He thought he’d ruined the floor.
Brent Southwell graduated with an accounting degree and was working at the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen when he bumped into a friend from college. His friend had started his own janitorial service in Austin, Texas, and Brent realized he’d always wanted to own his own company.
He and three friends each plopped down a whopping $750 per person to start a cleaning company. Brent, the only partner in Houston, had a lot to learn. He hired five employees, who — along with his business partners — showed him how to make businesses shine.
“I’d get a new building and they’d come help me. I learned how to strip and wax the floors over the phone,” he said. “I thought I ruined the floor the first time I did. When you strip the wax off a vinyl floor, it changes color. Then when you put the wax back, the color comes back. But I didn’t know that.”
Their business grew to being the sixth largest janitorial contractor in Houston. But in 2006 they ran across a union group, Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
SEIU had managed to secure collective bargaining rights for five large janitorial companies in Houston, but the union wouldn’t agree to a secret ballot election. The “Guide to the Houston Political Journal” explained why. “Because statistics show that secret ballot elections, where employees are free to vote their conscience without fear or intimidation or reprisal, are rarely, if ever successful. Collecting signatures via union cards is much easier as cards can be obtained fraudulently and forged easily. So the stage is set, PJS says no ballot, no election, and the SEIU decides to make an example of them for the market to see.”
This, in fact, is just a new union tactic that shows how desperate they are to get members. They “use pressure on corporate boardrooms as a means of organizing entire companies nationwide rather than recruiting workers on a site-by-site basis,” wrote attorney F. Vincent Vernuccio. “In short, to organize employers rather than employees. To create this pressure, unions attempt to push businesses to the edge of bankruptcy, with little regard for the welfare of employer and employee.”
That’s exactly what they tried to do with PJS, which filed a civil lawsuit against the SEIU for defaming and discrediting PJS with false and misleading propaganda. In America, as the saying goes, you always have your decade in court. Well ten years after first running into them, SEIU was shown to be the thugs that they are.
Interestingly, their seventy page “Contract Campaign Manual” came to light during these proceedings, which detailed their heavy handed — and illegal — methods to intimidate businesses and also was good for a few laughs.
The manual detailed how “outside pressure can involve jeopardizing relationships between the employer and lenders, investors, stockholders, customers, clients, patients, tenants, politicians, or others on whom the employer depends for funds.”
It advised that breaking the law might not be a bad thing. “It may be a violation of blackmail and extortion laws to threaten management officials with release of ‘dirt’ about them if they don’t settle a contract,” the manual declared, “But there is no law against union members who are angry at their employer deciding to uncover and publicize factual information about individual managers.”
It encouraged unions to accuse the business owners of racism, sexism, or ill-treatment of immigrants by distributing pamphlets so heavily that everyone realizes the business is up to no good.
While all of that is really bad, I had to get a chuckle when the manual actually compared these union thugs to great civil rights activists of the past. “Union members sometimes must act in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King and Mohatma [sic] Gandhi and disobey laws which are used to enforce injustice against working people.”
Thankfully, the jury didn’t buy their “we’re just looking out for the working folks” shtick.
“If the union was strictly interested in the well-being of the workers,” one alternate juror asked the Houston Chronicle, “why would it try to put the company these workers are working for out of business?”
That’s why, yesterday, a Harris County jury by a 10-2 vote awarded the cleaning firm $5.3 million in damages, saying SEIU’s aggressive tactics maligned the reputation of the company.
When asked how he felt when he heard the verdict, Southwell replied, “Great, but I’m worn out. It’s been a long, long fight. I’ve spent over $3 million over this time. We couldn’t tell the jury that, so the fact that they gave us the amount we’ve asked for is really great.”
We need a lot more of this, all over the country. During a town hall meeting in 2009, Senior White House adviser David Axelrod and deputy chief of staff Jim Messina assured senators that they were not going to put up with political attacks. “If you get hit, we will punch back twice as hard.”
I doubt those Democratic operatives were thinking of Southwell when they uttered that phrase, but that’s exactly what this business owner did. By standing up to the bully, he missed out on many more money-making opportunities and suffered through the years of litigation.
But what he was really doing was cleaning up the nation for Americans everywhere.