THE NATIONAL LABOR Relations Board (NLRB) last week agreed to drop its request for an injunction to stop J.P. Stevens' repeated violations of the nation's labor laws in exchange for the company's promise to rehire 11 workers fired for pro-union activities and to follow the law in the future. At best, this settlement reveals an unfortunate naivete on the part of the NLRB. At worst, it indicates that the NLRB has succumbed to pressure from Stevens and other anti-union corporations.
Given Steven's past history and its refusal last week to admit that it has ever broken the law in the past, its promise not to break the law in the future has little credibility. In the past fifteen years Stevens has calculated that it is more profitable to systematically undermine unionization efforts and to pay over one million dollars in fines, (clearly a very low price for maintaining inadequate working conditions and low wages and pension payments), than to allow the workers to democratically decide whether they want to be represented by the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers union.
And the company has the audacity to announce that its agreement with the NLRB "does not constitute an admission by Stevens that it has committed any unfair labor practices.
In light of this statement, last week's agreement could be seen as an important tactical victory for J.P. Stevens in two ways. First, Stevens has escaped the immediate danger of an injunction without giving anything in return. The company still maintains its past innocence with regard to labor practices and will probably continue indefinitely to postpone fair union elections in a tangle of litigation. Second, the Stevens officials, masters of publicity, have succeeded in confusing the opposition. Many are hailing the settlement as a significant victory for Stevens' workers. Mike Schippani, director of the New England boycott, was much closer to the truth when he called it "just another of their delaying tactics."
While the reinstatement of all workers may encourage other Stevens employees to support unionization efforts, the company's empty promise to be good from now on should not listened to reason in the past, and the nation-wide boycott of their products needs to continue to hurt them in the only place they feel--their pocketbooks.