Adventists, Labor Unions and Hewlett-Packard, Part III

September 01, 2005 | Jere Patzer

We were young and naïve in those days. I was in graduate school; my wife, Sue, was teaching in the public school system. When her first encounter with the representative of the MEA, the Michigan chapter of the National Education Association, was ended, Sue fled to the principal’s office to try and regain her composure, calm her nerves and dry her eyes before facing her classroom. She had been harassed because she had chosen not to join the MEA.

That intimidation was just a minor introduction for us as to why the church has historically encouraged its members not to join labor unions. To say that unions have been all bad would be unfair. At a time when work place conditions were intolerable and child labor laws were inadequate, unions played a major role in eliminating abuse.

So what’s the problem? Why are Adventists and Mormons virtually the only denominations that have not capitulated to the enticements of the unions?1 In discussing this topic with our own Greg Hamilton, public affairs and religious liberty director and an authority on these issues, along with Charles Steinberg, an attorney specialist in government relations, they outlined several points.

Political Pressure

The National Labor Relations Board and the EEOC investigate claims of discrimination in the workplace. However, if religious accommodation requests interfere with a bona fide seniority system, which is what most all unions have, it will lose.

Labor unions are technically answerable to Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, age, handicap, origin, and religion, etc., but conversely they have an exception so broad that it swallows up the entire rule, except in limited cases.

Individuals seeking a workplace accommodation in order to keep the Sabbath are at the mercy of labor unions to say yes or no. It is easy to see how labor unions could play a huge role in calling for a national Sunday law.


A recent book titled Betrayal by Linda Chavez,2 a political analyst, syndicated columnist, talk show host, former labor union official, and nominee for secretary of labor, gives these chilling statistics.

•Labor unions collect upwards of $17 billion a year, tax free.

•The unions have so much money at their disposal they can spend more on politics than both political parties.

•The vast reserves of forced dues give labor bosses unlimited power.

•The NEA now employs more paid political operatives than the Democratic and Republican National Committees combined.

Chavez documents another dark side in her chapter titled "Legalized Terrorism."

•She cites the 1986 Dupont Plaza Hotel fire in which 97 people were killed and 150 wounded in an act of violence by labor union activists.

•Unions are especially willing to engage in violence when employers hire replacement workers during a strike.

•During a three-year strike against Overnight Transportation Company, militants apparently committed dozens of violent acts. James Hoffa told a congressional hearing, "I can tell you that it was one of the [most] peaceful strikes that we have ever had …"

Many years ago Ellen White wrote, "The trades unions will be one of the agencies that will bring upon this earth a time of trouble such as has not been since the world began" (Letter 200, 1903, published in 2 Selected Messages, p. 142).

"The trades unions and confederacies of the world are a snare. Keep out of them, and away from them. … Have nothing to do with them" (2 SM, p. 142).

So are labor unions an issue for Adventists today, or was this merely an issue in Ellen White's time? Hamilton, who counsels and represents many of our members when they have conflicts in their work places, says that members who are having challenges with labor unions are up 20–30 percent above the normal annual case load of a few years ago. This is not a nonissue that has gone away over time. Historically, Adventists have had a position of discouraging its members from joining unions. It appears that this position is still valid.

Once again, in the words of Hewlett Packard, we better ask ourselves, "Do we know what we already know?"

1 Wayne Judd, Adventist Health Discussion Paper on Labor Unions, April 2004.

2 Linda Chavez and Daniel Gray, Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics, Crown Forum, New York, N.Y., 2004.