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UE Win at NLRB: Harassing Political Charge by Israeli Law Firm Dismissed

20 January, 2016

 On January 12, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 6 dismissed an unfair labor practice charge brought by an Israeli law firm against UE over the union’s support of protests against Israeli policies.

At its national convention in Baltimore August 16-20, 2015, UE adopted a resolution endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) to pressure Israel to negotiate peace with the Palestinians and end the occupation. UE is the first national U.S. union to endorse BDS. You can read the resolution by clicking here.

On October 13, the Israeli law firm Shurat Hadin filed a charge with the NLRB alleging that UE’s resolution violated the prohibition in U.S. labor law against “secondary boycotts.” The union disputed the charge, arguing that Shurat Hadin’s action was an attempt to interfere with the First Amendment rights of the union and its members to express opinions on political and international issues, and also that the Israeli firm’s allegation were factually untrue.

UE National President Peter Knowlton says the union “welcomes the labor board’s decision” to dismiss Shurat Hadin’s charge. He said that UE in the past had “withstood attempts by the U.S. government to silence us during the McCarthy era in the 1950s,” and was “unbowed by the latest attempt of a surrogate of the Israeli government to stifle our call for justice for Palestinian and Israeli workers.” Knowlton added, “The NLRB’s decision is a victory for the growing BDS movement across the U.S., which faces increasing political attempts to silence and intimidate critics of the Israeli government.  As Americans who have a constitutional right to criticize our own government, we certainly have a right to criticize and, if we choose, boycott a foreign government that is heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.”

Shurat Hadin is an Israeli organization that uses legal cases to harass supporters of Palestinian rights and critics of Israel, a strategy known as lawfare. Its most infamous case was a 2011 lawsuit against former President Jimmy Carter for writing a book critical of Israel, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The suit against Carter failed, as did a suit aimed at censoring Al Jazeera’s reporting. Its attacks on UE began Sept. 2, 2015 when Shurat Hadin wrote a letter to the CEO of the General Electric Company, UE’s largest employer, “warning” GE to “rescind its recently concluded labor agreement” with UE because Shurat Hadin didn’t like the union’s resolution on Israel and Palestine.

The global BDS movement arose from a 2005 call by Palestinian trade unions and human rights groups. UE’s resolution also calls for a cutoff of U.S. aid to Israel and for U.S. support for a peace settlement on the basis of self-determination for Palestinians and the right to return. With its resolution UE joined the South African labor union confederation COSATU, Unite the Union in Britain and many other labor unions around the world in supporting BDS as a step toward justice and peace in Palestine and Israel.

UE is an independent, member-run union representing 30,000 workers across the country in the private and public sectors. At its five-day convention last August member delegates acted on 37 resolutions on collective bargaining, organizing, and political issues.  UE’s 2015 convention resolution, “Justice and Peace for the Peoples of Palestine and Israel”, upholds the union’s long tradition of courageous stands on foreign policy issues, which includes being the first union to oppose the Vietnam War, and its calls since the 1980s for a just and equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.