Column: Open letter to Professor Manheim

Dear Professor Jarol B. Manheim,

In response to the disruption that took place during one of your classes on Sept. 10, we are writing to express concern regarding your recent involvement in the labor disputes at Verizon.

While workers at Verizon Wireless sites were trying to form a union with the Communication Workers of America in conjunction with collective bargaining efforts by the company’s employees, who are already union members, you helped to devise a plan to stand in their way. You did this by writing a report-for-hire for Verizon, with a stated goal of providing “… a sort of manual for creating the reality the company wants to establish in the public mind.” You then lay out a “narrative” to create Verizon’s “reality” which targets workers and misrepresents their concerns to the public. One of the “narrative’s” dubious claims is about workers at Verizon Wireless. It states: “The workers in these new and rapidly developing sectors [i.e., wireless], who tend to see themselves as white-collar professionals, are by nature far more resistant to the appeals of unionization than their blue-collar colleagues in the telecomm version of an old-line ‘smokestack’ industry.”

In addition, you justified laying off thousands of technical workers at Verizon while the top management was making over $20 million annually. You insisted that the company needed a better deal from its employees and that its unions needed to be more “competitive.” You did this by recommending that Verizon implement a strategy that targets workers and misrepresents their concerns to the public, as outlined in your report to the company. As such, we believe that you have compromised both objectivity and ethical standards, which should be paramount in your academic position.

One of us, Brian Dolber, is a recent graduate of the SMPA and an organizer-in-training with the Service Employees International Union. The other, Bernard Pollack, has an MA from the School of Political Management at GWU and currently works for the AFL-CIO. With our firsthand involvement in media and public affairs, both from the academic perspective and that of working people outside academia, we feel a dual responsibility to ensure that GW’s classrooms are not being used to further the war against America’s working families.

Even more disturbing, your report to Verizon advocates using a position of authority to express false messages as true until they become accepted as the truth. This does not coincide with the intellectual honesty that is necessary at a university. Such an approach to political communication is not only chilling but also socially detrimental. Truth is a basic value of democracy, an essential element within liberal society. Have you considered the ramifications of having students graduate and go on to seek positions of power without clear regard for truth? What are the consequences when lies turn into tools of fear and intimidation, as is the case with Verizon’s anti-worker campaign?

It is a fact that more than 18,000 employees of Cingular Wireless, where management has remained neutral while employees decide whether to unionize, have chosen union representation. By contrast, Verizon Wireless has fought its employees’ attempts to form a union for more than a decade. Verizon Wireless screens prospective employees for their potential union sympathies, requires employees to attend regular anti-worker meetings, runs an anti-union Web site and has illegally fired union activists. It is not wireless employees who don’t want a union, it is their bosses.

Last spring, Brian met with a Verizon Wireless worker who had been involved in organizing his shop in Maryland. Within a few weeks we learned that he had lost his job as part of an anti-worker consultant campaign which you helped to orchestrate. On a daily basis, we both speak to workers who want to better their lives, feel respected and provide opportunities for their children.

According to a recent poll conducted by the nationally respected Hart Research Associates, more than 40 million Americans say they would join a union tomorrow if given the opportunity. However, too few will ever get that chance. Most employers routinely block workers’ efforts to choose a union, often waging a secret campaign of terror behind the closed doors of the workplace.

Cornell University research conducted by Kate Brofenbrenner shows a quarter of employers illegally fire workers for supporting a union. Employers routinely hire security guards to spy on workers, force workers to attend closed-door meetings where they aren’t allowed to speak and harass union supporters at every turn. As soon as their boss talks to them, scares them and lies to them with propagandistic flyers and videos, many of them are defeated.

Consequently, this misinformation confuses workers; victims of the theories you teach at GW and have recommended at Verizon. We do not expect you to change your opinions on these issues. Perhaps you think that workers should not have collective bargaining rights, that capitalism works best when it is unchecked, that true justice resides in the market. These are viable ideological stances, but the use of untruth and coercion is highly unethical, and the severity of your actions compounds when you teach others to follow suit.

Brian Dolber and
Bernard Pollack, Class of 2002

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