News and blog

Westinghouse union-busting violates Brookfield’s policies and commitments to investors

February 16, 2024

Since July 2023, PESP has been keeping track of union-busting tactics and alleged unfair labor practices occurring at the Brookfield-owned Westinghouse plant in Hopkins, South Carolina. The company’s efforts have already been the subject ofnumerousunfair laborpractice charges over alleged coercive statements, rules, and actions aimed at intimidating workers from joining the union. These ULPs are still working their way through the NLRB process. Westinghouse denies liability.

In January 2024, the company continued to hold anti-union meetings and handed out an anti-union  flier to employees that included a draft email for employees to withdraw any union authorization card they may have signed. While the flier did have language notifying the employees it was their decision, in the context of an ongoing employer-sponsored anti-union campaign and allegations of violations of federal law, such actions could easily create an intimidating environment.

Still of digital video with text reading "Westinghouse Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility" and subheading "4 reasons to avoid the union"

An anti-union video commissioned by Brookfield-owned Westinghouse that was distributed to employees

Even as Westinghouse management’s concerted anti-union effort escalates, the majority of the workforce at Westinghouse has signed a union authorization card, seeking to be represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers (IBEW). These employees petitioned Westinghouse to voluntarily recognize the union in accordance with US labor law. Westinghouse quickly rejected the request to recognize the union and instead the plant manager mailed and handed out aletter to employees which notified them of this rejection, and made various anti-union statements, including “I am asking you to vote, and to vote NO!” It also committed to send the employees more anti-union literature to convince them to vote no in the near future.

In February, Westinghouse management began using union-avoidance consultants to conduct mandatory captive audience meetings on paid time, where paid consultants require employees to hear presentations that attempt to convince (some would say pressure) workers to vote “no” in the union election.

Westinghouse continues to distribute literature and make statements asking employees“to vote no!”; toavoid the union;“say no to the IBEW;” and implying that with a union, contract workers may not be allowed to “combinebreaks to adjust for child care.”

Workers have filedtwoadditional Unfair Labor Practice charges at the National Labor Relations Board since late January.

Union-busting in violation of Brookfield policies

Brookfield Renewable Partners’ November2023 Human Rights Policy includes a commitment to “recognizing the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.” Spending significant resources on “union avoidance consultants” and law firms like Littler Mendelson, asking workers to withdraw theirunion authorization cardsand vote no, holding captive audience meetings to convince people not to vote for the union in a mandatory workplace setting, and constant anti-union messaging from management does not comply with a requirement to respect workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

However, when asked about the anti-union campaign, a Brookfield representative on February 15 stated that “Westinghouse has our full support in ensuring that employees have the means to make a fully informed decision in accordance with all applicable laws.”

PESP believes that this anti-union campaign cannot seriously be characterized solely as an effort to ensure workers make an informed decision and instead violates Brookfield’s human rights commitments.

Such publicly stated policies are part of the commitments that Brookfield makes when engaging investors with investment opportunities and should be viewed as a part of formal commitments and incorporated into limited partnership agreements. Violations of such agreements require investigation and remedies, where warranted.

Investment risks

Litigating unfair labor practices, potential for a drawn out election process, other legal liabilities, and reputational risks that come with this sort of campaign should create significant concerns for investors. Recent research has shown that union presence increases employee satisfaction and decreases turnover and the expenses and risks to productivity that turnover can create.

Anti-union tactics that waste staff time, insult the workforce, and make pro-union workers uncomfortable or intimidated risk losing experienced workers, decreasing employee satisfaction, and lowering productivity.

Alternative approach

Brookfield and Westinghouse still have a short window to turn their policies around and embrace positive labor practices. Federal labor law provides a process for workers to decide whether to seek union representation without an adversarial process, commonly known as “card check neutrality.”

PESP believes that investors should not commit to any additional investments with Brookfield until this issue has been reviewed and remedies provided, where appropriate.


Sign up to our newsletter to receive news and updates from PESP

Click here