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For-profit colleges and universities have a well-deserved reputation for deceptive recruiting, low-quality programs, and sky-high prices. Now you can add union suppression to that reputation.

A branch of the for-profit college mega-provider Kaplan University has noticed that some of its teaching staff are considering a union, and the management is not pleased. Recently, administrative staff at a branch of Kaplan International Centers (KIC) in New York City issued a memo to teachers to explain “the risk” of showing an interest in “union organizing.” And the contents of the memo are revealing of the smears and innuendo that for-profit education institutions and other employers use to squelch union organizing activities and to make employees uneasy of asserting their rights to collective action.

As you read through the following document -- a verbatim replication with no emphasis altered or added -- be especially mindful of all the different ways that the wording is designed to cast union organizing – in this case, using authorization forms, or "cards," to show interest in a union -- as a “risk” to employees.

Expressing an interest in a union is described as something akin to “giving a blank check to a stranger,” something that is “legal” and “obligates you,” and something that may lead to you “losing wages and benefits.”

Employees are explicitly warned of the “facts, costs, and risks” of signing a card. And an internal organizing activity is described as “an outside third-party" or a "self-appointed ‘go-betweens [sic]" whose interests might not be the "same as yours.”"

Employees are told that collective organizing “does not make sense” and that it is “not in your best interest.”

The memo is a display of scare tactics, pure and simple.

The memo starts with a “thank you” because Kaplan International began its union suppressing activities with a mandatory all-staff meeting to alert employees to the risks of union organizing activities. Each employee was also required to meet one-on-one with supervisors to discuss any encounters they’ve had with union organizers.

All of this was, of course, in the “best interest” of the employees.

Read it . . .

Thank you for your time yesterday. We thought it might be helpful to provide a follow-up note to make sure that everyone understands union organizing approaches, the legal significance of union cards, our KIC employee philosophy, and your right to ask questions before signing anything that might commit you and even after you have signed a union card.

As we mentioned, the card is a legal document that gives the union right – in certain circumstances – to use the card to organize KIC teachers without ever having to vote. Don’t be misled. When talking with employees, union organizations (who sometimes are fellow employees) can leave the impression that signing a union card is to get more information, more money, better benefits or something else you might want. You might hear organizers say things like “it doesn’t mean anything”, “it’s only for more information”, “it doesn’t bind you”, “everybody else has signed” or “it’s only for an election”. These statements are not accurate.

Here are some facts that you might not be told: (1)union cards are legal documents; (2) signing a union card could be like giving a blank check to a stranger; (3) you may never have the right to vote on whether you want a union, because the union can use the card in other ways to get recognized without an election: (4) signing a union card obligates you personally: (5) you may be giving up important rights related to you job; and (6) some union cards may obligate you to pay union dues and fees.

Unions often make promises to get employees to sign, but the fact is the union cannot guarantee it can deliver on those promises. While KIC would negotiate in good faith, the Company is not required to agree to any particular proposals, requests or demands. In fact, with a union, even your current wages, benefits and conditions are subject to collective bargaining. You could end up with less, more or same wages and benefits package you have now through good faith negotiations. And, if you ended up with the same wages and benefits as now, you would actually be losing money because you would be paying union costs such as monthly dues. You may want to ask yourself: Is it worth the risk? Sometimes negotiations break down. In such circumstances, you might need to consider the possibility of pickets or strikes. We hope that never happens, of course, but please make sure you know ALL of the possible ramifications, including the facts, costs and possible risks before you consider signing a union card.

We always have tried to provide a work environment that includes training and growth opportunities, as well as competitive marketplace pay scales. We have taken our teacher’s [sic] concerns seriously in the past. It is a core part of our values to try to make KIC a great place to work. We encourage you to weight [sic] the comparative advantages and disadvantages of being able to work together directly without the possible interference of an outside third-party or a self-appointed “go-betweens” whose interests might not be the same as yours.

If you have any questions, regardless of whether you have signed a union card, please do not hesitate to ask any member of our management team. We will do our best to provide you with the answers. We believe that once you are fully informed, you will agree that signing a union card does not make sense and that a union is not in your best interest at KIC.

Kaplan International Centers also has branches in England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Malta.
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