Labor Federation Sues Office Depot

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Representatives of an umbrella union said yesterday they are suing Office Depot for anti-union discrimination and urging the UC system - its fourth largest investor - to instigate policy changes.

The California Labor Federation filed the lawsuit after Office Depot refused to deliver furniture to a union based in Los Angeles, said Katia McClain, member of the American Federation of Teachers.

"The person who was contacted at Office Depot said something like if they allowed their drivers to deliver to a labor union, their drivers might also want to have a labor union," McClain said. "This seems ridiculous. Every employee has a right to organize if they want to organize."

The company's computer system is programmed to flag orders from union offices, she added.

Office Depot representatives, however, said these claims are unfounded.

"In terms of our policy we do not discriminate against unions," said company spokesperson Eileen Dunn. "Given the breadth and depth of customer assortment as well as the types of customers, we sell to anybody who wants to buy something from us."

Dunn said she could not comment further because the litigation process is ongoing.

The UC system owns 11 million shares in Office Depot, which constitutes 3.3 percent of the company's stock and makes them its fourth largest investor, said UC treasurer Pat Small.

University officials are awaiting a report from Office Depot concerning the lawsuit, she said.

"Our relationships with our companies are good ones," Small said. "We try to make sure the companies are aware of the issues out there and respond to them appropriately."

Lawsuit supporters are asking the UC system to pressure Office Depot, McClain said.

"As labor unions working on the (UC) campus, we feel very concerned that the university should be investing in an organization that seems very anti-labor and anti-union," she said.

Continuing attention focused on sweatshop activity and the university's revised code of conduct for its licensed manufacturers have made the lawsuit especially relevant, McClain added.

"The University of California has recently (and) publicly said that they are trying to be more labor friendly and deal with their labor unions in a more equitable way," she said. "We're concerned, then, that they're dealing with a company that does the opposite."

UC officials currently have no details about the situation but are looking into the matter, said Brad Hayward, UC spokesperson.

"We will look into the issue and pass along the student association's concerns to the company," he said. "We don't have any details about the situation right now, but we will certainly follow the progress of litigation."

The suing parties are seeking $1 million in civil penalties for each violation of which Office Depot is found guilty under the unfair business practices statute, said Glenn Rothner, a lawyer for the prosecution.

"This is a graphic demonstration of the lengths to which corporations will go to deprive their employees of a voice at work," he said.

Office Depot's system of flagging union offices leaves questions open about discrimination against other groups, Rothner added.


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