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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Kay Tillow, June 23, 2006. Interview U-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Infiltrating an anti-union consultation seminar

Tillow describes an incident in which she and fellow NPO activists Gemma Ziegler and Sue Yost infiltrated a seminar held by Adams, Nash, and Haskel—a law firm that consulted with various corporations about how to resist unionization. Humana, a healthcare corporation whose workers NPO was trying to organize, had used the services of the law firm and the women hoped to better ascertain what they were up against. Her recollection of the visceral reaction they faced at the seminar is indicative of the kinds of tensions that marked union-employer relationships. She does not offer a specific date for the occurrence; however, it is likely to have occurred sometime during the 1990s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Kay Tillow, June 23, 2006. Interview U-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

SARAH THUESEN:
So Humana had brought in professional consultants?
KAY TILLOW:
Yeah, they used Adams, Nash, and Haskell, which was a law firm out of, I think it was Cincinnati at the time. But that guy's still around writing union-busting stuff, a guy named Adams. That's another story about how we went to his anti-union seminar and he shut it down rather than let us be in the seminar.
SARAH THUESEN:
You know, tell me that story.
KAY TILLOW:
You want that story?
SARAH THUESEN:
I do, because Gemma actually told me that story yesterday, but it was before I had the tape recorder turned on and so I would like to hear you tell it.
KAY TILLOW:
Well, we knew. It's one of the things the labor movement is concerned about is that this whole industry functions. Basically, it ought to be illegal, because we have the legal right in the nation to organize and this is a whole industry that functions on: "How do we create the fear and intimidation and really use illegal tactics in order to block unionization?" They do seminars for the human resources department. So we saw one advertised and we decided that we would send in our money and try to go. We thought that they would not take it and then we would make a point about how they're scared and they won't allow any sunshine on their project. Well, they were so stupid. We sent it on our union letterhead. They were so stupid, they sent us back our little tickets and our little registration. So we went and outside was a picket line by Jobs With Justice. All of our friends were out there picketing this seminar, raising heck. We went in and signed our names. And we were early and we got on the front row. So everything was cool. It was going fine. So then they had a book there that was the seminar book. So I'm opening it and looking through it. It was Sue Yost, our current president, and Gemma and me. I'm looking through it and obviously it's just kind of an outline. There's a PowerPoint thing that they do the rest. But it says, "The new union organizer: well-educated, different from the past, etcetera. Some examples—." And you look down there and it says Gemma Ziegler. [Laughter] So we were pointing this out to each other that here we were, we were going to be in the seminar. Eventually someone came who knew, saw the sign-in sheet or something and figured out who we are. The guy from the Chamber of Commerce comes down and he's whispering to Gemma, saying, "You all are going to have to leave. You ladies are going to have to leave." Gemma says, "No, we're not leaving." They said, "Well, you're union. That's why you have to leave." Gemma says, "Yeah, but we signed up." So it was just a hysterical experience, because what happened was they then announced when we wouldn't leave—. They kept going out and coming back, going out and coming back. Finally by this time, the room is full of these little human resources people from all other places. We didn't even know them. They come in and they finally announce that they're not going to hold this seminar, because there are union people in there. So the other people start raising Cain, "You're going to let the union shut it down? We want to go ahead. Let us take a vote to go ahead and hold this seminar." So they took a vote: how many want to still hold it? We raised our hands. We voted to hold the seminar, but then they came back and they said, "No, the presenters wouldn't present with us in there," so they were going to shut it down. They came down the aisle and they grabbed Gemma's book, which was in front of her, and Sue's. But by that time, I had mine under my coat and I had it zipped so they couldn't get it. They would have had to tackle me. So everybody was leaving. We thought, well we'd better get out of here. And they're at the door, they're meeting Gemma with the money, they're trying to give her the money back. They're shoving hundred-dollar bills to reimburse her for the cost of the seminar. And Mr. Adams is out there and he is huge. He's like 6'6" or something, and he's screaming. He's standing in front of me screaming that I'm committing a felony, because that book cost him two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and I'm going to pay for this. [Laughter] So he's standing in front of me and I'm trying to get around to get out of there, because it's really kind of getting touchy. We finally, we made it out to our car and left. But we shut it down.
SARAH THUESEN:
And how many people were there you would guess?
KAY TILLOW:
Well, I don't know. There were maybe thirty or forty besides us. They were really, really angry. Then there was a whole big to do after that. Adams said they were going to sue us and we would get letters. By that time, he had used AFL-CIO stuff there without permission that was copyrighted, so there was a threat for countersuit.
SARAH THUESEN:
Were most of the folks in attendance from the various hospitals in Louisville, administrators?
KAY TILLOW:
No, they weren't from hospitals that we knew of. They were just human resources people from various companies.
SARAH THUESEN:
I see. Did you later use the copy of the book that you kept in some of the NLRB cases?
KAY TILLOW:
I don't think we used that. It's just helpful for people to be able to see what the company, what the union-busters are suggesting that they do. It's the normal series of things. Well, you know what they are, I'm sure. You play up the dues and you get the union's constitution and you find these sections in it and you reproduce them and you find any kind of union violence ever anywhere and you reproduce those and blow them up and put them on the bulletin boards and all of those things.
SARAH THUESEN:
So this was all laid bare in that book?
KAY TILLOW:
It was all in the book, yeah.