Byline: Scott Malone, New York / Robert Murphy, Paris

NEW YORK — In their quest to unionize a Brylane distribution center in Indianapolis, labor organizers are turning up the heat on Paris-based Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, which owns the catalog retailer.
International Textile, Garment & Leather Workers’ Federation general secretary Neal Kearney sent a letter Friday to French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin calling Brylane’s refusal to certify the union through a card-check process “unacceptable.”
UNITE, which is attempting to organize the plant, claimed a majority of the 1,000 workers have signed union cards, but declined to specify how many, fearing some union supporters will be fired.
“The major problem with a ballot in the U.S. is the companies that have a very negative approach to worker organization will…use every possible means of insuring the people will be harassed, intimidated and frightened into not voting or voting against the union,” Kearney said in a phone interview from the ITGLWF’s Brussels headquarters.
A PPR spokeswoman said: “Brylane’s position is that the most fair, most democratic course of action is to hold an election.”
She said UNITE had badgered workers at the Brylane facility to sign union cards.
“We received complaints from many workers,” she claimed. “UNITE representatives were calling them at night and coming to their homes. They said they signed the cards in order to get UNITE off their back.”
U.S. labor law allows unions to be formally recognized either through a card check or through a formal National Labor Relations Board-sponsored election. Kearney said it’s common in Europe for companies to recognize a union without a formal check of union membership.
“If you give false figures, it soon breaks down anyway,” he said. “If you have only 5 percent of the workforce in membership, it doesn’t take long to figure that out.”
UNITE has been campaigning to organize the facility since October.

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