From 2007-2008, the Union went on a series of strikes to realize some demands, mainly a 4.6 base-up salary raise for all employees (who haven’t had a cost of living raise for over 16 years), and a bonus of one month’s pay. (Language schools don’t give bonuses, unlike most companies in Japan which give 3-5 months extra in bonuses annually.) Striking is a legal act and right guaranteed in the constitution of Japan, and the Union has done everything in accordance to the rules.
However, in November 2008, Berlitz issued warning letters to cease striking or action will be taken against members. Then the company sued the Union executives, seeking to receive 110 million yen from each ($1,370,700), for damages for allegedly illegal striking. The Union then suing the company at the Tokyo Labor Commission for illegally interfering with the strikes- proceedings which are still ongoing.
Tozen Union has shown tremendous support and solidarity.
After about four years since the start of the strike, a verdict had been reached:
The court’s ruling is such: Regarding this strike in its entirety and in the details (objectives, procedures, the form of the strike), it cannot be said that there is any reason to deny the legitimacy of all these points, and therefore, there will be no compensation awarded to the company from the Union or individuals. Therefore the judgment of this court is that all claims of Berlitz are rejected.
Berlitz was asked but was unable to produce hard evidence of exactly how much financial damage was caused by the strikes, or any proof of any intent other than to realize demands.
Berlitz Japan claimed that Union members were only trying to damage the company. The court did not recognize any lack of legitimacy over the objectives of the strikes. The court agreed that the Union members were striking with the purpose of realizing the demands clearly made to management in 2007.
Berlitz claimed that strikes with notification three or four minutes before the lesson were illegal, that some strike notices were given after the start of the strike, that sometimes the strike notice had the wrong date, or had no date.
The company also complained that the Union targeted language centers where people to cover (scabs) could not be procured in time.
The courts response to this is as follows: There has been no previous agreement on how much notice to give for the strike and no customary practice. The amount of time given before the strike reflects the amount of trust between management and the Union. The most important factor in determining that is how the workers themselves work and how the work schedule is set up. Teachers don’t know their schedules until 7 PM or even later, so these things must be taken into consideration. Because of this it cannot be considered illogical and illegitimate to strike each lesson at a time.
The company claimed that a Union member published a newspaper article about the strikes in the Japan times with the intent to progressively damage the company. However, the court agreed that there’s no evidence to suggest that the article’s intent was such.
Thank you very much to everyone who has supported the Union and the court case over this long process. Let’s continue to show solidarity and work to make a good relationship with management.