US Consultants help bust UK Labor Unions

In "Alarm over tactics of 'union-busting' firm: US consultants imported by UK firms are reprimanded for their hard line" Nick Kochan writes for the April 6 Observer,

An American consultancy accused of bringing 'union-busting' tactics to Britain has been condemned for its 'unfortunate track record' by a government committee, but allowed to continue operating in this country.
According to Kochan, the Malibu-based Burke Group has

worked in the UK for eight years and been responsible for the exclusion of unions from a number of companies including Kettle Chips and T-Mobile. It is currently working for Cable & Wireless, the telecommunications company, which is seeking to thwart the efforts of the Communications Workers Union to win recognition for 370 field engineers.

Last week the government's Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), a statutory body which fulfills the function of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board said in its report that "it shares the concern" of the Communication Workers Unioin concern that that the Burke Group has "an unfortunate track record," but ruled that a Cable & Wireless employees' ballot will determine union recognition. The union had requested recognition without a ballot.

George Rankin, an organising officer for the Communications Workers Union said, 'We will be watching the Burke Group very carefully. We have seen their tactics in the past.'

The union told the CAC, in its evidence, that the 'presence of the Burke Group made it difficult to establish an honest, high-trust relationship with the employer which was a prerequisite for the successful conduct of a ballot'.

Simon Broome, Cable & Wireless human resources director for operations, said: 'The unfortunate track record is the CAC's view, and relates to activity elsewhere. I don't see how it relates to Cable & Wireless.'

The consultants' presence came to employees' attention as early as last summer, shortly after the union made its bid for recognition at Cable & Wireless. A meeting to dissuade employees from voting for recognition was attended by two individuals who were not introduced to the employees or named. The same people subsequently conducted one-to-one interviews with staff, where they asked them about their views on unions and collective bargaining.

Paul Nowak of the TUC believes that 'there are many of these firms operating behind the scenes in disputes where we have no idea of their presence'. He said they regard the UK as a relatively untapped market. 'The more successes they obtain, the more employers will bring them in.'

The Burke Group was approached for comment but did not return calls.

More later on the Trade Union Congress's report on Burke and others.