Office Depot union quarantine
Union sues international office supply company for discriminatory
By: Pat Daley (from Straight Goods)
Imagine this scenario: your organization or business needs office
furniture, so you place a big order with a company that promises free,
next day delivery on orders over $50. The next day, you're waiting for
the order to arrive. And waiting. And waiting. It's a situation you've
been in before when you wanted cable or a telephone line installed. Just
a little put out, you call the office supply company to ask where your
order is. A supervisor comes on the line and apologizes - not because
the delivery is late but because you weren't informed of the company
policy. They don't deliver directly to organizations like yours. They
don't want their employees to come into contact with you.
That's what happened to Local 47 of the International Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers (IBEW) in California when they tried to order
furniture from Office Depot. You've probably heard of the company
because it operates in 19 different countries around the world. In many
parts of Canada. The company, which also owns Viking Office
Products, had $10.3 billion in sales last year.
When he heard the story, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage
Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts,
IATSE Local 728 activist Michael Everett - also in California -
decided to try it himself. He e-mailed Office Depot saying that his
union was considering switching companies because of the free,
next day delivery offer. Here's part of the reply he got from Customer
Relations Assistant Debbie S. White:
"In response to your inquiry, we do take orders from and deliver to
union offices. However, we choose to deliver to union offices only via
third party carriers, such as UPS. UPS does charge an additional fee for
shipping and the method of payment for UPS deliveries must be an Office
Depot or major credit card. Also, the time frame for UPS deliveries is
3-7 business days." The policy was put in place because there had been
occasions when people in union offices spoke to Office Depot drivers
about the benefits of unionization."
On February 17, IBEW Local 47 and the California Labor Federation (CLF)
filed a discrimination suit against Office Depot. CLF Communications
Director Sharon Cornu says she's never before seen a company stand
behind a policy like this when it's been called on it.
Glenn Rothner is the lawyer acting for both labor bodies. He says that
letter to IBEW Local 47 from the company's CEO starts with an apology
for the failure of the company "associate" who took the IBEW order to
explain the policy. Another company representative said in a phone call
that the policy was put in place because there had been occasions when
people in union offices spoke to Office Depot drivers about the benefits
of unionization. "These actions are symptomatic of the lengths to which
corporations will go to deprive employees of information about unions,"
says Rothner. Even more frightening, he says, is the thought the secret
programming that may be going on within a corporation that allows them
to screen orders for certain flags - like the words "union" or
No official call for a boycott of Office Depot has gone out yet. But,
Rothner says, students and faculty and staff unions are putting pressure
on the University of California, which through its pension fund turns
out to be the third largest shareholder in Office Depot.
Next Monday is the deadline for the company to respond to the lawsuit.
By the way, IBEW Local 47 cancelled its furniture order.
Pat Daley is a freelance writer and editor in Athlone in Simcoe County,