation and health and safety issues are at the heart of town retaliation.

Now, admittedly the brick presentation only lasted about 5 minutes while the petition for the suspended workers lasted more than 30 minutes and at times came to resemble a church revival meeting. Perhaps the council preferred to reward brevity.

But it doesn’t bode well for the efforts of the suspended workers, who are black, that the council was more interested in bricks than in its own workers. Council members might do well to remember that many of the bricks that make up the UNC campus probably have the names of slaves carved on them.

–Don Evans

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  1. The Council chambers were definitely rocking this evening.

    As far as the Town and consultancies, there have been numerous problems that I’ve seen over the last 10 years. It’s not always clear why a particular consultancy is hired, sometimes it appears that a consultancy is hired to “bless” an existing policy, rates paid are out-of-whack at times, existing relationships between principals of the consultancies and the Town aren’t always disclosed, etc.

    As far as the presenters this evening, I spent a few moments googling CAI to see how their claims of “union busting” held up. From what I found in a few minutes of research would seem to indicate their assertions hold up.

    CAI’s website:

    From an event they hosted:

    WHAT: Capital Associated Industries, Inc., (CAI), the largest employers’ association in the state, in conjunction with the Employers Coalition of NC, will be holding a legislative breakfast to discuss collective bargaining in North Carolina. CAI anticipates over 30 legislators to attend the event, called The Difficulties in Governing With Unions. Speakers include Greg Mourad, director of legislation for the National Right to Work Committee.

    Their CEO Bruce Clarke on the Employee Free Choice Act:

    Business leaders contend that the current process for forming a union is both fair and optimal. If secret balloting is optimal for every other election in America, they say, why not union elections? Union organizers and businesses are both able to make their cases in those elections, says Bruce Clarke, president of Capital Associated Industries. “If a decent employer has time to do that, they’re going to win the election,” Clarke says. Clarke adds that unions want to circumvent secret ballots because they don’t want to lose the elections.

    From their article “Welcome to CAI’s “Employee Free (Forced) Choice Act” Guide”

    What Might the New Union Card Look Like?

    Unions claim that EFCA preserves the secret ballot and that EMPLOYEES, not EMPLOYERS, would then control whether there is a secret ballot election or just a public “card check”. This is untrue. The fact is that the actual language on the union card itself controls how the card can be used. It is a binding legal document. Guess who designs the card and prints the copies? Yes, the labor union controls the card language. There is NO possibility that unions will print cards which give employees the option to choose a secret ballot election. Further, nothing in the law requires them to offer that choice.

    From their template letter to be sent to the Legislature:

    Federal Arbitration of a Collective Bargaining Agreement is an Oxymoron

    This bill imposes arbitration of all undecided contract terms after a brief 120 day period of failed negotiations. Every aspect of the work, the pay, the benefits, the rules and the work processes can be put before this panel. This is not bargaining in any sense of the word and it would lay a foundation for future relations between the parties that is fatally flawed. American entrepreneurs and business leaders should not and will not stand for outside determination of their work methods and expense levels. They will shrink US operations and grow in non-union facilities. In Canada, where they have experience with an EFCA-like law, companies have actually closed after dissatisfaction with an arbitrator’s decree (see the E. Gagnon Ltee case).

    From their 2010 update:

    “Organized Labor Reaches a Roadblock”: Will Focus More on Influencing Executive Orders and Appointments; Watch for a November Surprise?

    A senior union official, Stewart Acuff, says labor hopes to get EFCA-like changes from the NLRB:

    “[If] we aren’t able to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, we will work with President Obama and Vice President Biden and their appointees to the National Labor Relations Board to change the rules governing forming a union through administrative action to once again allow workers in America access to one of the most basic freedoms in a democracy–the freedom of speech and assembly and association so that workers can build the collective power to challenge the Financial Elite and Get America Back to Work.”

    The President has made several pro-labor appointments recently, some on a recess basis. The NLRB now has the votes to make major changes in process, policy and regulations governing a wide spectrum of labor relations topics.

    More recently, there is talk of an “November Surprise” where lame duck Members of Congress force through pro-union legislation, perhaps as part of a “must pass” emergency spending bill. Journalist Peyton Miller said recently:

    “While he’s stopped campaigning for EFCA, the president may yet have an opportunity to sign it in some form. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka is determined to see card check attached to an urgent bill while Democrats still have decisive congressional majorities. Democratic leaders have indicated that the lame duck session following the November elections may be the best opportunity.”

    What does all this mean?

    Washington politics and processes are very unpredictable and dependent on the status of seemingly unrelated bills, pressures, perceptions and events. The completion of health reform may open up more time for legislative mischief in the workplace. Stay vigilant and stay tuned!

    Call on us if we can help.
    Bruce Clarke (

    Finally, CAI is a member of the Coalition for NC Jobs.

    In January of 2006, associations and businesses concerned about pro-union legislation at the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) joined forces to form the Coalition for North Carolina Jobs (NC Jobs). For the past two years, NC Jobs has successfully stopped every pro-union bill and amendment at the NCGA even after labor unions gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to legislative campaigns.

    Unions such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) are intensifying their lobbying and grassroots efforts at the state and federal levels to obtain collective bargaining rights for public employees, which is currently prohibited under North Carolina law. It could mean tens of millions of dollars in dues revenue to their unions.

    To combat the unions’ dollars and clout, NC Jobs must expand our membership and increase our grassroots activity at both the federal and state levels.

  2. Michael

     /  October 28, 2010

    Hmmm, the last slave I believe was freed in 1865 – I’m at a loss as to how these two black workers have anything to do with slavery or even the notion of slavery. I won’t even address the “Jesus Christ” analogy made by Bigelow. Seems like a lot of rhetoric here trying to add fuel to an otherwise spark-less pile.

  3. Don Evans

     /  October 28, 2010

    I don’t think you can just outright dismiss charges of your tax dollars being spent on union busting, evasive town staff, racism, unhealthy work conditions, council hypocrisy and town-sponsored worker persecution. Anyone of those could be a spark.

    And to make it more unusual, the Town Meeting Summary that arrived in my e-mail this morning lists most of the petitioners and their presentations from last night, but leaves out only one — the town workers and their cause. Why was that petition, which took up a vast majority of the time allotted to petitions, ignored?

    And if you think slavery ended in 1865, you haven’t been reading the economic news lately.

  4. Steve brown

     /  October 30, 2010

    Well looks like they were fired. Whatever they did it must have been bad for someone like Chapel Hill to do that. So much for the protests!

  5. JW

     /  November 1, 2010

    Mr. Evans:

    Are you really comparing the conditions under actual slavery to the economic conditions of today?

    You are seriously saying that a slave is no worse off than a citizen of today?

    If you are being sarcastic, it doesn’t work.