Berlitz blitz against union bogs down

In December, after a year of strike action by over 100 teachers, the company filed a lawsuit against seven union members. Named in the suit are five Berlitz teachers who volunteer as Berlitz General Union Tokyo (Begunto) executives and two officials from the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu: President Yujiro Hiraga and Louis Carlet [currently President of Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union], [and formerly] the deputy general secretary [of NUGW Tokyo Nambu] and [former] Begunto case officer. Claiming the Begunto strike is illegal and meant to damage the company, Berlitz sued the defendants for ¥110 million each.

Ever since launching their legal battle, lawyers for Berlitz have appeared reluctant to go over the top. After gaining an extension in January for more time to prepare evidence and legal arguments, Berlitz lawyers still submitted their documents 10 days past the end-of-March deadline set by the judge.

The second hearing in the suit lasted a matter of minutes. One judge complained that after reading the company’s recently filed documents he still couldn’t understand their reasoning for why the strike was illegal. He told Berlitz’s lawyers to provide a concise and understandable summary of their arguments before the next hearing. Looking at the crowd of union supporters in the courtroom, the judge added that the summary was necessary not only to help him understand the company’s position, but also for the benefit of all those coming to hear the case.

Campbell expressed disappointment at the latest delay. “It’s the dragging-on that’s very frustrating. They sued in December and you’d think they would have their evidence prepared. In this case they sued and then prepared their evidence. Not only that, but they took an enormous amount of time and still haven’t finished it all.”

The last collective bargaining session between Berlitz and Begunto took place March 13. The company rejected the entire list of teachers’ demands, which included a 4.6-percent raise in base pay, the retraction of the warning letter sent to striking teachers, the introduction of a bonus system, and the disclosure of documents related to Berlitz’s financial health.

Both sides appear prepared for a lengthy legal battle. After the first January court date for Berlitz’s lawsuit, Ken Yoshida, one of the union’s lawyers, said the company’s legal team was “stalling,” and that it would be a long, drawn-out court fight.