Carl Horowitz

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) could have written the book on how to get corporations to surrender. In fact, it has written the book.

Lawyers for Sodexo USA, a subsidiary of the France-based food services and facilities provider, Sodexo Inc., recently revealed during the discovery phase of the company’s federal racketeering suit against the SEIU that the union had prepared a lengthy manual on how to apply to extreme pressure upon employers to extract maximum concessions. Section Three of “Contract Campaign Manual,” fully 88 pages, can be downloaded from

The lawsuit, filed in March, has yet to go to trial. Yet whatever the outcome, the manual unwittingly shines a spotlight on the lengths to which unions in this country will go to achieve victory in a corporate campaign.

Let’s explore that term, “corporate campaign.” Since the Seventies, the corporate campaign has been an increasingly indispensable organizing tool for unions, often working in concert with civil rights, religious, antiwar and other groups to mobilize public opposition against business practices ostensibly harming workers and/or the larger society. Coca-Cola, Food Lion, Nike and Wal-Mart are among the major firms to feel the wrath in recent years.

A corporate campaign thus is more than a way to organize workers at a particular site. More importantly, it should be seen as a multi-pronged attack on a company’s reputation – its brand name, if one will – to achieve broad social goals. Through demonstrations, boycotts, media outreach, lawsuits, shareholder resolutions and other tactics, activists may win far more concessions than through collective bargaining. It’s all a matter of pressure – how to apply it, and against whom.

Running a successful corporate campaign can be likened to a science, whether a union or an outside consultant masterminds the operation. It requires not only coordinated action, but careful and time-consuming groundwork. Researchers assess a target company’s centers of power and vulnerability, and decide whether a campaign will work, given existing resources. In his 2004 book, Biz-War and the Out-of-Power Elite: The Progressive-Left Attack on the Corporation, (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), George Washington University political scientist Jarol Manheim explains:

Carl Horowitz

Carl F. Horowitz is director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project of the National Legal and Policy Center, a Gold Partner organization dedicated to promoting ethics in American public life.
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